Stories

Everyone rides for a different reason. Some of our local riders share their stories about their cycling journey. If you'd like to submit your story, send it to communications@ncc.nsw.gov.au.

Getting back on your bike, by Dr Ben Ewald

As a GP, I see many people with serious health problems - heart disease, diabetes and cancers, for whom daily exercise should be part of the treatment. There is high level research evidence supporting aerobic exercise to reduce the risk of recurrence of cancers or heart attack, and to improve sugar control in diabetes, and to lift mood in depression. There is even improvement in brain function for people with early dementia.

These benefits are especially important for older people, so for some seventy year olds it's time to get back on the bike. Not one of those skinny tyre racing bikes, but something comfortable where you can sit up and look around. Modern city bikes have a comfortable seat and geometry that takes the weight off your wrists. With a pannier or basket you can take a towel to the beach, or pick up some shopping on the way home.

Older people with hip or knee problems often find that cycling is more comfortable than walking, and a step through frame makes for easy starting and stopping without having to swing a leg over the bike.

Newcastle has some excellent off road cycleways such as the Fernleigh track, the Tramway track from Wallsend to Glendale and the foreshore paths for a quiet place to rediscover those cycling skills.

Inner city cycler

I always imagined I'd return to cycling one day, having enjoyed riding in my childhood and teenage years. Finding myself living in Sydney in 2000 with a young family, though, the prospect of a long commute from the Northern Beaches to Darlinghurst was never going to appeal to me. Only when we relocated to Newcastle three years later did the idea of bicycle riding for fun and maybe also to work and back seem possible.

This came to pass with the purchase of some frankly ordinary "supermarket" bikes and the discovery of the recently-opened Fernleigh Track, connecting nearby Whitebridge with the ever-evolving Newcastle city centre. Soon we were exploring the Harbour/Honeysuckle/Foreshore environs and the gently undulating path around Lake Macquarie, near Speers Point. Often with the kids in tow, the chief attraction of this style of cycling was the clear separation from on-road traffic and the easy riding it afforded.

My progression to on-road daily commuting was inspired by a bike-riding work colleague who made me aware of the website of locally-living academic Stephen Flemming, advocating/campaigning for bike-centric city planning, architecture and infrastructure, echoing more far-sighted integrated transport solutions globally. This struck a chord and we soon aligned with those riders who chose to cycle to work most days (weather permitting). Discovering back-street short cuts and safer sections added to the fun with only the occasional puncture threatening to dampen my enthusiasm.

Soon I was feeling fitter and faster, and cycling almost-directly to work only added about twenty minutes to the 30km round trip compared with the bus and its meandering route, and the eventual walk between bus stop and front door. A big bonus to this bicycling breakthrough soon became apparent... at around this time there was a real and rapid growth in cafe-culture in Newcastle, and including a different daily coffee-stop, and a chance to catch up with the morning paper, became an appealing prelude to work. Plenty of other like-minded souls seemed to be doing the same thing and the notion of a viable local cycling culture was taking shape.

I have to point out that where I worked (mostly) tolerated their small minority of two-wheeled employees, with off-street parking and a welcome shower for the warmer months. Ten years later my commute now includes a short train ride from Hamilton towards East Maitland, and many travellers take their bikes on the train, some of them are uni students, some are older professionals, with a pretty equal split between the sexes. Through the carriage windows we see gridlocked traffic around Hexham, struggling to make it into town. 

This is a glimpse into the near future, and why getting more people onto bikes is beneficial to themselves and to motorists alike. Much is made of the us-v-them mentality of cars v bikes, but I've not experienced too much of it first-hand. The angry types who  might beep or shout as they pass are surely the same folk that will be found engaging in road-range exchanges with other drivers, too. I have had just as many pleasant exchanges with motorists, including the time a large 4-offroader stopped me to tell me my rear light had fallen off at the last roundabout, then drove back to retrieve it for me, no-less!

Nowadays I ride when I can, often with family and friends; and continue use our cars when necessary too. The more tribal brands of cycling have eluded me, such as the lycra-racer faction eating up mile after mile of tarmac, or the dirt-covered mountainbikers disappearing into the rugged surrounds of Glenrock Reserve. But collectively we are increasingly like-minded in wanting to promote cycling to the wider public, and find ourselves participating in the growing number of bike-minded events popping up on the calendar, such as Bike Week, Loop-the-Lake and Vintage Tweed Ride.

Here are some tips I'd like to pass on to anyone about to take up cycling for transportation or recreation:

Get a good bike - it doesn't have to be an expensive one. A good start is to buy second-hand and have your purchase given a good going over by your local bike mechanic;

Know your bike shops - check where the nearest ones are to your intended route, know their opening hours, and remember that pretty well every shop will have a knowledgable mechanic or two who will help you out if you come unstuck;

Accept that any route of any decent distance will inevitably have a tricky or dangerous section or road-crossing somewhere along the way. Accept this, work with it, dismount if you need to, and you will soon be back onto more pleasant stretches;

Car doors will eventually open right in front of you, and if you are close enough they will cause you grief... learn to look for people in the driver's seat of parked cars, because they won't look for you (except they will next time, it's a learning process for them too!)

One day you will be caught in an unexpected torrential downpoor. You will get very wet but you will dry out. Phones, wallets, books and stuff you are carrying won't be so lucky... always keep a waterproof cover/bag/whatever with you for when this happens.

Carry a spare inner-tube, wheel-spanner and tyre levers; when you get a puncture you can get going a lot quicker than if you attempt a tube repair... and in all likelihood someone will stop and help you anyway;

Don't be afraid of the dark... night riding is fine if you have good lights. USB-rechargeable lights are the go-to for many people because they are cheap - but beware, they die real quick when they lose charge. Charge them often, and keep spares with you if you can;

Come along to any bicycle-related event you see advertised - you won't find a friendlier or more welcoming crowd and your cheapo/ancient/crapy old bike will not be frowned upon - more likely you will find yourself re-telling how you came by it, how you got it running and so on;

And of course keep checking out sites like this, and any others you see linked to it... it's good to see what's happening and be aware of plans in the pipeline for newer, safer routes and exciting destinations to aim for.