It was a very funny sight this morning along Beach Road in Melbourne. Regular riding group – “The King’s Men” – decided to take on an unusual form of exercise by riding 20kg rental bikes from Melbourne’s Bike Share network.
Starting at MSAC (the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre) in Albert Park, it was a cruise (or rather a sustained effort) to get these steel monsters to Black Rock. The route along popular Beach Ride and back to MSAC covered a respectable 40kms.
But if they’d made the ride just 2 days later they would have been battling for space among the sea of over 10,000 other cyclists who travel along Beach Road on any given Saturday or Sunday.
Among The King’s Men are many riders who compete at the amateur racing level. They can ride anywhere from 500 to 600 km per week but today they met their match.
These blue bicycles are strategically designed to limit top-end speed. They’re more for short trips around major cities than covering longer distances. Even with a lot of horsepower behind them, they could only manage a top speed of 27 km/h – achieved while going flat out during one of many sprints (Mind you these are the same guys who can accelerate up to 65 – 70km/h during a regular racing sprint).
The ride coincides with the release of the 2011 National Cycling Participation Survey, which revealed that 1.1 million people in Victoria ride their bikes every week. Even more amazing is that 40% of the population has ridden a bike in the past year. That’s massively higher than expected. What we’re seeing is a cycling revolution. And, in Victoria, up to 20,000 more cyclists per week are taking to the streets compared to their New South Wales cousins.
The King’s Men rented bikes are part of the Melbourne bike share network that sprawls across the inner city and takes in many landmarks, including the Melbourne Arts Centre and the State Library of Victoria.
Unfortunately the bike scheme has come perilously close to extinction.
Why? The requirement to wear helmets has caused a degree of complication not originally envisaged. While these schemes have been successful in European cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Paris where they have more relaxed helmet requirements, Australia’s compulsory helmet laws undermine the true spirit of the bike scheme. The essence of bike share is about using other forms of transport for short or unplanned trips – precisely the kinds of occasions when one isn’t necessarily carrying a bicycle helmet.
It just goes to prove that, with plenty of energy and commitment, getting around Melbourne is quite easy on a bicycle regardless of whether it’s your own road racer or a bike rented by the hour.
Written by Andrew Talati