Cyclists' revolution: Bike paths cover Sydney
The battle lines were drawn along Surry Hills’ ultra-trendy Bourke Street when jackhammers pounded away to create bike paths. The road was partitioned, the community divided.
On roads, cyclists and drivers have been exchanging stares and shouts. Horns and bells have faced off. The bells, it seems, are subtly more powerful.
City of Sydney Council is creating 200 kilometers of cycleways and turning the city into a cycling Utopia.
“Over the past year the number of bike trips has doubled, and on some links tripled,” said Clover Moore, the Lord Mayor.
The target is for 10 percent of all city trips to be made by bike (presently at one percent) to reduce car journeys by 4.3 million annually, Moore said.
Could Sydney ever be mentioned in the same pedal breath as Amsterdam or Copenhagen?
Who knows? But a two-wheeled revolution is already taking place on city streets.
The (sometimes) hostile reaction
It can take guts of steel to tackle the city’s busiest roads, particularly in the dense, traffic-prone CBD. Half-constructed cycling lanes can end abruptly -- and fears of bus-flattening increase dramatically.
Meanwhile, motorists and pedestrians often complain that cyclists are aggressive, confronting and self-obsessed.
But Sydney motorists are famously hostile, according to U.S. academic John Pucher, who researched the city's bicycling trends for a year.
“I almost got killed several times -- people cutting me off, squeezing me off the road and not stopping," he told the "Sydney Morning Herald."
But Andrew Culrro, manager of the cycling lifestyle store, Sable & Argent in Woolloomooloo, says, “It’s not as bad as it used to be … the aggression towards cyclists has plateaued.”
Many cyclists continue to feel spooked. City of Sydney Council offers support via a free confidence course. Others opt for safety in numbers on the Bike Bus -- a group of cyclists that follows a set route and timetable, picking up “passengers” along the way.
The cyclists are winning the fight.
There are a couple of hard-and-fast rules: front and rear reflectors, brakes, bell and wearing a helmet are compulsory. Watch out for car doors, roundabouts and pedestrians –- especially daydreaming, iPod-wearing types.
And when you’re on the road, you’re just like any vehicle –- without the revs.
A ‘Fixie’ (a fixed-wheel, single-speed bike) is becoming a favorite accessory of hipsters.
The number of bike shops in the city has doubled in the past two years alone. In inner city neighborhoods, a crop of fashionable, bike-friendly cafés has sprung up alongside boutiques and galleries.
The cycleway along Bourke Street passes Fixie-haunt Remy & Lees that serves macchiato, muffins and an air pump – if needed. A couple of blocks away, Robocog is a bike geek café wedged in a white cottage. With more cycling paraphernalia than you can poke a spoke at, it’s owned by the neighborhood bike repair workshop just down the road.
This culture has wheeled into Bondi, too. Porch & Parlour is a pick-up point for The Humble Vintage bike hire company. Restored vintage bikes are available for around $30 a day.Remy & Lees, 547 Bourke St., Surry Hills, +61 404 384 014, closed Mondays.
Robocog, 249 Riley St., Surry Hills, +61 2 9281 2880, open daily.
Porch & Parlour, 100-102 Brighton Blvd North Bondi, +61 2 9300 0111, open daily.
Get the BUG
BUGs – bicycle user groups -- are becoming specialized. The more appearance-aware are part of the sub-cult Sydney Cycle Chic. Created by Sydney resident Saskia Howard, the movement is inspired by the Copenhagen philosophy of leisurely, lifestyle cycling -- with fluorescent Lycra.
“Cycle Chic is about getting on your bike dressed for the destination -- not the ride,” Howard says. “The more people that ride in normal clothes, the more people are encouraged to treat cycling as an everyday part of life.”
Where to cycle
Peddlers can now coast from Sydney’s north to west on the Bridge-to-Bridge corridor. The 2.6-kilometer, two-lane route traverses the Harbour Bridge and Anzac Bridge.
Cyclists are also making their presence felt atop the harbor. Many ferries are fitted with bike racks.
Manly, which has 20 kilometers of beachfront and off-road cycleways, is a peddler's paradise. Bike brigades can rent a cruiser, an off-road mountain bike or a tandem at Manly Bike Tours. The company also arranges guided cycling tours along off-road trails in the Sydney Harbour National Park, exploring harbor beaches like Collins Beach, as well as coastal paths.
The Greenway links the Cooks River cycleway at Earlwood to the waterfront at Iron Cove Bay. Flying foxes, possums and even the endangered long-nosed bandicoot stalk the route.
From the eastern side of Circular Quay, a waterfront path follows Farm Cove to Mrs. Macquaries Point.
Western suburbs cyclists take to dedicated paths around Homebush Bay, circling the Olympic precinct's parklands.
Finding your way
Cyclists are fraternizing online -- and with government -- and this revolution now seems as inevitable as wheels rolling downhill.