I was only in Canberra for four days and sampled only a portion of the city, but I see no reason why that should keep me from making broad general conclusions about the state of cycling there!
Apart from my 31 mile ride around Lake Burley Griffin, I spent most of my time north of the lake. My hotel was in the City Centre district, directly north of the lake on Northbourne Avenue – a major North-South thoroughfare. My business was largely in the Reid and Russell districts, east of City Centre but still north of the lake. As I puttered about Northbourne Avenue, I was immediately struck by the steady stream of cyclists. It was hardly a tidal wave, but a constant flow of bicycles. During the course of the day, I rarely went a minute or two without seeing a cyclist. During rush hour (or at least what passes for rush hour in this relatively small capital), the number picked up and it was common to see groups of two or three cyclists traveling together and as many as five waiting at red lights. Northbourne Avenue and several other streets have dedicated bike lanes. Drivers seemed to be very aware of the cyclists and I didn’t observe any collisions, near misses, honking horns, curses, or gesticulating arms. The cyclists seemed to be an integrated part of the traffic flow and it was refreshing to see.
The rider pictured above is atypical in that he is decked out in full roadie garb. I was struck by the lack of lycra and jerseys. Most people were dressed in “relaxed” street wear – shorts, sneakers, shirt/wind breaker, etc… Helmet use was universal. I don’t know if that is due to the legal code or simply convention. Many cyclists had stay-ties protruding from their helmets to ward off the magpies. Others had lights strapped to their helmets. The quality of the bicycles were decidedly low-end, as one might expect from the commuter crowd. You don’t want to leave your $10,000 road machine in a public bike lock!
While looking for breakfast in a pedestrian shopping area in Reid, I came across the Onya Bike Shop. The shop was closed when I passed (stores in Canberra generally don’t open until 9:00AM and close around 5:00PM, except for Fridays when they stay open late). I resolved to return later in the day and say hello. When I made it back, I was amazed to see a substantial bicycle display in front of their store. First, I couldn’t believe how many bikes fit into that tiny shop (there were still a great many bikes on display inside the store) and second, I couldn’t believe these bikes weren’t immediately stolen by the passers-by. Canberra is definitely a kinder place than what I am used to.
The inside of the shop was devoted almost exclusively to Giant mountain bikes and hybrids. There were about five high-end Giant road bikes for sale. The three 20-somethings manning the shop confirmed that mountain bikes were very popular in the area and the store sponsors/hosts a series of local mountain bike rides every Thursday evening in the Spring/Summer. As with most bicycle shops, the back end was devoted to a bicycle repair section. The space devoted to accessories and clothing was extremely limited. There were about 15 jerseys for sale, a couple types of gloves, a handful of tire pumps, and so on. I found this to be a bit odd as the business model of the American shops I have been to is largely the reverse. I’m not sure where the cyclists of Canberra get their energy foods, water bottles, helmets, and other gear, but I don’t think the Onya Bike Shop is a major source of supply.
And thus concludes my extensive review of the Canberra bicycling scene. It was great to see a place where cyclists are woven into the traffic environment, with wide streets, bicycle lanes, drivers who acknowledge the existence of cyclists and pedestrians, and ample amounts of mixed-use pathways. Cyclists are hardly the novelty they are on America’s roads. The mountain bike and hybrid communities are doing quite well, though I wonder about the road cyclists. On the whole, I was very impressed and American city planners could do a lot worse than copying the Canberra model.
Australian Historical Marker Segment!
It is my pleasure to bring to you this outstanding (and first non-Virginian) addition to my collection of historical markers. This marker can be found on the London Circuit Road in City Centre, just beyond the traffic light in the first picture of this post. In it we are reminded that Queen Elizabeth II has been sovereign for a very long time and that somehow Australia avoided a visit from the monarch for the first 166 years of its existence.