Thursday, 19 February 2009

Two Wheels Good

So a good thing about the move down here has been buying a bike and hitting the trails and cycle paths that thread through Melbourne. At first we were just exploring our new hood and staring at houses we’ll never afford but now I’ve built up the confidence that Sydney traffic took away and I’m cycling to work four days a week. It’s an easy 20 minutes which is nothing really, and there are only a couple of hills so all in all it’s a good thing.

That said, despite Melbourne being a relative haven for cyclists compared to other cities it’s worth noting that each and every day someone has managed to piss me off. I’ve had people blocking cycle lanes and cutting in front of me, car doors opening willy-nilly, tradies and hoons making sarcastic remarks and bus drivers tooting angrily at me for using a bus lane (which I did to avoid being crushed to death by oncoming traffic). We're all trying to get somewhere and driving in cities is always a pain so you do expect some of that me-and-my-car-versus-the-world attitude, but worse still is the hierarchy amongst others on two wheels. Rather than being an inclusive, environment-supporting, car-hating warm and fuzzy collective who wave and nod knowingly to each other as we pass in the street, cyclists are neither homogenous nor (in my experience) barracking for anyone but themselves.

The spectrum of two-wheelers I’ve joined is broad and bizarre. It includes tri-athletes and bike nerds decked in tights and those strange Lycra shirts that have big bum pockets. They treat the jaunt to work like the Tour de Melbourne in which they are always the kings and queens of the peloton. Then there are the wannabe bike-nerds. They have bought all the gear but frankly can’t keep up. Next are the students and inner city types on hybrid bikes travelling from café to café looking for free wi-fi. They include lots of women who seem to be able to ride in skirts floral print dresses and keep their modesty. There is cross over here with the Generation X mum's - riding around with kids attached to the front, rear or even hanging off a little netting pod at the back. Finally there are people on things that don’t look like bikes at all - some of which they have clearly built themselves, including one kid I’ve seen three times now on a unicycle.

Most people ride in a manner which suggests they are oblivious to the others. The professionals are focussed on speed, zipping in and out of cars and lanes and emerging dangerously close to everyone with looks of cool contempt. Others are lost in a day dream, as if a bike lane is one of those long bubbles you see at kids parties. They amble along, not knowing or caring that you are stuck behind them, trapped by the cars to your right and their arse to the front. Add an even more impatient pelotonista coming up behind you and see the travelling hierarchy in quietly seething slow-mo action.

How to manage the emotions of this daily rigmarole? I guess the trick is to remind yourself that unless you work from home, everyone has to face some version of transport hell. Compared to waiting for overcrowded and late buses, trains and trams which you have to pay to use or sitting in a car in a traffic jam for an hour to do a 20 minute journey then taking on the cyclistas all feels a little easier to digest. I hope I still feel that way in winter.

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