There’s something about that word -‘cyclist’. It’s almost as if it’s a way of life, an identity, rather than a means of getting around, a sport or a way to unwind on the weekend. To some extent it is, or can be. But maybe it’s just the way things are here.
In many European cities, cycling is considered a normal part of everyday life, a logical means of getting around, rather than an expensive sport or hipster hobby. If you look at photos of cyclists from those cities, you see a diverse bunch of people, generally on fairly inexpensive bikes, cycling at a fairly reasonable pace, sometimes with a kid on the back (or riding alongside them).
It’s not what many people picture in Australian and American cities: the twin stereotypes of the Lycra set (or MAMILs: Middle Aged Men In Lycra) zooming down Beach Road posing danger to life and limb, and the inner city dweller out for a single origin latte on their fixie.
So if you don’t cycle you’re probably put off by the price tag of what you imagine a decent bicycle and all the accoutrements cost, the fact that you couldn’t possibly be fit enough to get around without arriving to work/uni/your Tinder date drenched in sweat, and/or the thought of mixing it with cars on the road, which is about as safe as playing Russian Roulette with a member of ISIS. After all, normal people don’t do those things – -only cyclists do.
Well, I guess we’re not Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Münster (that may be an understatement). And, yes, if you live in suburban Melbourne, commuting by bike may be quite a long journey, or take you along some frankly frightening roads. But on the other hand, you may find it fun to take it up as a leisure activity, a way to pop down to the shops or get to the train station without needing to wake up at 3am to score a parking spot. And if you live in the inner suburbs there’s really no excuse (well, there might be a few).
You certainly don’t need to splash out heaps on a new bike. A second hand one will do fine to start, although you might want to bring an experienced friend along to check that it won’t need too much costly maintenance upfront. I bought mine from a coworker a few years ago for the princely sum of $100 and it’s served me well ever since. Plus, if you start using it for getting around, you’ll find any costs much cheaper than fuel, parking and topping up your myki.
You also don’t need to worry about fitness or speed. Who cares if people (especially those in Lycra) overtake you. It’s not a race. Plus, if you go nice and slow, there’s no need to shower. Worried about being flattened by four-wheel drives? Start off riding on an off-road trail (see my column in Edition Two for some recommendations!) or stick to the back streets; it might take you a bit longer, but you’ll probably have a better time and get to explore areas you otherwise wouldn’t.
So who is a cyclist? It doesn’t have to be a MAMIL or a hipster or a Danish person. It’s just anybody on a bike. Hey, that could be you.