At the end of the return journey from Parramatta this last Sunday with the Sydney Night Rides crew, I ran out of battery power for the Nihola cargo tricycle at Green Square. The total journey was about eighty kilometres return from Surry Hills to Parramatta. Each battery has a range of about thirty five kilometres. I brought two. The last ten kilometres were a hard slog with two kids who weigh about fifty kilos, the Nihola which weighs thirty two kilos, some negligible kilos for gear and me, about sixty eight kilos. Fortunately, there weren’t too many hills on the way back.
“Why go so far by bicycle?” You might be asking. “Why not just drive?” I was curious to know how to get to Parramatta by bicycle. It was a beautiful Spring day. I wanted to see Parramasala. Mostly, I wanted a delicious Indian lunch and to use it to fuel my way home (ie. not gain weight). In summary: “Why not?”
My husband Justin was away to Western Australia for a four-day MTB race. The kids and I had managed to get ourselves to school and work during the week. Saturday is a day for figure skating practice and grocery shopping.
We like to reserve Sunday for doing something fun or lazing around in our pyjamas until noon after pancakes and bacon. But this Sunday I thought it would be great fun to go for a long ride with the kids, try some Indian street food together and check out the South Asian festival, Parramasala. I had been shouting at my daughter for not-doing-lots-of-things most mornings as seems to be typical for eight-year-olds. I wanted a change too.
We set off in the Nihola and arranged to meet up with the crew at Tempe train station. I know the route to the Cooks River Cycleway because I used to take my daughter to violin lessons in Eastwood on Fridays. For a year, we traveled thirty-six kilometres return from Surry Hills to Eastwood. It’s a great ride. My fitness levels improved dramatically that year and my weight dropped. We pass the international airport and the kids and I love watching the planes taking off overhead. We can often see landing gear retracting while we bicycle along the canal. Then, my daughter’s violin teacher moved past Westmead. Too far away! I found another excellent teacher in Paddington.
At Tempe Station, we met up with the small group which includes Jules, Marie and Nein, the organisers of Sydney Night Rides. We set off along the familiar Cooks River Cycleway. I was trying to conserve power by using the throttle intermittently. There are a couple of known obstacles along the cycleway. They’re all manageable. I have to dismount and angle the Nihola around the sharp angles of a bridge. An entranceway to an underpass is quite narrow and requires crossing Canterbury Road. No problems.
Interestingly, several riders were concerned for the safety of my children and suggested that I ride separately on the footpath on a few occasions. I refused. There were three spots where we all rode on the footpath together and of course, I hit the bottom of the cabin each time we descended a ramp. I hate that awful scraping sound. As a result, I mentioned to the organisers that it would be better to consider us as a “bicycle” not “family with young children” and that the safest place for us to ride was the road, ironically.
We passed next to the M4 on the “snake bridge” as I like to call it. We took it the last time we went to Cabramatta for Chuseok, the Harvest Festival in Korea or the Moon Festival as Sinophiles like to call it. It feels like we’re in the belly of a snake with the length of the curved fencing reminding me of the ribs.
My daughter Ofelia, who is eight, had wanted to ride her own bicycle to Parramatta. I had agreed as she has ridden long distances before without issue. We had discussed leaving the bicycle locked up somewhere and returning to pick it up on the way back if she tired or couldn’t keep up. Unfortunately, our delayed departure made that difficult. Consequently, I wasn’t surprised when she started to complain after sitting in the cabin of the Nihola for several hours. I had packed snacks and water for the kids. Soon, it became obvious to the others in the group that riding in the cabin of the Nihola was quite luxurious with mum-provided food, drink and transport.
Fortunately, by lunchtime we were in Harris Park where we found the eatery Chatkazz. Their specialty is street food of which I was unfamiliar. I recognised a few dishes like dosas, idli and dal but was otherwise totally in the dark. I love that feeling. What impending food adventure would present itself at lunch? I ordered six different small dishes hoping that some would be mild enough for my four-year old son Julius.
I should have known that this was unlikely. There were small chile pepper icons everywhere on the menu and also on the sign outside the restaurant. The mango lassis helped to keep my kids mouths cool and I was in food heaven when the dishes started arriving. The best was the puri, small deep fried Indian bread. Inside each was a spicy potato filling. They required filling with three different liquids, one was tamarind the others I have forgotten. They were to be eaten in one bite. Delicious!
We ate our fill and then went to Parramasala via the Parramatta River. This was the first time I had cycled on the river. It reminded me of Brisbane. My son loved the Aboriginal decorations on the cycleway. I ran into a friend who leads bicycling skill groups for women in Parramatta. The ladies were all impressed that we had all come from the inner-city of Sydney. We said goodbye and cycled away from one another on opposite sides of the river.
The presence of the festival was inescapable with loud music greeting us before the colourful costumes and savoury food odors presented themselves. One of our group was from Nepal and he said that the music was Sufi. Usually, poetry would be read before the dancing and singing commenced. By the time we approached the stage after locking up our bicycles, he said that the dancers were Rajasthani because of the turbans. I remarked that having grown up in a place where these cultures were in such close proximity, it would be easy for him to recognise their provenance. I thought it would be like my ability to differentiate between European languages. He agreed. We stayed for a little while and despite my kids desire for a camel ride, we departed for the several hour journey back home. But not before a photo with some lovely dancers.
I brought an extra fully charged battery for the journey home. I changed batteries after lunch but would we have enough power to make it home? I wasn’t sure. The option to take the train back home was a possibility. But I wasn’t enticed enough. The ride home was faster with less than half our group.
As we were riding, I noticed again that I was the oldest person riding by about ten years, and the only one with children. Why? Is it a “grown up” thing to give up the bicycle and drive? What would become of this group when individuals partnered and started having children? Would they give up the bicycle as well?
My husband and I are one of the few remaining families from our social and work circles who have stayed in the city. We moved two blocks closer to the city after our daughter was born. Despite the presence of our children, our bicycle accumulation has been fast and fierce and our fitness levels and quality of life better.
I love the Sydney Night Rides food tours because they aren’t about the bicycle. The food is the reason for the ride. The bicycle is the means by which we take ourselves to destinations whether they be the office, childcare or fantastic food and culture.
Come join to make an attitudinal change in Sydney to bicycles for every day. If I can do it as a mid-forties mother of two, you can do it too!
Today’s ensemble: Leona Edmiston dress, Bruno Magli sandals c/o Pelle Shoes, Paddington, Witchery sandals, Nihola cargo tricycle, Linus Sac bag, Yakkay helmet
Ofelia: Zara t-shirt and skirt, Nutcase helmet, Geox sandals
Julius: Big W hoodie, Industrie t-shirt, Children’s Place shorts, Geox sandals.