November 28th 2007
Do you really need to drive? (Part 1)
Three years ago our last car coughed its final exhaust fumes and, as reasonably fit adults and regular cyclists, we decided, in the interests of getting fit and doing our bit to reduce greenhouse gases, it would be worth seeing if we could could live without a car on Magnetic Island.
Yes there are obvious concerns about riding on Magnetic Island and foremost is the Island's narrow hill sections that cyclists have to share with other traffic. Another is the heat and humidity of summer and the possible need to cycle during rainy weather. Lack of passenger/luggage capacity is another but, in great number of situations, travel to shops at Nelly Bay from within Nelly Bay, Arcadia and even Picnic Bay, as well as commuter style cycling to the harbour is excellent exercise, very satisfying and fun.
When our car departed we lived on a steep hill in Arcadia. It proved a great take-off for any destination and an even better last work-out before arriving home.
In those days I rode daily to the Foodworks at Nelly Bay which meant traversing the Nelly-Arcadia hill which is considerably easier to ride now since its hotmix upgrade after the utilities corridor went in. This is the smallest hill dividing the populated bays and made an ideal daily cycling workout especially if you are carrying the day's groceries in your basket. I once timed myself riding my trusty Avanti mountain bike, putting in a solid but not excessive effort, and found I could be home to near the top of Mirimar Crescent from Foodworks Nelly Bay in just seven minutes.
Of course the narrow hill roads present more danger to cyclists from trucks, buses and cars and it is worth referring to the timetable to avoid a ferry rush on the hills. But within the bay settlements the traffic is light in the residential streets and the roads generally wider in the busy areas to make cycling a safe method of transport.
Since returning to live in Nelly my riding muscles have flabbed somewhat and the flat journey to the same shop is too easy by far. But I see many cars belonging to locals who would have driven an equal or even lesser distance than me (under 1km) and I wonder why. Not too many people buy more groceries in one day than can be comfortably carried in a bike basket so why do so many people have a bike somewhere in the shed but rarely think to ride them?
Some would say it is due to the heat and humidity and this is a factor but even a leisurely pace on a bike creates its own breeze and cooling. As much shopping is done before the evening meal this is also the cooler time to ride and with the afternoon breeze in your face and the aroma of cooking dinners wafting out onto the streets, the soft light on the hills and the first curlew calls beginning for another evening, what a refreshing jaunt it is.
There are of course a growing number of commuter cyclists who take advantage of the option to carry their bikes aboard the ferry. This means no parking problem at either end and a quick escape to work or home once off the boat. Riders who park their bikes at the terminal can get away quickly too.
We spoke to a number of locals who ride to the ferry from the farthest reaches of Nelly Bay. Marine Scientist and dedicated rider, Dr. Katharina Fabricius, lives in the Hideaway Estate and says that getting from her front step to the ferry terminal gangway, 2.15Kms away, it takes nine minutes and this is the same time as in the car when parking and walking through to the gangway are factored in.
Professional photographer, Andrew Rankin, who has recently taken up biking and rides at a leisurely pace, lives at the far end of Lilac Street, 2.03kms from the terminal. Andrew told Magnetic Times it took him nine minutes on his mountain bike and about five and a half in the car. But the extra four minutes isn't putting him off riding. Andrew is feeling fitter even from this brief exercise and has become a convert, it seems, mostly for the fun of the ride.
For those who have to factor in a sweaty arrival at work there are now more workplaces where showers are available on arrival. It takes a little more organising but to have powered oneself to work and back is a very satisfying and rewarding experience. To me trips to and around town become something of an adventure rather than a boring drive.
Katharina Fabricius tries to ride as much as she can and has some interesting insights into the tropical bike rider's approach to using a bike within the work context. When she rides from the ferry to the university, about 30 minutes away, she says, "I take my work clothes in a bag and wear an old t-shirt (when riding). I'll have a shower at work. It only takes a few minutes. Sometimes I have to attend conferences at centers around town (a much shorter ride) and I take a wash cloth."
People seem to have all sorts of more subtle reasons for not riding a bicycle and Katharina says, "I know several people who have bought bikes but don't use them." When it comes to personal presentation Katarina describes the biggest problem she faces. "Helmets are an issue for hair, long or short. It doesn't work coming out of a shower and putting a helmet straight on. It looks stupid when you take it off," she laughs.
One wonders if there isn't still a throw-back notion that people ride bikes because they can't afford a car or that it's the kind of thing manual workers might do but not professionals who need to dress smartly. Although there are usually simple solutions to the appearances argument the compulsory wearing of helmets is thought to have caused cycling to have declined by 22% in Queensland when introduced in the early 1990s. But with the explosion in bike-related fashion the daggy helmet era may be drawing to a close.
Under all the rationalising for not riding the plain habit of driving seems to be a big hurdle. People jump in the car to buy milk or bread from a shop a few hundred metres away. Some even drive beside their dogs who are being exercised or drive themselves to nearby exercise groups. Somehow the four wheeler in the drive beckons to be driven. We hear people say, "I've got a car so I might as well use it." There is a sense that having spent thousands purchasing and hundreds maintaining it one is somehow obliged to drive as much as possible.
And thousands it is too. With petrol at about $1.45 per litre on Magnetic there is a price incentive to ride. With the gradual disappearance of the traditional, aged bomb, "Island car" being replaced by sleeker models it is worth noting that the annual NRMA vehicle survey has found that it costs around $260 a week to run an average Australian family car but with the higher fuel prices here and the reality that two cars are often owned, with the other sitting in a carpark in Townsville, the attraction for getting a bike, at least in one of these locations, and using the savings for buses and taxis, when required, has clear merits. Friends from whom we occasionally borrow a ute are also happy as we make it well worth their while from our savings by replacing the petrol used (plus some) and or leaving a nice bottle of red for their kindness.
So if you are thinking seriously that it's time to shed at least one of the vehicles which give you wallet haemorrhage then you may think about trading in, like artist, Vonnie Van Bemmel did, for one of the remarkable new electric bikes now available on Magnetic. But more of that soon in Part 2.
Story & Photo: George Hirst
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