A friend recently asked me about the “powerful Australian cycling lobby”. Like many people, she imagined there was a peak body, with a cascading structure of affiliates, all representing the interests of bicycle riders with a uniform voice.
Well, there is, kind of, depending on what type of cycling you're talking about.
If you're into competitive road cycling, chances are you belong to Cycling Australia, affiliated to the global cycling body, the UCI. Each state has its own sub-organisation, defined by the word “cycling”: Cycling Victoria, Cycling NSW, Cycling Queensland, and so on.
To get involved, you join an affiliated club, buy a club shirt, and get among it. Similar structures exist for BMX and MTB. These organisations will also work in advocacy on many levels, to support their activities.
But when it comes to other bicycle use – for casual recreation, commuting or utility purposes – it gets more complicated, and many keen cyclists have little idea of how it works. Here's my stab at an overview of it all. (If I miss something out, I'm sure you'll let me know!)
Firstly, there is no national peak body, per se, although there are some advocacy organisations that operate nationally, such as the Amy Gillett Foundation and the Cycling Promotion Fund - and let's not forget the fledgling Australian Cyclists Party.
States tend to have a leading advocacy group, such as Bicycle NSW, Bicycle Queensland, Pedal Power ACT and Bicycle Network in Victoria. These bodies promote cycling, enrol members and run cycling events.
Then there are BUGs (bicycle user groups) which campaign for cycling in their neighbourhoods and districts. These grassroots activists advance the cause of cycling at council meetings, diligently tracking minutes, proposals and spending, and writing letters and emails.
Lately, various advocacy-focused groups have also been formed using social media, especially Facebook.
Of course, there are people within the halls of power that focus on cycling, too. Government organisations will have employees or even departments focusing on cycling issues, as do many councils. They will make the case for cycling initiatives, often informed by outside groups.
The fascinating thing about cycling advocacy is that it works on so many levels. From an unsafe drain grate on a local road, to the building of separated bike lanes in CBDs, to campaigning for increased state or federal spending – it's all in the mix.
But cycling organisations certainly don't agree on everything. And the downside of having so many voices for cycling is that messages can often be conflicting.
One example of discord currently playing out is the campaign for a legislated minimum passing distance when cars overtake cyclists. A two-year trial is about to commence in Queensland, following a state government inquiry into cycling issues.
The push for a “metre matters” law is strongly associated with the Amy Gillett Foundation, while Bicycle Queensland was sceptical about the law's implementation.
Campaigns are ongoing to have similar laws enacted in other states, and a lot of high-profile cycling professionals and personalities have signed petitions.
While Cycling Australia, Bicycle NSW and Pedal Power ACT support the initiative, Victoria's Bicycle Network says there is no evidence that such laws will improve road behaviour, a stance also taken by Bicycling WA.
It will be interesting to see how campaigns for similar laws fare in other states.
But what does this all mean to the punter who just likes to get on a bike and ride?
I've belonged to various cycling organisations over the years, often just as a way to get cheap, cycle-specific insurance – but membership, of course, gives legitimacy to those organisations when they campaign on behalf of cycling.
And as a cyclist, I frequently benefit from the efforts of advocacy organisations I don't belong to – in the same way that motorists who don't pay membership can benefit from the efforts of lobby groups like the NRMA, the RACQ or RACV.
But all bike riders are lobbyists, simply by adding to the weight of numbers and being positive about cycling. Especially those who push back against ignorant prejudice - on social media and news websites, among colleagues, friends and family.
Such support is always useful. Bicycle projects can be a hard sell because they can't succeed until they're built. Consider the controversy surrounding the bike lane on Melbourne's Princes Bridge. Storms of outrage when it was proposed, but the trial was judged a success, the impact on motorists was limited, and cyclists flocked to it.
Similarly, even with an uncompleted, and stalled, cycleway network in Sydney, bicycle trips in the CBD have steadily increased. The lanes are now being built again, and numbers can only be expected to grow.
So, I'm interested to know – as a bike rider, what is your perception of cycling advocacy in Australia? Do you feel your needs are being represented? What's your most important issue?
To encourage constructive debate, this blog will be carefully moderated, so please stay on topic.