Melbourne leads the charge in Australia’s two-wheeled awakening
Australia’s vast size may not make it an obvious bike haven but, in a country where bike sales now outstrip those of cars, scale has become increasingly irrelevant for a growing number of committed riders.
History repeats itself
Cycling was a fact of life in 19th century Australia. Workers relied on bikes to travel huge distances for seasonal work but, as happened the world over, modernisation brought the car and with it the demise of the humble bicycle. By the late 1940s, Australian cities had all but forgotten pedal power in their transport policies.
This trend began to change in the 1970s when the country, albeit slowly, began to claw back its cycling heritage. Australian cycling is now an urban affair driven by growing community groups - themselves spurred on by thousands of miles of newly built cycle paths.
Up and coming - Sydney and Canberra
Thomas Anderson, a Dane who rose to fame after cycling around the world in 4 years, dubbed Sydney the ‘world’s worst place for cyclists’ on his 5000-mile Australian leg. Despite this mantle, cycling in the city is on the rise and 20% of its population now ride at least once a week (which is double the Australian average). Sydney’s hilly terrain has long been seen as a barrier to mass uptake (not least by motorists), but topography has not stopped a burgeoning cycling community taking root. This trend draws not unreasonable comparisons to San Francisco, where riders are challenged by geography on a daily basis but thrive nonetheless.
By virtue of living in a purpose built city, cyclists in Canberra always stood to benefit from proactive government policies towards cycling. Increased investment has allowed Canberra to develop one of the most positive relationships between city and cyclist in Australia. While young cyclists in Australia’s more fashionable cities may view the political capital’s scene as somewhat sterile - they can do nothing but envy the capital’s support for their favourite sport.
Up and up - Adelaide and Melbourne
The popularity of cycling in Adelaide may well be the reason for its hosting of the only UCI World Tour event in the southern hemisphere, the Tour Down Under. Year-round good weather, a wealth of cycleways, a growing rental scheme and a generally flat centre has allowed a bike culture to flourish in South Australia’s capital. So much so that it has begun to rival the culture of Australian cycling’s undisputed king - Melbourne (at least that’s what they say in Adelaide).
To many, Melbourne is a beacon of the possibilities for cycling in Australia and one of the few cities where the population and authorities have risen to the two-wheeled challenge. 1970s Melbourne initiated Australia’s first ever ‘bicycle plan’ and continues to lead in top-down reform. From 2013 it started actively removing roads to be replaced with cycle paths, coming true on the Lord Mayor’s desire to make Melbourne ‘a true cycling city’.
The city has developed a culture, fuelled by fixed gears and coffee shops, not unlike that on the streets of Northern Europe. Flat land and a temperate climate have given it an advantage over it’s rival Sydney, and by 2017 Melbourne hopes to have increased the number of cyclists by 50% against 2013 levels. But even in Melbourne, where millions of dollars have been invested in cycling, bikes only account for 8% of journeys in the central district (and 2% in the city as a whole).
Push on, Australia
Regional governments are polarised - between and within themselves - as to the role they wish cycling to play in their cities and territories. Cyclists see elected representatives as prioritising motorists while motorists take issue with the cyclists on unsuitable roadways - roadways that are only unsuitable because of limited investment. Anderson saw this investment cycle as key to the growing tension in Sydney - no doubt harking back to the harmony in his home-town of Copenhagen.
Melbourne, the home of our Australian partner-in-crime ‘Practical Man’, leads the nation’s cities when it comes to embracing bike culture. Cities such as Adelaide, Canberra and to a lesser extent Sydney, are in hot pursuit, but all have a long way to go before coming close to matching the cycling uptake in Australia’s European forebears.
Push on Australia - it’s a road worth riding.
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