Last year I sold my car and became a full-time bike commuter. Pretty quickly, I wished I’d done it years earlier. I got thinking about what took me so long. Why do we only hear about the negative elements of two-wheeled travel? Rarely do the many positives rate a mention. I think it’s time to set the record straight.
The helmet issue seems to be a pretty popular one in Melbourne, as Australia is one of very few countries to mandate helmets for bike riders – and evidently folks in Melbourne are extremely vain. Many women cite helmets and the resulting hairstyle challenges as a particular detractor for jumping in the saddle. Personally, this doesn’t faze me – the simple low pony has become my go-to bike-ride-‘do. And in the unlikely event that the mandatory helmet laws be repealed I would still never get on a bike without a helmet. I like my brains inside my skull, thank you very much.
Outfit selection is another popular excuse for the ladies and I must admit, bike appropriate attire took a bit of getting used to. I’m self-employed and hence quite flexible when it comes to work wear. But even in my corporate past-life when I was required to suit up daily, the only extra planning required was to leave extra deodorant and a couple of pencil skirts at work to make the daily transition achievable. These days, if I think there is a slight chance of a wardrobe malfunction I make doubly sure I’m wearing respectable knickers.
Other Road Users
Despite the well publicised issues between riders and cars (ahem, Shane Warne), I find most drivers are happy to avoid any potential injuries to bike riders by being sensible and keeping a safe distance. More challenging to navigate are their upright cousins, the pedestrians. In both cases though, any unpleasant encounters can largely be avoided by awareness of the traffic/people around you and a ring of the bike bell or a polite “excuse me”.
Once upon a time, I tended to lug the contents of my office home with me almost every night. With limitations in on-bike storage space I am now pleased to say I leave my work at work. On the rare occasion that I need to cart something that won’t fit on the bike, I use a courier service and save myself a trip.
As a Melbourne local, I understand that the unpredictable weather can be a detractor for some. In my past life as a pedestrian, I was often caught without an umbrella in the case of a sudden downpour, so I consider a slight soaking while riding an even trade – though my bike raincoat is much easier to store than an umbrella. For me, it is not so much the rain as the wild winds that prove challenging, but now I prefer to think of them as an extra opportunity to shape my derriere. As an upside to the city’s sometimes volatile weather patterns, we are spoiled with spectacular sunny mornings and stunning sunsets most days, and it is truly wonderful to be able to savour these on my daily ride. I’ll take a the odd soggy t-shirt any day!
As I alluded to above, enjoying the sights and sounds of Melbourne on my commute has become one of my daily pleasures. Even the occasional smell of a garbage truck, an over-active exhaust or a mouthful of pedestrian’s cigarette smoke aren’t enough to cancel out how great it is to actually breathe in the city every day.
I’m sure many expect that my life in high heels came to a grinding halt the same day my bike commuter life began. I assure you though, the opposite is actually true! One of my favourite things about riding a bike is that it takes you straight from A to B, with bike parking always metres from my destination so I rarely need to walk far at all! This makes it even easier to wear impossibly high heels without looking too ridiculous! Hooray!
Just how great it is to live a life without sitting in a traffic jam cannot be under-estimated. Traffic was (and still is) the absolute bane of my existence. Not only does avoiding it save me huge amounts of time every day, it has also saved my sanity and restored my faith in humanity.
Patience is not one of my virtues. Hence, waiting for trams always seemed a ridiculous waste of time to me. As a bike rider you can go exactly where you want, when you want. No need to worry about when the roads are busy, what time your train leaves, how to plan your route across the city on public transport. Just go. After all, what has patience ever done for me anyway?
While this may be no big surprise to some, getting an average of an extra hour exercise each day with my bike commute has had a huge impact on my health, both physically and mentally. Not only did I lose 10kgs within 6 months, my daily rides provide me with a much needed daily hit of Vitamin D and serves as a great way to plan my day and relax with my own thoughts (while keeping an eye on what’s happening around me). Though don’t get me wrong – no matter how many kilos I lose, I’m still not tempted to deck myself out in lycra. It does no one any favours.
Extra Cash in Your Pocket
Apart from the initial investment in my bike and the rare maintenance cost, bike riding costs nothing. No fuel, no tickets, no fees. Saving approximately $50 a week just in fuel, parking and traffic fines or the same in public transport tickets pretty much means an extra holiday a year. Don’t mind if I do.
The most pleasantly unexpected element of becoming a full time bike commuter is the amazing people I’ve met. Not only the odd person I get chatting to on my rides each day, but those I’ve met through my involvement in Melbourne’s social bike events, which are mostly community driven. Events like Melbourne Bike Fest (a celebration of bike culture), the Melbourne Tweed Ride, and the many relaxed rides by the guys at BikeFun.org serve as a great reminder of just how strong the Melbourne bike community has become.
So, what do you think? For me the balance is very firmly in favour of riding. Granted, there are some small challenges to overcome, but they’re mostly inconsequential. It also tells me that riding my bike has become about much more than just getting too and from work. And that I need to buy some nicer knickers.
Bio: Lara McPherson is a writer, community manager and sustainability advocate. She runs Sustainable Fashion Australia, The Clothing Exchange Melbourne, Melbourne Tweed Ride and Wardrobe Wonderland. She also works on Melbourne Bike Fest, The AceFantastic Adventure Quest and The Spirit of the Black Dress. She and her partner Marcus have recently acquired Curracloe, and plan to turn it into a self sustaining organic produce farm.