Of the many things that people say to me about “every day bicycling,” one of the most annoying is “You’re so brave.” I know that many others have heard this refrain. Implicit to this statement is the belief that bicycling is an inherently dangerous activity. It also reflects a great deal about the speaker and their perception of bicycling. And who should have said this to me when I first met him? Mike Tomalaris from SBS Television.
I met Mike for the first time at the Asia Pacific Cycling Conference, Brisbane 2015. I have found that many who bicycle for every day are not familiar with his role as the face of Australian road cycling for SBS. He has commentated on the Tour de France for twenty years and many other international cycling events. I knew enough about him, that when he started following me on Twitter nine months prior, it was cause for jubilation.
I decided to approach him at the conference to say hello and to thank him for following me. I was flattered that he recognised and addressed me first. He understood my goal to change the perception of bicycling. And then the “you’re so brave” comment hit me. I put my annoyance aside and shrugged, “It’s what I do every day. It’s the best way to take the kids to school and childcare and for me to get to work at a reasonable time.”
Later that morning, I decided to recruit Mike to spread the message of “everyday stylish cycling.” At morning tea break, he asked me if I had any negative experiences with drivers. I told him about the “ten years of bad sex” curse I had shouted at a tradie in a panel van who had unapologetically cut me off on Macquarie Street. Mike laughed uproariously and said, “You’re a cheeky thing!” And with that, I asked him if he would be willing to help me spread the message of every day bicycling. He agreed.
A few months later, I was organising my workshop “How to Bicycle with Style” as part of the Sydney Rides Festival. I contacted Mike to ask him to run the Dutch auction for a Gazelle CityZen bicycle that would be sold on the evening. He agreed initially and then had to bow out because of a prior commitment. During this exchange he asked me if I would consider being featured as a news story for SBS. He called me a “trend-setter.” I considered it for exactly five seconds and agreed.
We met for a coffee before Christmas to discuss. I met him at SBS in Artarmon. I bicycled there, of course. I discovered that the Pacific Highway is not best experienced on a bicycle or even an e-bike. But I managed by bicycling on the footpath at some stage. We sat down for a coffee. My attempt to impress him by bicycling from Surry Hills to Artarmon in heels and a dress was successful.
He admired the Gazelle Orange C-7 ebike. He noted that I wasn’t dripping with sweat and my stilettos. I explained how the Gazelle has four settings on the Bosch motor. Of course, I used the “Turbo” setting to meet him. We discussed some ideas and times and spent a little time getting to know one another.
Plans in place for the news feature, I asked him if he would be willing to come with me for a ride on an ebike one morning. I discovered that he never rides in the city and had never tried an ebike before. And with that, the idea for #Bikeshopeat was born. So much of my life and my family’s lives are dependent upon the bicycle as transport. What do we do every day? We bicycle for transport. Do we forage for food and water in the forest as traditional hunters and gatherers? No. We go out to eat. Do we weave our clothes or tan the hides of animals to make foot coverings? No. We shop.
I met Mike outside Central Station and had a plan in place for the morning. With a time constraint of three hours, we would pick up an ebike from Omafiets Dutch Bicycles in Redfern, visit Single Origin Coffee in Surry Hills and then try on some beautiful clothes at Harrolds at Westfield Sydney. It was an ambitious plan. Parking is impossible to find in Surry Hills and in the city and completing all of this by car would be stressful. Mike also needed to be back at the station by 1pm.
Omafiets had prepared the Gazelle CityZen ebike for Mike to ride this morning. He would be taking it on its maiden voyage in Australia. My worst fears of having him fall and being dressed shabbily were mitigated by a successful test run in Prince Alfred Park and also by a text message that I sent the night before asking him to dress “business casual.” As a reformed “control freak,” the best thing about planning for a day like today is staying flexible and adapting to any changes or disruptions to the schedule.
In this video, it’s clear that Mike doesn’t bike in the city as he’s unaware of the underground sensors that trigger the bicycle green light.
We rode through Surry Hills to coffee for “Eat” and locked up. I had invited Paul from Gazelle Dutch Bicycles Australia to meet Mike. I thought it would be a great way to gather his initial impressions. Mike explained that he was surprised at how easy it was to ride and that he liked being more upright. The weight of the bike had initially concerned him but in less than one kilometre, he was an ebike convert. He understood how commuting to work in a suit could be possible. He admitted that long ago, he used to oppose the Lord Mayor Clover Moore and her pro-bicycle policies for the City of Sydney. Mike asked Paul what he thought of the recent fines put in place by the NSW Government. Paul’s understatement for the day was that they were “not amazing.”
It was time to depart for the “shop” portion of the morning. We bid Paul farewell and took the new Castlereagh Street Cycleway to Pitt Street and onto Westfield Sydney.
It took less than ten minutes for us to travel from Surry Hills to the CBD. We locked up in front of Westfield and ascended the escalators to Harrolds. Luca and Lauris were there waiting to meet us.
I suggested that Mike try on a few jackets and a white shirt with the dwindling time we had together. The transformative power of clothing is always astounding to me.
I could see Lauris working hard to curate the Lardini and Caruso collections into something bite-sized that we could enjoy. And then it was time to depart. It had been a whirlwind of a morning and so fun. Mike exclaimed that he had thoroughly enjoyed the morning.
Of course, I had to have the last word!
I was thinking of the last moments of the Tour de France during the last moments of #Bikeshopeat. When would I ever have the opportunity to sprint past Mike Tomalaris? Today would be the day!