Since beginning my studies in early 2010, I have developed a great interest in alternative transport and the issues around car dominance as a feature of the Australian culture. I have become so exasperated by the subject in the Australian context, that I don’t want to go on and on about it. I’ll try to keep my comments from now on, relevant to my observations of here (although I can’t promise it). And a good place for any one to start in my opinion, is online.
For over a year now I’ve been following the work of Mikael Colville-Andersen, and both of his mega popular blogs http://www.copenhagenize.com and the equally influential http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com I strongly recommend anyone with an interest in alternative transport, and bike riding in particular, to subscribe to both blogs. In Australia, film maker Mike Robbo’s blog http://www.situp-cycle.com is also one you should check regularly too.
My first experience of bike riding in Europe happened today. We hired bikes from a service located in the centre of the old town of Prague, and rode out to look at Karlin, a redevelopment precinct on the edge of the city centre. Some people went for the bike styles they knew – geared mountain bikes to get them up hills with handbrakes and a sport seat (sorry – saddle). I on the other hand, went for the cruiser style with the broad saddle and wide handlebars, back-peddle brakes and an upright riding posture. I had a much cooler set of wheels.
What better way to get around an unfamiliar city? Given my need to get orientated, and my desire to do it quickly, bike riding is perhaps the best and easiest way to do it. But I’m convinced now that the type of bike you ride contributes significantly to your enjoyment of the pursuit. My sit-up cruiser bike was so comfortable rolling over the cobblestones that after three hours I wasn’t nearly as fatigued as I expected to be. Bike riding is fun, for sure. But there’s more to it than that.
The ease with which a group of travellers such as ourselves were able to move around the city on a bicycle tells us a lot about how functional the city is. Riding on streets, footpaths, through parks and paths built particularly for bikes allows bike riders to navigate the fastest, easiest and/or most picturesque route they choose. Bike riders are not constrained or cajoled to follow a particular path. Bike riders and other active transport users are not precluded from accessing places that cars may go. In fact, quite the opposite is true. And by not wearing a helmet, we weren’t made out to be criminals as we are in Australia – although I probably shouldn’t get started on the stupidity of our helmet laws, given my undertaking at the beginning of this post. Riding in the free spirited way we did today brings other benefits, too.
Most noticeable was the caution with which all road users moved through the city, and the obvious courtesy that is shown even when mistakes are made. We witnessed assertive and insolent behaviour by drivers, it must be said; but not the displays of aggression and arrogance that are such a common feature on our roads. The space is one to be shared, equally, it would seem. Common human decency is what it is. Something that many of our road laws preclude us from demonstrating.
Online is where much of my understanding of alternative transport options in other parts of the world has come. Today I had my first experience of bike riding in the European style, and it certainly won’t be my last. Because I’ll be visiting Berlin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dublin, London and Paris, I’m bound to discover many of the other reasons why so many Europeans choose to ride their bikes, and seek alternatives to using their cars. The virtual is about to become very much my reality.