‘Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.’ – John F. Kennedy
I couldn’t agree more. I love bikes. I love them so much I write about them for a living. I enjoy all kinds of riding – weekend endurance rides on my roadie, quick trips through the back streets on my fixie, slow trundles along bike paths to take in the scenery in my favourite sundress and suiting up in Lycra to go hard and fast down Beach Road and Yarra Boulevard.
Being on a bike gives a new perspective. It opens up parts of the city I wouldn’t otherwise discover and it’s incredibly liberating. It gives me the power go where ever I want, whenever I want. There’s no obligation to stick to the same routes and roads as the rest of the traffic. I have total control and love the direct transfer of power from my body to the bike’s momentum, and I maintain maintain my bikes myself, so I know how each piece fits together and what to do if something goes wrong. It’s incredibly empowering.
In fact, the only thing I don’t like about being a bike rider is my daily commute to work. An article in The Age recently listed Melbourne’s top 10 most dangerous roads for cyclists with regards to car doorings, and St Kilda Road came top of that list with 66 incidents recorded last year. To give that figure a little perspective, next on the list was Collins St with 24 incidents. Unfortunately for me, St Kilda Road is the most direct route from my house to where I work in the CBD.
For those who haven’t had the rattling experience of riding on St Kilda Road, allow me to fill you in: you’re sandwiched between parked cars (any one of which might fling it’s door open at any second) on the left and peak hour traffic on the right. Although the bike lane is clearly marked, taxi and delivery van drivers often mistake this piece of roadway for a good place to stretch their legs and enjoy a cigarette between jobs. All manner of taxis, trucks, vans and cars are also looking to enter/exit parks and are likely to swerve into the bike lane and cut you off, often with no indication. This also happens when cars frequently realise, too late, that they should be turning left. They also queue across the bike lane to turn left, forcing riders to weave around them into the middle lane. Seeing a gap in the car traffic, pedestrians also dash out in front of you rather than waiting for the lights. If you survive the gauntlet, there’s a final test just before the NGV where the bike lane suddenly ends and you have to negotiate two lanes of peak hour traffic and then survive the bottle neck chaos outside Flinders Street Station. Other riders can also occasionally be aggressive, or will try to pass you on the inside, forcing you into traffic.
Admittedly, I’m a complete wuss, but by taking this route, I’d arrive at work a rattled wreck, thanking my lucky stars I hadn’t ended up seriously injured or worse. I started to resent riding. I dreaded sunny days when I’d have no excuse for insisting me and the Mister catch the tram. It turned me off my weekend riding, too. Given it’s my job to write about the joys of bike riding and to encourage more people to take it up, I felt like a hypocrite. Something had to change.
This week the Mister and I have been exploring alternative commuting routes. In our adventures we discovered the Bay Trail goes right from our house to South Bank, with sea views most of the way. It’s 50% longer than the St Kilda Road route, and given parts of it are shared with pedestrians, it’s pretty slow going. On Thursday morning the mister had a site visit and I faced a solo commute. I left the house early and took the trail on my simple little single-speed. It was a gorgeous morning – crisp and still. I stopped at the beach for a while. The sea was almost completely flat and there were very few people around. I took my time and arrived at work feeling fresh and relaxed, rather than a freaked-out, sweaty mess. I can honestly say it was one of the best rides I’ve ever had.
The trail isn’t ideal on a day-to-day basis – I don’t want to spent nearly two hours a day commuting, especially as winter closes in. Canterbury Road is the best option for us. There’s still some parked cars and reasonably heavy traffic, but there’s a bike lane the whole way and it’s only a bit longer than taking St Kilda Road. However, on a balmy evening when there’s no rush to get home I’m looking forward to riding the trail again.
In the meantime, I’m focusing on taking it slow. The bay Trail reminded me of why i fell in love with riding in the first place – the sense of freedom, taking the road less travelled and enjoying the scenery.