If you’ve been thinking the ding of bike bells and the whir of wheels are growing more common in the Inner West, well you’d be right and it’s thanks to some great Inner West Cycle projects.
It’s a blue sky Sunday at the Addison Rd market. James’ bike is hoisted on a stand at the Bicycle Garden stall. Rob Berry, one of Bicycle Garden’s founders, is helping set up his front derailleur. It’s a greasy job, but Rob is smiling. He’s here weekly, with a bunch of other volunteers doing what they love, teaching people to fix their own bikes. “The need for this kind of thing is only increasing,” he says, loosening a bolt. “More and more people are riding.”
James watches, learns and helps where he can. Having a working bike is essential for him. He’s one of almost 24,000 Sydneysiders now riding to work: a massive 44 per cent increase in five years. The largest percentage comes from Marrickville and Leichardt LGAs. Bicycle Garden is one of a handful of groups working to make that number even higher.
Kelsey Kobelka, another founding member of Bicycle Garden, says she’s never forgotten how empowering it was learning to fix her bike. It’s a gift she passes on regularly at Chain Linx, her women and transgender bike workshop, volunteer training days and through Pedal Power – a collaboration with Vinnies, providing second-hand bikes to community-based asylum seekers. “It’s super practical knowledge you don’t learn in school,” Kelsey says. “It gives people the tools to be sustainable.”
“Bikes are simple things,” Rob says. “The learning curve is quick.” For the trickier jobs, like James’s derailleur, Bicycle Garden’s new mobile tool kit comes in handy. A City of Sydney Matching Grant helped provide funding for the equipment.
Bicycle Garden also sells T-shirts and runs mechanics courses at the Green Living Centre to generate income. When possible they run training days for new volunteers and are keen to add to their team of 15, stressing that new recruits don’t need any skills: “Just an extra pair of hands is useful,” says Rob. “You learn just by helping out.” With more hands they can replicate in other places and as Kelsey says, “grow more branches.”
Bicycle Garden has also helped run pannier and reflective clothing workshops at The Green Living Centre. But centre manager Dianne Moy sees her organisation’s role as “the other end” of the bicycle spectrum, aiming to “promote bike riding culture,” by bringing cyclists together for events and workshops. They organise the Inner West’s annual Ride2Work Day breakfast where pedal-powered smoothies and bike tune-ups are part of the celebration. (The next Ride2Work day will be held on October 16th visit http://www.greenlivingcentre.org.au if you’d like to get involved).
Dianne says The Green Living Centre hope to encourage people to “replace cars with bikes on other kinds of trips, like shopping and taking the kids to the park.” This is the role of their unique Cargo Bike Library. For a small membership fee people can borrow cargo bikes and trailers that carry things that would otherwise need a car.
Program coordinator, Mithra Cox, had the idea after visiting Copenhagen. “You’d see people cycling with Christmas trees, dogs, huge things by cargo bike. It changed the paradigm of my thinking.” The bike library is funded by City of Sydney and Marrickville Councils and has been running since 2010. One of the biggest new demographics using the library are young dads with small kids. One regular borrower does a school run by cargo bike every Thursday. The bike library is also useful for everyday cyclists who “want to do something different like a trip to the hardware shop.” The Green Living Centre recently did a survey of users and found two had replaced their cars with cargo bikes since trying them.
However, being able to fix your own bike, carry Christmas trees and kids, and wearing homemade reflective gloves still won’t help if you don’t feel safe cycling on Sydney’s roads. That’s where the City of Sydney’s BikeWise Cycle in the City courses come in.
These free four-hour courses begin at the CARES facility in Sydney Park and give people the confidence to ride on the roads. There are courses suitable for ‘rusty riders’ to regular commuters wanting to brush up their skills. Two instructors take a group of 10 on a 12 kilometre loop around Sydney, learning about bike control, road positioning and all the techniques for safe riding.
“It’s about shifting people’s perceptions about riding on roads,” says Jo Upton, who began the courses in 2009. She has noticed a dramatic rise in cyclists on the road, which mirrors other cities around the world. “We know that this is an unstoppable movement,” she says. Jo believes courses like Cycle in the City are needed because “the skill of bike riding had disappeared.” Considering she runs over 100 courses a year which frequently book out in advance, it’s safe to say it’s a skill that’s returning.
Back at the market, James’ bike is ready to ride. “Riding on the streets freaked me out at first,” he says. “But now I take the back streets and bike lanes.” There’s a donation box beside the tools on the Bicycle Garden table where people contribute what they can for repairs. The real pay off for Rob as James rides away is the same as for Jo at Bike Wise and Dianne and Mithra at The Green Living Centre: there’s one more cyclist on the road.
Tips for riding in Sydney
Jo Upton from BikeWise knows that “the perception that it’s dangerous to ride in Sydney is alive in people’s minds.” One of the first things Jo teaches at BikeWise is how to understand the Sydney map differently. Riding a bike means discarding the ‘main arterial roads’ you’ve learnt by car. “So much of it is about the routes you chose to ride. There are so many back roads and links. You’ll see a different side of Sydney,” she says.
A few other simple rules to stay safe:
• See and be seen. Be aware of what’s in front AND behind you. Use your road positioning when you have to and make sure other drivers on the road see you – we call this ‘high-viz behaviour’. Use reflective clothing and lights at night.
• Communicate. Use clear hand signals. Get eye contact.
• Cycle graciously. “This changes your relationship with other road users. That’s what unlocks perspective. You are dealing with humans, not just traffic or cars. Interacting human to human.” – Jo Upton, BikeWise.
• For more information or to book Cycle in the City courses email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.bikewise.com.au.
Words: Zoe Adler Bishop