Riding on after an ugly week

It's been a dreadful few days for cycling in Australia, with horrifying and disturbing incidents in several of our capital cities.

On Sunday, a car collided with a bunch of cyclists riding on Sydney's Southern Cross Drive. Six of the riders were injured, four seriously; the images of the devastation would be stomach-churning to anyone, but especially those who regularly ride a bike.

Also on Sunday, a woman in Adelaide died from her injuries after a collision with a car the previous day.

Then, on Monday, video footage was released of an incident in Brisbane in which a cyclist was hit from behind by a car. It's astonishing that he only suffered minor injuries.

On Tuesday, more video footage - this time a rider's-eye view of an incident in Melbourne where a taxi passenger opened a door in the path of a cyclist on Collins Street.

It's hard for anyone who cycles to avoid being unnerved by these incidents. The vulnerability one feels can take an effort of will to control. The feeling that your life is, at times, in other people's hands. People who might not be paying attention – but who won't suffer the same consequences as you will if things go wrong.

The commentary that surrounds cycling can also be unnerving and depressing, especially in weeks like this one. An astonishing amount of victim-blaming and denial of common humanity. The worst place for this has been Facebook, where loathsome people have deliberately gone to cycling pages to post abusive and hateful comments. The downside of the internet is that it's so much easier to encounter the percentage of society that you'd never choose to meet – and the realisation that they're out there.

The problem with all this controversy is that it can put us off cycling, or make us forget all the good things about travelling on two wheels.

Even in a rainstorm. On Sunday, I was out on a 75-kilometre loop of the Ku-ring-gai Chase and Akuna Bay, in preparation for this weekend's Bobbin Head Cycle Classic. The first half was warm and lovely, but heading back home along Wakehurst Parkway I was hit by a monsoonal downpour as a black-sky thunderstorm swept in from the south.


There was no hiding from it - a glorious, immersive drenching of the kind that makes one feel good to be alive, literally bathed in the elements. I arrived home a soggy, squelching mess, having taken on mother nature's best efforts and giggled them off.

On Monday, I rode across the Harbour Bridge - toll free - for a lunchtime meeting in the city, taking in the sun-splashed views of Luna Park. A rock-star parking spot on a pole outside the café – no charge, of course – reminded me once again that, in crowded, parked-up environs, utility cycling is often the easiest option.

And on Wednesday, my Twitter feed was filled with pictures of kids on bicycles, taking part in the annual Ride2School day across Australia.

I used to love riding my bike as a kid. The feeling of freedom, of independence, of exploring the world on my own terms, under my own steam.

Coming back to the bike as an adult has given me so many good things. Now, rather than explore new suburbs, I use my holidays to pedal across other states and nations.

Last year, I spent some time off the bike due to injury. My weight increased. My mood soured. My motivation lagged. It made me realise that cycling isn't just an interest for me – it's a health and wellbeing package.

So I may at times be unnerved by this week's run of bad news – but I'm going to roll with it. Cycling can go through tough times, but it's on the up. With increased participation, greater awareness and improved infrastructure, we'll hopefully one day be telling the kids who rode to school on Wednesday how much tougher it was “back in the day”. And, as is the right of youth, they won't believe us.

For this week's blog comments, I'd like you to say something good about riding a bike. What it brings to your life. What makes it special, and in bad times, what keeps you going. As an antidote to a run of bad news, I'm looking for an all-positive stream of opinions – which will be tightly moderated. Share the love.

Follow Michael O'Reilly on Twitter or email him.