Michael O'Reilly , September 6, 2012
After wearing out his knees with basketball and running, Michael O'Reilly became yet another Mamil (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra).
Safety in numbers ... rush hour in Amsterdam. Photo: Penny Bradfield
A visit to most western European countries is like a religious experience for an Australian cyclist.
I’ve just come back from a couple of weeks on the continent, including 10 days of cycle touring in the French Alps and a few days biking around the densely populated centre of Geneva.
Cycling is seen by many as an act of bravery in Australia, so it always amazes me to see how bicycles are an integral part of society in places like France, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. For everyone from dainty grandmothers through beefy blokes and stylish office workers to street punks and squads of schoolchildren, a bike is what it should be - simply a handy, inexpensive way of getting from A to B and back again.
As a result, there is an almost palpable culture of cycling acceptance. The French are hardly saints on the road – I saw some serious hooning at times – but the cyclist is a protected species. In some 700 kilometres of cycling, I was never threatened, crowded off the road or hooted at, even though I held up a fair few cars when I was lumbering along laden with panniers.
I spent a lot of this time wondering why things are so fraught and fractious when it comes to cycling on Australia’s roads. It’s true that cycling has increased significantly in the past decade – but the debate has become simultaneously shriller, and the issues more polarising. Here are a few ideas on how we could bring some continental cycling joy to our island continent:
Bike share systems
Shared approach ... a Velib bike in Paris. Photo: Reuters
Mandatory helmet laws
Framing the debate
Who can argue with that? Indeed, there was a time in Australia when we worried about our children cycling to school. But instead of making the roads safer, we just took our kids off the road. It was a retrograde step. Roads that are safer for cyclists are also safer for pedestrians, children and, yes, motorists too. Even politicians shouldn’t be allowed to argue about that.
Is a European cycling culture possible in Australia? What can be done to achieve this goal?