Sunday, October 28, 2007

City Of Sydney Spring Cycle.

This post is a bit belated, partly because last week was busy and partly because I'm feeling a bit under-motivated about this blog. I'm beginning to suspect that I'm very boring, and don't actually have anything to say. Anyway...

On Sunday, 21st October, I took part in the annual City Of Sydney Spring Cycle, a mass recreational ride across the city organised by Bicycle NSW, along with over 8500 other riders. This year's full route meandered for 50km from St. Leonard's Park in North Sydney, across the Harbour Bridge, and through harbour-side suburbs and parks to the finish at Olympic Park in Homebush. There were multiple starting points to allow riders to choose shorter 20km or 15km routes, and a loop at the end which could be cut off to reduce the chosen distance by 10km. The route was pretty benign, with just a few short, steep ascents, as one would expect in an event that attracts a lot of infrequent and casual cyclists. There were several rest-stops in parks along the way, with water supplies courtesy of one of the ride's sponsors, a manufacturer of drinking-water filters. The route was well marked, and the whole event very well organised.

I opted to ride the about 7km from home to the start, and got there at around 07:45. I had pre-registered and already had my ride number card laminated and cable-tied to the stem of my Swift Folder, so I could ignore the long queues snaking round the park. The weather was perfect, and it had obviously brought in a lot of last-minute entries. I faffed about taking some photos, before rolling through the starting arch at 08:00.

One of the main attractions of doing the Spring Cycle is that two lanes crossing the Harbour Bridge are closed to motor traffic for two hours and cyclists are allowed to ride across as if they were... I don't know... real road users or something. Normally we're consigned to the leper-colony of a bike path which requires us to carry our bikes up 55 steps to reach it from Milson's Point. I've lived in Sydney for 25 years now, and there's still something breathtaking about rolling over the crest of the bridge and seeing Circular Quay, Darling Harbour and the CBD spread out in front.

After rolling off the bridge the stream of riders entered the twisty streets around The Rocks, and a few problems emerged. Such a large crowd of riders inevitably included many different types of bikes, and cyclists of very varied experience and ability. At certain points things got a bit hairy, and I saw a couple of good crashes. There were shaved-legged roadies flying along, taking things way too seriously, but at least they had a clue about riding in a group. Then there were once-a-year riders wobbling blindly from side to side, but at least they were usually in front of me where I could see and pass them. The biggest threat were idiots on huge-wheeled mountain bikes who seemed to slow to a crawl on ascents so everyone passed them, but who then came flying down the other side barely under control, ploughing into groups slowing for the tight corners, waiting at traffic lights etc. as we wound our way through the suburbs.

At the finish in Olympic Park, all sorts of vendor displays, food and drink stalls and demonstrations had been laid on. There was even valet parking for bikes, organised by the local Boy Scouts, but unfortunately their idea of parking was to hang the bikes by their saddles on a square-section steel rail, presumably on the assumption (false in the case of my Brooks) that the bikes' weight would be supported by the saddle rails, so I gave it a miss. There was a criterium running and I watched that while I ate my packed lunch, but I'm not really into racing so I probably missed all the finer points.

I had intended to fold my bike and take public transport home, but it was a lovely day, and I was feeling strong, so I decided to ride instead. I chose a route to "close the circle" via Meadowbank, Ryde, North Ryde, Lane Cove National Park and Chatswood. There was no real alternative but to ride "across the grain" of the terrain, and I confess I found some of the climbs rather challenging, especially the long pull up from Lady Game Drive to Pacific Highway, but I made it home after a round trip of 101km, tired but without any aches or pains. Unfortunately I screwed up my computer settings somehow, so I don't know my average speed.

I enjoyed the day, but I can't help wondering whether the Spring Cycle is good for cycling. Sure it gets thousands of bikes on the road for one day, but how many of those sit in the garage for the rest of the year? The Spring Cycle is a massive operation, with road closures, police on duty at the intersections, dozens of volunteer marshals, ambulances on stand-by along the route, carefully organised rest-stops and so on. Is this the message we want to give cyclists and the public? Do we want them to think that this is what it takes? That this is what cycling is supposed to be? A special occasion thing requiring all sorts of planning and police escort, without which it is presumably too unsafe or disruptive or something?

What about encouraging everyday cycling? The sort of cycling that goes about its business quietly; not requiring road closures, or anything more from the police than the vigourous and equal application of the rules of the road on a daily basis to motorists and cyclists alike. Crossing the Harbour Bridge on the Spring Cycle struck me as the perfect metaphor for the position of cyclists in Sydney. Welcome to share the road on a special occasions once a year, forced to haul their bikes up 55 steps to a narrow, poorly maintained path on every other day.


The Great White Hype said...


I just did Sydney-Gong on sunday. Lots of Bike Fridays (even a BF tandem), and a few other folding bikes of the smaller wheeled variety.

After riding this again (after some years away from it) I agree with the road closure point. But its difficult to get any sort of distance on cycle paths or quieter roads anywhere in Sydney, so I think this is a necessary evil for some time, until the cycle network becomes larger and of a better quality. All the bike path/bike lane network is currently is a vague nod to short-hop commuters and weekend wanderers.

Lots of action similar to the Spring Cycle on sunday. Mountain bikes galore, although many with smooth, skinnier tyres, and plenty of bikes that hadnt been looked at since last november. Fancy adding an extra hour to a Gong trip? Ride a mountain bike. Climbing out of the National Park I passed too many to count on my flat bar roadie!


Carissa said...

Good words.