I’ve been bicycling a lot more this week. I haven’t been in lycra setting personal bests or traveling a bit further for more meetings around the city. Instead, I’ve been teaching women how to ride for Gear Up Girl event tomorrow Sunday 12 March 2017. I’m a ride ambassador this year and am leading team “Style with Velo-a-Porter.” We are eight ladies on e-bikes and will be dressed in our best casual weekend style.
I spoke with Elizabeth at Bicycle NSW and we developed this concept together. Last year, I had noticed that most of the women participating were wearing lycra and riding road bikes. Last year, I wore a dress and sandals and was the only one riding an e-bike. This year, seven ladies will be riding with me on e-bikes.
As a woman who has encountered obstacles to riding in Sydney, as many others have, I thought about how I would build my “team”. I put a call-out on social media and three experienced women immediately agreed to come along. These are women who ride every day to work and to shop. They own a few different bicycles. They ride with their kids. They ride on cycleways when they can but have found the quiet roads. And then I thought of a few other women who could benefit from bicycling but haven’t had the opportunity to try it. All of these women are interested in solutions and are open to new ideas.
Lucy and I riding on Forbes Street in Darlinghurst.
I met Lucy at a bicycling dinner last winter. Our partners know one another. In a room full of roadies, I was prepared for an evening of road cycling chatter. What a pleasure it was to meet her in a sea of well-fitting jeans and male voices. We spoke for the entire evening over dinner. I discovered that she wanted to ride more but she was uncomfortable with the road bike stance and the traffic. Riding to work was an impossibility. She wanted to lose some weight and feel healthier. She would occasionally take her road bike to Centennial Park by car and then drive home. Later, to her partner’s consternation, I heard that she rarely did this any longer.
With Caroline on Bourke Road in Alexandria riding to Mascot train station.
Caroline is a friend of my husband’s and I met her when I first landed in Sydney. I went to her birthday party by bicycle last winter. She has expressed a desire to bicycle but never had time or an opportunity to do so between child, husband, work, living in the suburbs. Plus she was afraid of the traffic. Caroline made a dramatic change from working in the corporate-world to academia many years ago. More recently, she mentioned experiencing hip and knee pain and wanted to lose some weight.
I have known Danni since our children were small. My favourite memory of her was walking and talking through the park with our children. Her son slipped, fell and hit his head on a stone wall. His forehead swelled instantly. Fortunately, resourcefulness is Danni’s middle name and she insisted on taking him home instead of to Emergency. She texted me later and told me that she found some ice for her son’s forehead. She had made an ice pack with a spare pair of her son’s undies. On the bus ride home, she had iced his head. I was so impressed. Recently, she expressed interest in riding to her new workplace but lacked confidence to deal with the traffic.
Deb is very active and walks everywhere in the inner-city. She owns her own business and has a very full life. She is constantly exposed to new ideas, technology, people. She invited me to attend a lunch with her this past summer. It was a 40C day and she was impressed that I still looked fresh despite arriving by bicycle. She has always expressed curiosity about how I manage to travel through Sydney by bicycle seemingly without stress and with an indifference to the traffic.
All of these women are educated, intelligent, articulate and interested in solutions. I thought it would be a good time to introduce each of them to the e-bike and to ride 40km together in Gear Up Girl.
Consequently, I organised e-bikes, batteries, keys, locks to hire from Omafiets Dutch Bicycles, Redfern and Glowworm Bicycles, Marrickville. I took each on a training ride with the goal to ride to a specific destination, namely for work. I discovered years ago that without incentive or destination, I would not ride. Each woman expressed fear of the traffic which we have all seen can be nasty, aggressive and seemingly without disregard for life while on the road. Years ago when my husband took me on a training ride, I too was afraid of the traffic behind me. The sound of an accelerating car preparing to pass was terrifying. For each woman, I proposed riding on the cycleway and quiet roads. None was familiar with the cycleways or path-finding by bicycle.
I spoke with each about their concerns, how the e-bike operates, choosing your path, taking the lane and cycling with intent. We started in the garage of my building. We progressed to riding through a quiet passageway en route to Prince Alfred Park. We walked our e-bikes across the road with pedestrians. At the park, we practiced braking, turning, using the throttle and pedal-assist, climbing, changing gears and pedaling.
And then each successfully cycled to their chosen destinations.
Lucy had expressed an interest in riding to work from Bondi to Potts Point. Deb wanted to ride to an meeting in Alexandria. She didn’t have a place to store the e-bike in her apartment building so we have kept hers in our garage. Danni wanted to cycle to her new job in the city. And I proposed that Caroline ride from her workplace to Mascot to catch the train to the western suburbs.
I have texted each to follow up and each has ridden since our training ride. All have expressed great love for the e-bike and how much easier it is to ride. Lucy has been the one to travel the farthest from Bondi and has done so most consistently. I ran into Caroline on Wilson Street. She was practicing with her husband. She expressed her displeasure with him because he took her into traffic and other uncomfortable situations. I was pleased to have witnessed Deb’s comfort level rise when we rode back to Surry Hills. We chatted while riding Dutch-style. A previously uncomfortable intersection was no issue for her during our return journey. I took Danni into the city yesterday and the difference was that we took her son in the cargo bike. He was transfixed by what he could see sitting in the cabin.
Come along for our 40km adventure tomorrow at Gear Up Girl! We’ll be riding side-by-side.