When I left for London from Sydney in Australia nearly four years ago I thought it was a fantastic city in so many ways - a beautiful climate, a beautiful harbour city, and beautiful, warm, friendly people.
But there is one thing that Sydney was not, and that's a cycle-friendly city. Indeed, American cycling academic John Pucher described it only last year as "the most hostile city to cyclists in the developing world." It's true. Sydney was especially afflicted by the sort of broad and fast roads that planners loved to build in the 1960s, and the city drivers reacted accordingly - they drive fast and hard and God forbid anyone who might find themselves in their way. And if the hills of the Elizabeth Bay loop don't finish you off, the 'retro' (read ancient) number 311 bus will.
Riding the "suicide cage" on Sydney Harbour Bridge, pic via Freedom Cyclist
But there's a certain sense of change in the air Down Under...
After years of Australia being in the grip of sports cycling image branding, the approach to the image of bike riding is changing. People are re-discovering the joys of sit up and beg bikes and a more relaxed and everyday style of riding again. The always appropriately attired Saskia at Sydney Cycle Chic is doing a great job of showing you don't have to dress like Lance Armstrong to get around town, whilst artist, blogger and film maker Mike Rubbo is doing a great job of promoting the virtues of upright bikes at his aptly-named website Sit Up Cycle. Mike is convinced that more people need to be reminded of the joys of riding a safe, comfortable upright bike if a true cycling culture is to emerge in Australia; that there's nothing wrong with sporty bikes or riding fast, but that a mono culture is no kind of culture at all. His recent exhibition at the Tap Gallery in Surrey Hills of sketches and lino prints of upright cyclists was a big success. I'm a big fan of his art work and was thrilled to receive the below beautiful print in the post today. I love how the scratched background reminds me of the Australian bush, and the dynamic between the lady on the bike with the big bum and the gent on the bike to the left fascinates me.
And of course, there's Sue. L'nfant terrible of the Australian bike blogging world, the charming, vociferous and wildly coiffured Sue Abbott of Freedom Cyclist blog has been in and out of Court of late contesting her convictions for - quelle horreur - riding a push bike without a helmet in a country where the cycling scene is ravaged by its ridiculous and ineffectual mandatory bicycle helmet law.
And slowly and surely its not just a few itinerant bloggers who are making noises about the possibilities for bikes either; the authorities are starting to chime in too. The independent Mayor, Clover Moore and the City of Sydney are currently building a 200km network of separated bike lanes across the city. In a city so firmly wedded to its cars this is no small undertaking, but they're persevering none the less. And it seems to be working; cyclists in the CBD during the AM peak went up 60% in just one year between March 2010 and March 2011 There may not be Amsterdam-style epic volumes of cyclists using the cycleways just yet, but the city will sure be glad they built them in 5, 10 and 20 years time. And if you're going to spend money on cycling infrastructure it might as well be the sort that cyclists of all ages and styles can use, no? (I'm looking at you, Transport for London)
And now the City of Sydney have released these fantastic short films celebrating the city's cyclists and cycleways. They're great; they advertise the new infrastructure which is just waiting to be explored as well as demonstrating that anyone - fast or slow - can ride a bike to get from A to B. There's handsome young dad Anthony zipping in to work, older riders Les and Judy ("At our stage in life we've worked out what we like doing, and now we are doing it."), single speed chicista Kitiyia and beach mum Caroline re-discovering the simple joys of getting around on two wheels again. Here in London we've had a similar raft of great promotional films, and I'm convinced these kind of aspirational adverts really do work. It's just here in London its, well, a shame about the rest of it. Blackfriars Bridge, anyone?
We at ibikelondon approve; Australia may be late drawing up a chair to the cycling revolution table but we're slowly looking forward to riding a bike again when we eventually move back. ibikesydney here we come!