When did you last experience an adrenaline rush? Jumping from a plane with parachute strapped to your back? Negotiating peak-hour traffic on your bike? For me, it was on the recent Nightlife radio programme with Matt Bevan of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Sydney.
I bicycled to the studio and met the producer and Matt. I waited in a brightly lit room and checked my notes. I was a little nervous but had prepared. And then it was show time. As expected, when callers started ringing and texting the need for bicycle licenses, anecdotal evidence of cyclists not stopping at red lights and even witnessing DEATH by bicycle, I was a bit fed up. I suggested to Matt that it would be good to make things more positive. We had descended into talk-back radio hell. For me, it was no different to what one might find listening to one of those other radio stations.
I noticed David Heatley, the other guest on the programme, had no trouble speaking for several minutes whereas my responses tended to be quite succinct. Consequently, when Matt asked me for solutions, I incorporated how the Netherlands bicycle culture had evolved. And how I bicycled without problem every day in the City of Sydney, lost 20kg and kept it off. I noticed a slight quaver in my voice and that my hands and legs were shaking. Concluding the interview, Matt asked me what he should do to start cycling again. It was an opportunity to invite him for a #bikeshopeat. As I was escorted out of the studio, both Matt and the producer said that I had done well. I may have forgotten to breathe.
Before departing, I reiterated my request and Matt seemed keen. He gave me his email address and then I descended in the lift. The shaking had eased by the time I arrived at ground floor. There was a short queue of taxi cab drivers outside the building. I asked the bored-looking Asian driver to take a video. He smiled. It was a great conclusion to my time at the ABC that evening.
The following Monday, I received an email from an ABC producer. I had an hour to expose Matt to the delights of bicycling in Sydney. Would I find out if he was a flat-white or long-black drinker? The make of bicycle he once rode? Why he stopped cycling? Would we have time to take a turn around Prince Alfred Park to get him accustomed to the speed and power of an ebike? No.
It would be a challenge but a worthy one. I borrowed an ebike from my favourite bicycle shop. I even brought along a charger in case Matt was inspired to start commuting again from home to the city. I dropped both off in the morning before the full heat of the expected 35C day . I called the menswear shop the day before to prepare them for our arrival. Matt had mentioned that he had once commuted. But how long ago? I decided to take him along the Goods Line to test his abilities. The construction of the light rail on George Street would slow us down slightly but only for one block.
As a mum and business person, I am solutions-driven. Consequently, when Matt showed up wearing a too-long cross-body bag, I helped him make the strap shorter. When he first took off in the wrong direction on the e-bike, I realised that the pedal assist was too high. I dialed it down. I evaluated his performance on the ramp of the Goods Lines. He didn’t stop once making the 90 degree turns. I could see his confidence growing. He was aware of taking the lane and staying out of the door zone. Still, he was recording our ride, speaking into a microphone and bicycling at the same time. “Asset” was the word that came to mind. As in “keep the ABC Sydney Asset safe.”
Matt kept up a steady patter while riding. I pointed at the ground to indicate obstacles and to also encourage him to ride next to me. While on Pitt Street after leaving the separated cycleway on Castlereagh Street, I motioned for him to ride side-by-side. I explained that Pitt Street was a safer street because it was often empty and that when there was traffic, speeds were slow. Why? Drivers tend to take Elizabeth Street or College Street onto Macquarie Street as thoroughfares through the eastern part of the city.
I positioned us in the middle lane of Pitt Street before crossing Park Street because it’s the clearest lane for cyclists. The far right and left lanes are often at a standstill because drivers are trying to turn while pedestrians are crossing. And then, the shopping precinct of Pitt Street Mall, was visible.
Matt had already remarked that he was far beyond walking distance from the office to go for lunch, do a little shopping, get a coffee. At the mens shop, Matt was now more comfortable on the bicycle than he was in Italian menswear. But no matter, the point had been made that the e-bike made it possible to go farther, do more and comfortably so on one of the hotter days of the year.
My next concern was riding back to the studio on Castlereagh Street which doesn’t have a bi-directional separated cycleway past Liverpool Street. We would have three long blocks in the shared bus lane to reach the safety of the cycleway. “Keep the Asset safe, Sarah” flashed again into my head. I encouraged Matt to ride next to me again, Dutch-style. It was another means for me to keep an eye on him and on the traffic behind us. I explained that the Dutch consider cycling to be inherently social and they often hold conversations while bicycling. We were graced with a taxi driver sounding his horn at us and the rest of the ride was uneventful, a snooze even.
We walked past the construction on George Street again and along the Haymarket tram tracks. Nearing the ABC, I saw Matt concentrating. I asked him if all was ok and he said yes. He was thinking about the work that he had coming up in the next few hours. And then I knew that this was a successful #bikeshopeat. My
asset guest was relaxed enough to think about the next task at hand while bicycling in traffic on Harris Street.
Listen to Matt’s take on our #bikeshopeat on Nightlife.