On Nov 21st, I posted the results of the Bicycle Network’s Helmet Law Survey. I was delighted this week to see some topical debate about the results taking place amongst the wider Australian cycling community. I was most impressed by the active, critical engagement and points raised by the Freestyle Cyclist Editor, who yesterday posted a very interesting commentary about the Bicycle Network itself and it’s handling of the Helmet Law Survey. If you haven’t see it yet, here it is. Always good to hear differing points of view and advocates pushing for more thoughtful approaches of key issuesfor further positive action!You can add your voice to the Helmet Law Reform here.Enjoy, NG.
Will Australia’s largest bike riding organisation be influenced by the majority of submitted participation/injury evidence and surveyed public opinion when it decides over the next few months whether to continue supporting Australia’s mandatory bicycle helmet laws?
The Bicycle Network has published the results of its open survey during August and September on public and membership opinion of the helmet laws.
The survey was completed by 19,327 respondents
Respondents were mostly Bicycle Network members and people who ride bikes with varying regularity.
2.6% of respondents were from overseas, and 1.9% of respondents said they never ride a bike.
58.3% of respondents said there should be a change to helmet laws, while the remaining 41.7% said helmets should be mandatory all the time
40.7% believe helmets should only be mandatory when the risk is high, for example, when racing, on road or for young people
30.4% would ride more if helmets weren’t mandatory
If laws changed, almost all people who currently wear a helmet when they ride would continue to do so and the number of people who never wear a helmet when riding would only increase by 3.7%
As expressed by the Bicycle Network’s media release: A survey of almost 20,000 people has found that nearly two-thirds don’t believe you should have to wear a helmet every time you ride a bike in Australia.
Which sounds similar to what Freestyle Cyclists has been saying for the past decade.
Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richard says the network will use the membership and public responses when evaluating its position on helmets, along with literature and expert opinions, with a decision expected in April 2018. “It’s great to get such a large amount of public opinion about bike helmets. It’s something people are clearly passionate about and it’s helpful to see how Australia’s helmet laws may impact people’s decision to ride,” said Mr Richards. “The opinion of our members and people who ride bikes is important and will help inform our policy on Australia’s mandatory helmet law. Along with academic research and information from experts, we will be able to make a fully informed decision.”
The Bicycle Network has about 50,000 members. Its influence could force media and political consideration of the helmet law issue if its policy review objectively considers the mountain of evidence proving Australia’s helmet law failure and if it does the right thing in April by recommending repeal.
A majority of Bicycle Network members are lycra cyclists who always wear helmets and it is interesting that 38.9% wanted some form of repeal in their survey responses. Among the network members, 70.4% would continue to wear a helmet every time they ride.
Among all respondents to the Bicycle Network survey, 17.6% believed that bicycle helmets should never be mandatory, in line with the Freestyle Cyclists opinion that they should be voluntary among all ages. Only 1.9% of survey respondents said they never ride a bike and 30.4% of all respondents said they would cycle more if helmets weren’t mandatory.
Of course, the survey wasn’t measuring the hundreds of thousands of people who would actually ride a bike in the first place if not threatened with police punishment for cycling without a helmet.
The public health and traffic safety benefits would be enormous with both more cyclists and a 30% increase in current cycling duration. All the newly participating riders would otherwise probably be driving a car and the hospital data suggests fewer cyclists will be crashing and injuring some part of their body.
The Bicycle Network is under pressure from many within its own membership, from Australia’s pro-law academia and from the media to make no change to its long-standing position of support for mandatory bike helmet laws. Most mainstream media such as in Western Australia continue to ignore any reference to the Bicycle Network’s helmet policy review, let alone the survey results.
The few media outlets that have published stories online or in press about the survey results have highlighted the medical community’s opposition and/or quoted one of the many helmeted cyclists who so frequently crash and are convinced it has saved their life.
It’s likely that well over 99% of Australians are unaware of the review or survey, adding weight to the 19,327 who did know and let their majority helmet law opposition be known in the Bicycle Network survey.
Freestyle Cyclists urges the Bicycle Network to objectively evaluate the real world evidence of Australia’s mandatory helmet law failure and accept that its own pro-repeal survey results support the mountain of submitted evidence that the laws discourage a huge number of people from riding a bike, and with highly questionable injury results.
Last weekend was the 10th anniversary of the Kurilpa Derby in Brisbane.
It is a fantastic annual community celebration of life on wheels.
The Kurilpa Derby is a major social and community event where the main street of the West End (Brisbane) is blocked off for the afternoon and taken over by all things colourful, fun, family and related to bikes…and other environmentally-friendly people-powered mobility, such as skateboards, scooters, roller-skates, trolleys, prams and everything in between!
The Derby is hosted by West End Community Association and is open to the general public and showcases the best that the West End has to offer in terms of business, community and lifestyle.
I have not previously been to the Derby before and this year it came highly recommended. Boy and I glad I went.
I had a brilliant time.
What happened at Kurilpa Derby?
The event is a much loved, anticipated and popular event.
It was a stunning, sunny day – and there was a great turn out.
Leki was at her floral best and I went as a jokey to pay homage to the ‘derby’ theme and also for the upcoming Melbourne Cup.
The day started with the Kurilpa Derby Street Parade.
Leki and I joined in the street parade along with all the other participants floats, families and locals.
The Parade was colourful and noisy and a lot of fun. We were surrounded by colour and energy and lots of locals, families and community groups participated.
The effort and thought that people had put into decorating whatever parade mode they had and their costuming was impressive.
There was so much to see in the parade, like the Brazilian dancing girls, a ‘public pool’ (float), beautifully decorated rickshaws, couches on wheels, unicycles, a tall bike, lots of environmentally-themed mobile displays and a number of killer drumming troupes who keep the parade bopping along.
An amazing oversized water rat ended up winning the float first prized prize.
My personal parade favourite was the beekeeping team-theme float. This was an understand, but well executed exhibit that had a spunky lady dressed as a bee inside a box decorated as the ‘hive’ as their float. This hive float was pulled by two fully equipped bee keepers (in full bee keeping suits including smoke cans). This crew handed out ices-poles anyone who wanted them the whole time – brilliant!
After the Parade, the road remained closed and there were a range of activities, demos, novelty races and entertainment, such as a Pet Parade, a cocktail race, skateboard demonstration and heaps of other novelty races.
It was brilliant to see so many visitors and families out and about. Kids were roaring up and down the street in between races enjoying the freedom, safety and fun of having an allocated street to roam free and go wild.
It was such a delight to see the community – all locals and visitors alike – come together in such a celebratory and inclusive way.
As the sun went down the festivities continued. The bars, shops, cafes and restaurants did a roaring business and were keep buys all day and night.
Many people stayed on after to attend the Kurilpa Beggars’ Banquet, which is a brilliant community potluck dinner extravaganza.
If you have never been to the Kurilpa Derby before, be sure to put it on the calendar for next year. It is well worth it!
For this blog post, we are heading to the U.S. -not for Halloween, but the night before – Witch’s Eve! I’ve been keeping my eyes open for one event in particular. I’ve been waiting in earnest to see what happened this year for Mala Bruja NYC Alleycat Race. This is an all-female charity Alleycat Bike Race. But alas, it seems like it didn’t go ahead this year. I’m still posting about this awesome race as I think it is important more people recognise, appreciate and celebrate the wonderful diversity of urban riding culture – and nothing does that more than Alleycats. I’m sad it didn’t go ahead this year, but these events can be challenging to organise, so maybe next year. Either way, kudos to those who did make an effort to make it happen for the last couple of years. We salute you! We definitely need more events like this one- and most critically in Aust!! Enjoy! NG.
This weekend most Americans are celebrating Holloween.
The night before Halloween is Witch’s Eve.
For the last two years, an ultra-cool crew headed up by Caro and Kenya have put on an all-female charity Alleycat bike race in NYC on Witch’s Eve.
I have been following this event. I think it is a great initiative and I wish there were more like it! Reminds me of the good olde days when I helped out at Melbourne Alleycat races – what a blast!
Alleycat bike races are something to behold. They are informal race bike held in cities where riders need to navigate local streets and traffic to make check points and get back the fastest. It is also a massive social get together, have some fun and ride bikes with your mates.
Alleycats are well known for having a strong participation and fun focus. Some ride to compete, others just to be part of the fun.
Race formats for Alleycats can vary – but usually, there is not official race course that riders must take, but there are check points that need to be met. Riders get a map of the check points just before heading off and are free to make their own way there and back.
The fastest rider to meet all check points and get over the finish line is the winner.
Alleycats races are unsanctioned and can be run during the day or night. Riders race through city streets and have to navigate normal traffic and vehicles while the race is going on. This is why Alleycat races are often perceived by many to be quite dangerous.
Meeting check points must be authenticated in some way. This varies depending on the race, but is often something like a stamp, badge, signature, or some other object that must be gathered at each check point as evidence.
Often there are activities and/or obstacles at each checkpoint. These can fun, entertaining, challenging and range from easy to hard. Activities could be beer-drinking, eating dry Weed-Bix, doing exercise (like 20 star jumps) or some bike skill – like track stands, monos or jumps. They are designed to add a little more variety and fun to the race – as you can see in Dave Gustafa’s video below, which was posted on the Alleycat Facebook page.
The map of race checkpoints is usually provided right before the race starts, so riders who know the city well have a hometown advantage – hence the attraction for bike couriers. Participants can pretty much ride anywhere they need to to make the checkpoints – on or off-road, through buildings, parks, uni campuses, between houses – where ever and however is needed.
It is an all-female dress-up charity bike race around New York City. The event has been running the last two years and has had a great turn out. It is well supported by entrants as well as spectators and support crews and family, friends and fans.
It costs $10 to enter the race, with the money going to charity.
All bikes are accepted (not just fixes) and costumes are highly encouraged.
Two years ago was the inaugural Mala Bruja ‘Hellcat’ race. With short notice and planning, the event still managed to pull over 70 female riders on the night. If you want to find out more details of this event, of which there were over 70+ women- lots of ace photos too!
Australia does not have a massive bike courier culture like NYC or San Franciso. However we do have a dedicated and cool crew in all major capital cities. Personally, I’d love to see some more events like this happening in Australia.
Races like this show the awesome diversity and variety in bikes, riders and lifestyles – and is a great way to bring people together.
Even if you are not up for riding in an Alleycat, helping out at one of the races (or checkpoints), or going to spectate is a brilliant way to support the event.
As the world heads more for mainstream and conservative conformity – events like the Mala Bruja Alleycat are so important.
Although these events are often secretive when unregulated (so you need to know the organisers, riders or bike messages who are part of it to know of the race) yet they still contribute much mystique, diversity and spice to our current urban cycling milieu.
Love them or hate them, Alleycat events like the Mala Bruja ticks many boxes: they are social, healthy, recognise bike skills , promote inclusion, have strong participation females urban rides, raise money for charity, bring community together and nurture our valuable, unique and much-needed sub-cultures.
General Public – Think outside the bike!!
Personally, I think there is incredible value in recognising and celebrating the uniqueness and variety in the biking community. It disturbs me that the vast majority of the general public view ‘cycling’ as being the lycra-clad road riders and that essentially this is the pervasive stereotype of what a rider or cyclist is.
Such views negate the massive diversity in styles and types of riding – both urban and track like: MTB, fixi, singlespeed, trials, Enduro, fat bikes, Tall bikes, Unicycles, tricycles, e-bikes, Cyclocross, Crits, bike packing, BMX, DH, Cruisers, Communters, cargos….and the list goes on and on. Each of these styles has their own rich and vibrant communities.
I think all these bike ‘sub-cultures’ need to be valued and recognised as being part of the awesome variety and character that form our current biking community. I can only hope people look beyond the the lycra to see how amazing, distinctive and fertile our biking and cycling communities are. Viva la Alleycats!
On meeting, we immediately hit it off. We had a shared passion for promoting more bikes in our communities. We were both keen to attend each others’ sessions, but we had to present at the same time! Eck!
We swapped contacts and have stayed in touch since. I was delighted to see that Jac, Bike Bendigo, their local partners and what looks like their whole community – have been super busy because October is Bike Bendigo’s Bike Palozza month-long festival!
What is Bike Palooza Bendigo?
Essentially, Bike Palooza Bendigo is a month long bike festival hosted by Bike Bendigo to celebrate and promote biking, cycling and riding in and around the community of Bendigo, VIC.
Bike Bendigo is a community based organisation committed to getting more people on bikes in Bendigo. They partner with local council to promote the local area as a principal bicycle destination for all types of riders – and they are doing a damn fine job of it too!
Bike Palooza Bendigo has been in the media and it is great to see local businesses getting behind Bike Bendigo and the event and supporting it.
A well thought out event.
Kudos to the organisers as the event has been extremely well thought out, in relation to timing, types of events and locations.
Also, the consistency and originality of the event marketing theme (website, colours, animations etc) is original and distinctive – and there is a limited line of event pennants and T-shirsts and badges available.
This is a wonderful month-long event with over 120+ events to check out- it is very family friendly and definitely something for everyone!
There is the Ride2Work day, the inaugural Bendigo Cycle Classic, the Filmed by Bike International Bike Film Festival, Free Wheeling Fun open shed, Open Streets and heaps of community rides to name a few.
My hot tip event not to be missed is the Filmed by Bike screening.
This free event will be a screening of two of shows from the world renowned international bike film festival from Portland, Oregon: Bike Love and Adventure Shorts. To see these films – head down to: Hargreaves Mall this Friday (20th Oct). 6.30pm for 7pm start of films. Click here for more details. There will be a pop-up bar, plenty of comfy seating provided on the night, so BYO picnic, dinner and ride on it to see the screening.
Mind you – I’m keen to go on any of the community rides as well!!
I have been immensely impressed with the amount of work that Jac and the Bike Bendigo crew have put into the Bike Palozoo extravaganza. Amazing!
Congrats on such a brilliant showcase of your region, your town and for creating such a positive dialogue about, and promotion for, bike-friendly communities…and for extending the invitation for more cyclists to come a enjoy your very welcoming and bike-friendly town!
I can’t wait to head down and come for a ride!
Have fun to all those heading to Bendigo to support this awesome event, I hope you have a bikey-blast!
For those who have not yet gone – get on ya bike and get down there!
10am Registrations start
10:30am Quick speech on details ect
11:30am Registrations close
1-1:30pm Peoples choice closes
2pm Trophy presentations
These are approx. times as its our first show and we’re still getting into the swing of things.
Between these times we can mingle and meet others and talk bikes for the day.
Few key points to keep in mind are:
*when you arrive just come over to the rego marquee and fill out paperwork and we’ll give you all the info you need
*if you arrive after rego closes you are still welcome to display bikes, but they wont be eligible for trophys
*all trophy winners must be present to win, if not it will go to next in line!!
*please use your peoples choice to vote for a bike you like and not your own as if everyone votes for there own bike then no one wins.
* judges bikes will not be up for any awards as its a conflict of interest.
* any questions on the day, just come up to one of us wearing a pedal pushers shirt and we’ll help out as best we can.
*its a public park so we can’t be held responsible for any damages to property but if we all show some respect for others property and keep a look out then there won’t be any problems.
*please use bins provided
*most of all….enjoy the day and meet some like-minded people!!
Along with millions of other homes in 179 countries and in over 7,000 cities, from 8.30pm – 9.30pm tonight, those homes who have registered are turning off all the power for at least one hour in recognition of worldwide climate, resource and environmental issues.
How bicycles are part of Earth Hour 2017
I am very proud to see this Australian event take off internationally and to see how bicycles have been incorporated more and more into the event – here are just a few ways cycling is featuring this year around the world for Earth Hour 2017.
There are heaps of bicycle-themed events going on this year for Earth Hour. Here are some innovative examples:
I was interested to find that in 2014 there was a spin-off version of Earth Hour called ‘Bike Hour’ – a very bicycle-inspired initiative.
If you are interested – the short video below shows some of the highlights and impacts from Earth Hour 2016. If you are not already involved – and even if you are – perhaps you can host your own Earth Hour bicycle event! Good luck and have fun!!
On Friday I went to the Bike Futures Conference 2017 in Melbourne St Kilda. Here’s quick review of the highlights.
This was my first Bike Futures Conference and I wanted to make the most of it after travelling down from Brisbane. There were over 150 local council representatives, engineers urban planners, school staff, public servants, bike advocates, academics, local residents and many more. Essentially this one-day conference was an opportunity to share current projects and discuss some of the main challenges, success and practical tools that various divisions around Melbourne have been working on. The main aim is to increase, make safer and improve urban cycling conditions. This was a great opportunity to connect and learn from industry experts and peers.
As well as the guided ride to the venue, the conference format was broken into three main sections. You can see the full program of topics and a full list of presenters which shows the range of issues and areas the conference covered.
My conference day started at 8 AM at Federation Square for the guided ride to the venue. There were 18 delegates on the ride, and it was a stunning morning. Our route took us from Federation Square to St Kilda Town Hall showcasing some of the best of Melbourne’s bicycle-friendly infrastructure. We had three stops at key locations along the way where we heard representatives from Vicroads, City of Melbourne and City of Port Phillip speak about specific bicycle infrastructure, current projects and considered future developments.
Not only was it great as a social ride (I made a point of chatting to others when safe to do so), the presentations themselves were very informative. I was also relishing being back on two wheels on Melbourne roads – I was flooded with memories and emotions as I relived endless glory days of pedalling in and around Melbourne on some of my favourite adventures with some of my favourite people.
An added highlight was riding along the Formula One Grand Prix track at Albert Park – something I just can’t do in Brisbane, and it added an extra festive zing to my day.
1. Key guest speakers
1. Claire Ferres Miles (General Manager, Place Strategy and Development, City of Port Phillip). This was a solid start to the conference good overview of projects and update of current and future plans for active transportation.
2. Professor Chris Pettit (Inaugural Chair of Urban Science at the University of New South City Futures Research Centre). Chris’s presentation was very interesting. It was research and a little nerdy. His work focuses on spatial planning and use of GIS and mapping technologies to investigate land-use change scenarios. He showed an impressive simulation based on Melbourne riders using the Logmyride app (I’ll do a follow-up post on this as it was very cool!!).
3. Toby Kent (Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Melbourne). Far out – what a presenter. Not only an unexpected addition to the conference given the seemingly loose connection Melbourne City’s Resilience status has – but Toby managed to connect with the audience, be squarely on topic, appropriate and clearly linked what his Office does to the audience’s experience – and a super charismatic orator. Quite spokes, calm and very well prepared, I can see why he is in the top leadership role.
4. Luke Donnellan (Minister for Roads and Road Safety). As would be expected, Luke coped quite a lot of flak – and deservedly so. Not only was he in full politician style of not directly answering questions, he missed the mark on a number of key issues, put his foot in his mouth by disrespecting a Western Council representative (of which she challenged him on very appropriately!) and was a terrible speaker by reading off his notes in a monotone and completely disinterested and unengaged way and made no attempt to looking at the audience at all. And then promptly ran away. Oh dear!
2. Pecha Kucha Sessions
This format is quick and interesting, with each presentation having 20 slides (for 20 sec each) being about 6.5 min in total.
1. Evaluation of Bike Ed in School – Che Sutherland (Team Leader – Darebin Council)
2. St Kilda Road Safety Improvement – Sean Yates (Project Development Engineer -Vicroads)
3. Low-stress cycling in Whitehorse – Amy Child, Arup & Lean McGuiness (City of Whitehorse)
4. Greening the Pipeline Project – Emma Pryse (Project Coordinator – City of Wyndham).
5. Bike Safety and trucks Jamie Ross (Safety Officer – Metro Tunnel Project)
3. Afternoon Break-out Workshop sessions
After lunch, we split up across different rooms to attend our registered session themes.
Session 1: Jump starting Active School Travel
Investigating a very successful case study of Park Orchards Primary School. This workshop explained the process and strategies used to link parents, teachers and community member together to provide a ‘perfect storm’ for a community active transportation initiative spanning a school term in 2012. With a review three years later, the positive behaviour changes in kids and families using more active transportation to go to school was impressive. This workshop was generous in providing details, suggestions and insights of how the project was designed and what elements conspired to make it such as success. It is now considered the Gold Standard of what other schools could achieve. A great session that stimulated lots of conversation and was very through-provoking and inspiring.
Session 2: Getting Girls and Women Riding
This session was run by Bicycle Network and was reporting back on two initiatives – getting more teenage girls (high school) on bikes via a specific program designed just for teenage girls, and getting more women on road bikes via the Ascent event. This session was particularly interesting for me given the unique (and negative) experiences that the Ascent team had in organising and putting on the original 700+ women’s only road cycling event – and the subsequent difficulties they encountered trying to do it again the year after.
The notion of sharing new ideas about a range of new ways in which bicycles create positive community change was a fitting way to conclude the 2017 Bike Futures Conference. The conference closed with Bicycle Network’s Chief Executive Officer, Craig Richards call to action to “dream bigger make it happen”. After the official close, we then mingled and finalised any contact, got our bikes and those who were up for it headed to the pub across the road for social drinks and to continue informed and passionate discussions.
For me, the best part of the conference was able to meet such a range of diverse people. From teachers, academics, health professionals, industry experts (lots of E-bikers) BUGers, engineers, transport technicians and lots of local council representatives.
The enjoyed being able to sit and listen to the presentations and take what I needed. I met a wide range of very interesting people and practised talking about my research and this blog. In fact, at one stage I went up to some Bicycle Network delegates to thank them for putting on the conference and I mentioned my work, the instantly connected me with another Bicycle Networker called Alex who is working in India with a Bike Aid program and we ended up finding a quite nook to have a good chat – awesome!
I had a great time at the conference, got some great new ideas and felt re-inspired. It made me miss not being in Melbourne amidst this charge of new bicycle development, but also provided some valuable food for thought and some wonderful new contacts. I was very happy I made an effort to go down to Melbourne to attend this conference.
I met Bob when he was out for his regular afternoon Bayside ride. I was returning from my afternoon ride, and when I first saw him, Bob and his friends were coming towards me in the opposite direction. He caught my eye, mostly because his riding group was a little unusual – they had a tandem out front followed by a couple of homemade recumbents, of which Bob was on one. As a group they made quite and unusual sight!
Bob is a ex-serviceman who rides his homemade bike everyday with mates. In many ways his ride is just like any other group routine rides, but in others his story is special. For me it raises the critical issue of healthy social transition of returned veterans back into society – and the role that bicycles can play as means of facilitating increased social connections and rehabilitation for returned war veterans..
Bob and his recumbent
As is my style, I hailed him down and asked him about his bike. He was very happy to have a chat, and we ended up talking for a while.
Bob is a local to the bayside area and rides the foreshore every afternoon. He’s a war veteran and after an operation six years ago he was not able to ride upright, so he started riding recumbents.
To keep busy, Bob made his own recumbent which he usually rides, but today he was on his mates’ homemade recumbent as his was being repaired. He was lamenting not having his own bike today, as his mates’ recumbent seat did not fit him as well as his own does – being handmade, the seat he was in was not adequately adjustable to fit his size difference. But, that wasn’t going to stop him.
Most afternoons Bob and his mates go for a ride. Bob said they often ride together and raise a few eyebrows, not only because of the recumbent, but also because they were homemade. We continued chatting for a while about bike-related experiences and the said good bye.
Again, after hearing his story, I was blown away by the unexpected and amazing stories that people have about their bicycles. It also highlighted the unique bond the riders share in their common interest and recognition for the importance of bicycles in so any people’s lives.
Bob’s story stayed with me for a few reasons. Aside from having the nous make his own road-worthy recumbent (which is impressive in itself), I was particularly moved when hearing about Bob’s experience of being a war veteran and his operation. It reminded me that you can never guess a person’s motivation to ride a bike, or what need it fulfils.
But more importantly, as a community member I really benefited from meeting Bob – I wanted to hear his story and ideas about his bike, his social rides and whatever he felt comfortable to tell me. I think when there is a natural, genuine and organic meeting between people, it can vastly improve how relaxed and ‘normal’ the interaction is. We also had a common love of bikes to chat about -but if we didn’t I would never have stopped to talk to Bob and I would have missed making a very valuable connection.
I can’t speak for Bob, but I really enjoyed meeting him. It was relaxed and interesting.I felt connect to my community, that I was richer for it too. I’ll give him a wave next time I see him as we whiz by – because that’s what people do in healthy communities -they recognise each other. It was not so much that Bob was an ex-serviceman, but that meeting Bob reminded me of the diversity in life and experiences that are in every community – that some groups are less recognised than others. I wondered where or who the other ‘Bobs’ were in our communities. Who else is isolated from social interaction? So many.
I hope those who need or want some social connection gets on a bike. Whether its loneliness, disability, depression or you just need some fresh air and a break – seems like going for a ride is non-threatening, easy and quick way to make a contact if you want to. What I like to call a ‘wave-buddy’. I’m not mates with Bob and I don’t know him, but next time I see I’ll wave and say.
Bicycles are useful, accessible and practical for a vast array of applications to pretty meet pretty much any social need, but using them as a social service and integration measure for returned veterans was not the first idea that sprang to mind. So my meeting with Bob really gave me something to think about and made me stop and to ponder other hidden demographics in our community that be overlooked, under-represented or inconspicuous to most other community member.
It seems to me that returned war vets are all but invisible in our communities. I know they exist and some people might even know one, but their experiences are often so unique and unfathomable by most that it is no wonder that many service men find it difficult to recovery and have a normal social life. But it seems to me that many of the bridging programs supporting returned veterans’ reintegration into society are either intensely personal consultations – like therapy and debriefing – which are understandably only privy to, or strategic social interventions focused on building and maintain relationships with immediate family members, such as spouses and kids. From my initial research into returned vet services, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot helping vets as individuals create their connections with wider community members.
The Mates 4 Mates program is an exception and an exemplar model of bringing vets together to get out and do social activities together – especially as it is focused on physical activities in public spaces. So this is where bikes could be useful. I have no doubt the they would have already had some longer organised riders (like annual charity fundraisers types), but was more curious to see if they had any smaller, regular social riders around local communities.
Why not more local community rides?
Bike riding is not for everyone, but neither is sailing a yacht. At least cycling is more accessible and familiar to most people, so is less threatening and more convenient. Also, once experienced riding a bike can be done individually and part of a group. As in Bob’s case, riding a bike and getting returned veterans out to do something active with their mates in the community seems like a support service area that is underutilised. I appreciate not all vets would be into riding, nor want to participate in civic interactions – but at least for those like Bob who do – recreational biking is a productive, healthy, outdoor alternative that can lead to even greater well-being, social contact and improved livelihoods. Just as men’s sheds are bringing older men together, perhaps there is an opportunity for bikes to do the same for returned veterans.
So next time you are out for ride – be sure to wave to those going past. Include and recognise your fellow riders, who ever they are – give them a nod and look in the eye – maybe even start up a conversation – you never know who you might meet! After all we are cyclists that make up our cycling community – so what kind of community do you want it to be?
Tweed was popularized by the Edwardian middle class because of its association with the outdoor activities of the leisurely elite. Apart from its grandiose connotations, tweed is a vintage outdoor textile that is moisture resistant and durable – great for cycling, hunting and riding in the cold British weather.
Once considered expensive and highly sought after, tweed signified that you had the time and the money to afford the most cutting edge of textiles, so you could spend your days hunting and riding in the upmost comfort. From this ideal of leisure came the idealization of leisure as a look, which became fashion. Fashion then drove those less well-off to emulate the image, if not the lifestyle, of their tweed slathered betters.
In the 40’s silk jerseys started to replace tweed in cycling and was invented just in time for the blossoming post-war marketing industry to realise that in the world of television advertising, cyclists could make a prominent moving billboard. The silk jersey was brightly coloured to attract attention to the marketing and to identify the rider within the group. This became particularly useful in televised bicycle races where the spectator was able to easily pinpoint a rider by their jersey. Move forward to the invention of lycra and the colours and marketing have remained. Like tweed, you again have a cutting edge textile used in cycling to promote the comfort of the rider.
At its advent, Lycra symbolised that you were a competitive rider at the pinnacle of your sport -it’s form hugging capabilities leaving no room to hide the sagging beer gut of an amateur, or disguise the gender of the wearer in a sport that at the time was dominated by males.
Wearing lycra meant you were a serious rider. Festooned with the logos of the top cycling brands, lycra began to move out of competitive sport and into fashion. Like tweed, it became popularised because of it’s association as a textile worn by the elite. And like the tweed wearing Edwardians, this elite was characterised by a group of white males that had the time and the money to indulge seriously in a sport clad in the best textile technology of the time.
As lycra became more commonly available, it started to lose popularity. Perhaps in part because in our modern society, wearing lycra is as naked as you are allowed to be in public, and when worn by a group of middle-aged men, slogging it up a hill, is can be a scary sight to behold. It could also be due to the common misconception that groups of lycra clad riders will be unaware of, or deliberately flout road rules, thus hindering the traffic rights of the predominant car.
The main reason I believe that lycra is becoming less popular in the community bike ride is because of its association with elitism in cycling. That is to say; it’s not unpopular because it is being worn by elite riders, but that it is being worn by riders that want to be considered elite.
In cycling, there is a distasteful underbelly fuelled by a competitive seriousness that promotes an attitude of exclusivity, where only the fastest riders with the best equipment are encouraged.
Unfortunately, participants are usually upper to middle-class men, and despite the best intentions of the sport, this stereotype seems set to continue with events like the Tour de France, Giro Italy and Tour Down Under, where there is limited focus on the access, inclusion and promotion of women and cyclists from multicultural (non-Western/European) backgrounds.
The costumed ride is the antithesis to this trend, proving you don’t need fancy gear and a jersey full of logos to get on a bike and have fun.
By having a dress-up theme for a ride, organisers can create a sense of fun and silliness, while also providing an atmosphere of cohesion. Having the option to wear a themed costume creates a more open inclusive dynamic in a group, suggesting that any and all are welcome.
The need for tweed?
So why choose tweed? I can understand that it’s meant to celebrate and idealise the invention of the bicycle and that on the surface it looks pretty darn classy when worn en-mass, but the deeper connotations of tweed and the inherent sexism and exclusivity that come with it, could arguably be also perpetuating some of the worse traits that have dominated cycling culture for the last century.
If you look at the advertising for many of the tweed-themed rides, the repeated depiction is a white guy on a bicycle, while many of the flyers and media for other themed rides are (one would hope) inadvertently exclusive.
Most of the promotional material and media for tweed rides is independently generated and created in a diverse range of locations globally, demonstrating the insidious nature of exclusivity that is still so predominant in cycling culture. It gives evidence to the inherent sexism that is part of the hipster renaissance around cycling; that promotes a certain stereotype of the ideal rider. It is this stereotype alone that defeats the purpose of the community ride.
Why are groups of community riders trying to separate themselves from a culture of elitist white males on bikes, by celebrating a historical group of elite white males on bikes?
Comfort is key.
Most important when dressing for cycling, is ease of movement and protection from the elements. While wearing a great costume would warrant a certain amount of ill ease, the idea of wearing woollen cycling clothing that when wet, would turn into a personal sauna, (also known as an itchy moist skin sack) is my idea of hell on wheels. So why go back to tweed? Who would actually feel the need for tweed?
I suppose there is a certain amount of irony involved in hosting a bike ride as an inclusive event that celebrates an era of cycling epitomised by a time in human history when a bunch of English dudes owned everything and lived off the backs of the less fortunate. It could even be that this irony makes the ‘moustache competitions and gender specific costume awards’ a subversive form of protest, but that message is lost on me.
As we experience a culture increasingly being ruled by hipster trends and shifting memes, the irony of the ironic is so muddled, that all anyone can do is ride – and wait for good weather and the next naked bike ride.
This post showcases one of a few street artists whose murals regularly feature bicycles. I’ve chosen Mart Aires from Argentina as he is one of the first original ‘graffiteros’ who painted whole trains in Buenos Aires, thus making his work more accessible to the public. So he is an enduring, well-known and accomplished street artist. His work is playful, colourful, vibrant and always positive. You can see a full range of Mart’s work on his flickr site – including one of my favourite bicycle inspired pieces of his called Una situación habitual.
Big, bright, urban bikes
I like the idea of having large-scale vibrant happy bicycles depictions being splashed about cities, which of course is why Mart is one of my favourite street artists, given that bikes feature so prominently in his work. Have a look at his Instagram for other works as well.
He often does large scale wall murals and I really appreciate his kooky style and sense of humour. While proving the internet for more information about why cycling is such a theme in his works, I came across an old short interview he did with BA Street Art back in 2011 called Me and my bike, where he is very pragmatic about his bike riding.
It is refreshing to see bicycles being central to a social commentary about movement, energy, urbanism and dynamism. I can only hope that aspiration suggestions such as Melissa Hughes (2009) vision to have street art included in secondary school curriculum due to the significance it provides for (young) people maybe taken up. In her research abstract, Hughes advocates that a deeper appreciation of the ‘social, visual and cultural aesthetics’ of local communities can be achieved. Additionally, I would like to think that doing so would also have a concurrent social critique element attached, given the impact and selection of the content, such as Mart’s bicycles, that so poetically provide a “high contrast image loaded with expression” – as the bicycle is the perfect cultural icon for an analytical mind to unpack, digest and appreciate! And so lovely to look at when presented like this!!