A column about cycling

As the scholars who study all of my Glebe columns in the nation’s most prestigious universities will know, recent instalments have focussed on my attempts to get into shape. A kind of print-based Biggest Loser, if you will. Well, the combination of Nintendo Wii and personal trainer has done wonders for me, make no mistake. But I want more. Much more. I will not rest until my body is bulging with massive musculature.

I want to be one of those guys that kicks sand in the faces of puny wimps at the beach, in fitness ads from the 1950s. I want Chesty Bonds to have to design a new range to accommodate my pectorals, as opposed to my gut. And so I have continued my relentless (okay, largely relenting, in actual fact) fitness campaign by purchasing a bicycle.

This might be something that’s later quoted, tragically, at a state funeral held in my honour (hey, Kerry Packer got one, and I’ve done more for the country than him, surely?) after an eighteen-wheeler crushes me and my trusty Trek into the Parramatta Rd asphalt. But the bike’s the best thing I’ve ever bought. It gets you around really quickly – for the kind of inner-city trips I generally do, it beats a car hands down in terms of speed. And it’s incredibly fun to ride – an essential component in any fitness plan I’m likely to stick to. I feel like a kid, zipping around the roads and doing jumps off kerbs. Well, only little jumps. Turns out I’m as much of a wuss at thirty as I was when I was eight.

Best of all, it seems to be getting me fit. I regularly finish a ride attractively drenched with sweat, and my muscles turn to jelly after I’m out on the bike, so it must be doing some kind of good. And whereas running up a virtual hill at the gym has always seemed kind of pointless, wanting to quickly end the agony of riding up an actual hill is a great incentive to push yourself further.

But there is a serious downside to riding a bike. It’s extremely scary, especially when you’re a new cyclist, and have difficulty controlling your wobbling, like me. (Although to be fair, I have problems with wobbling when I walk as well.) I know that Sydney City Council has put a lot of time into bike lanes in recent years, and I applaud that, but it’s just hideously dangerous to have cars coming up behind you, and overtaking. As a cyclist, there’s nothing you can do to guarantee your own safety – you’re just relying on cars to avoid you. And then there are the lungfuls of fumes. Shared roads are better than roads with no bike lane at all, but they’re not a great solution

So, radically changing my political opinions to suit my own convenience, I have instantly become a passionate advocate of cycleways. Bikes really are the perfect inner-city transportation system, and they combat obesity, one of our biggest health problems. Our cities are too choked with cars already. So why not get tough on cars, and shut down a few roads – or make proper, car-width cycle lanes? If we make riding bikes more convenient than driving cars for short, inner-city trips, more people will make the shift. Just think of the difference in terms of pollution and noise.

Alternatively, the easiest solution is that adopted in Japan – allow people to ride on the pavement, as long as they do so slowly. As long as you have a bell, it’s fairly safe. And it will help pedestrians get fit as well, as they leap out of the way.

Of course, none of this mattered to me before I got a bike. As a motorist, I used to find avoiding cyclists annoying. Now I know that they are precious jewels, and need to be cared for as lovingly as any baby. So I will use my enormous influence to agitate for more cycleways, and I urge you, faithful readers, to saddle up and brave the streets to put more pressure on our councils to take bold steps. Hell, if we can close roads willy-nilly for a disastrous cross-city tunnel, surely we can shut a few for bikes.