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Cycling won't get Australia moving

By Brian Holden - posted Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The media pressure on the NSW State Government is relentless. Do something! They react impulsively under the heat and spend $330 million on a plan for a metro system. In January, this plan was filed away with the other expensive brainwaves which bombed. If we want the superb public transport system of Hong Kong, then we need to rebuild Sydney in the image of Hong Kong. That would take us about a century or two.

What are we going to do? The clock is ticking. If you had recorded the time that you have taken to get to work over the last 10 years, then you could draw a graph from the past data and extrapolate that to predict the year when you came to a dead stop.

Sadly - the bicycle is no solution.


There is a 40-page treatise on a publicly-funded research project titled; "Cycling. Getting Australia Moving". (The title of the publication should be Cycling, Getting Australian Cities Moving. Rural Australia only has two options; motor-driven private vehicle or horse-driven private vehicle.)

The modern bicycle with pneumatic tyres and a chain driving the rear wheel dates back to about 1890. A fit rider can travel 100 kilometers a day for the cost of what he puts in his stomach. He can park the bike anywhere and produce no pollutants. One can understand the attraction that pedal-powered Australian cities has for the green movement.

However, there is one insurmountable problem - and it is the elephant in the bathroom that the green movement refuses to see. It is that the majority of the adult population are not psychologically and physically capable of riding a bike up a hill - and never will be.

A claim in "Cycling. Getting Australia Moving" is that increased cycling will make the nation’s population healthier. That claim might seem to be self-evident, but it has no basis in reality. Those who cycle now are not healthy because they cycle. They are healthy because they are the types who move a lot during the average day, while others sit.

The person who likes to move instinctively looks for opportunities to move, while the person who does not like to move, minimises it. The proportion of the population who drive around for as many minutes as it takes looking for the closest parking spot to where they want to go will remain constant. So too will be those who never consider the stairs adjacent to the lift to go up even one floor.

As if to imply that an unstoppable revolution is on the way, there is the claim in the publication that more new bikes are sold than are new cars. That may be true, but the statement does not add that the vast majority of those bikes are hanging up in the garage or under the house. As the first venture on the road scared the wits out of the rider, and as the scenic cycleways are to most people a long drive away, the bike purchase is finally seen as a rush of blood to the head.


The lobbying of the bicycle associations have achieved a few kilometers of cycleways provided by local government and which are shared with walkers in scenic areas. They are popular. But, most of the kilometers claimed by state government to have provided for cyclists are token. These “cycleways” run along the side of sections of freeways and motorways. As they connect to no other cycleways, they take the cyclist from nowhere to nowhere. Also, the debris swept off the roadway and onto the cycleway means that only heavy-tyred bikes can use them. Few cyclists are seen on them.

Bicycles are inherently dangerous as they are designed to have the minimum of frictional contact with the ground to minimise the effort of driving them. The feeling of freedom leads to a bunching-up of riders as if they were walking along a footpath. If the front wheel of one rider touches the rear wheel of the other, one or more riders will be sent sprawling. There are risk-taking dashes at intersections. There are thin-walled tyre blowouts at speed and sudden chain jams bringing the bike to a dead stop in front of the car behind.

As a motorist I have never been injured, but as a cyclist I have left much skin on the road (two of my accidents required treatment by ambulance personnel). Those accidents had nothing to do with motor vehicles. I had simply hit something in the bitumen (such as a stone). lf millions of car drivers switch to bikes, how many thousands of extra ambulances will we need?

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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