When it comes to exploring a city or a town that’s new to you, a bicycle can be your best friend.
Freed from the fuss of decoding public transport systems, or time-consuming trudges on foot between points of interest, you can follow your fancy, with a 360-degree view and the ability to park outside every destination.
Well – not always. It’s true that some cities can be challenging for cyclists.
But not Brisbane, in my experience. I’ve just spent six days in the Queensland capital and found it to be a fine destination for a two-wheeled visit. Here are some of the things I enjoyed:
Bike ways and bike paths
The Brisbane River, which curves in serpentine fashion through the city, is lined on both sides by paths that can be used by riders – sometimes shared with pedestrians, sometimes designated by painted zones as cyclist only.
I stayed a few days in New Farm, a few kilometres east of the CBD, and had to navigate a few hundred metres by road before reaching the riverside. After that, farewell to cars; the riverside bike paths were a safe conduit to other parts of the city, or a café- and vista-lined destination in their own right.
What impressed me most was the lack of friction between walkers and riders. In some areas – such as planked boardwalks leading into narrow tunnels with right-angled turns – other councils would install signs bearing random speed restrictions or that old favourite for failed infrastructure, “cyclists dismount”. Instead, Brisbane’s riverside areas appear to trust people to simply do the right thing.
Yes, I know there have been incidents - no transport system is perfect - but I was impressed by the self-regulatory behaviour I saw, both by riders and walkers.
I had to have a ride on one of Brisbane’s CityCycles, even though I brought my own treadly (which is also bright yellow, as it happens). With docking stations at regular intervals throughout the city – especially on the river walk – they’re hard to miss.
It was easy to book a 24-hour usage period right next to the station by using my smart phone. Share bikes tend to be unlovely beasts, and Brisbane’s are no exception – heavy but very stable three-gear contraptions with a macho basket on the front. Tourists seemed to be the most prevalent users of the scheme, which has been struggling since inception. Unless you lug a lid around, you have to take your chances on finding a bike with a free helmet attached – one of several reasons given for the limited patronage.
But for a one-day fee of $2 – half the price of several coffees I consumed by the water’s edge – it’s value that can’t be beaten (and it's even cheaper for regular users).
Ups and downs
Rolling along the river is all very well, but I was surprised at how hilly much of Brisbane can be. Short, steep, stabby hills kept finding me – an enjoyable feature for a sports cyclist.
Better yet is a ride out to Mount Coot-Tha (with a warm-up run along the Western Freeway bike path). On the flattest continent in the world, it’s a rare treat to find a decent hill so close to a CBD, and I know of many Brisbane cyclists who have prepared for excursions to the European Alps via repeated laps of this western sentinel. Nice views from the top, too.
Half of Australia’s states and territories allow adults to ride bikes on the footpath, and Queensland is one of them.
Friends living in the suburbs noted this means little when many roads have no adjoining footpath, but I found the law to be a real advantage.
In sections of the city where busy roads sweep onto bridges and overpasses, the ability to nip onto the footpath was at times invaluable for safe route-finding, especially when I found myself at the wrong end of a busy one-way street.
And on narrow and intimidating conduit roads, it was handy to be able to get out of the way at times, especially when toiling up one of the above-mentioned stabby hills.
Such pathways were usually devoid of pedestrians, and the experience reinforced my belief that much of the ill-feeling about bike riders on footpaths is driven by anger over laws being broken – and not the effects of the activity in itself.
As Bicycle Queensland’s Ben Wilson told me in a previous blog, it’s been working well since the early 1990s.
That matter of a metre
Queensland is also several months into a trial of a law that stipulates a minimum passing distance when motor vehicles overtake cyclists.
It’s hard at this stage to get a definitive idea of how it’s working out.
But the majority of cyclists I spoke to said the law, and the related awareness campaign, was having a positive effect, with a significant percentage of drivers giving a noticeably wider berth when overtaking – something I experienced myself.
It should also be noted that there appear to have been no negative impacts – no reported spate of head-on collisions by cars “forced” to overtake bikes into oncoming traffic, as was speculated about in some media reports.
With a similar law being proposed in Victoria, and a petition for a national law delivered to federal Parliament, it’ll be useful to point out to those opposed that the law hasn’t caused the sky to fall in Queensland.
Early on in the life of this blog, I asked the question: which is Australia’s best city for cycling? I was focusing more on sports cycling in that article – and had yet to try biking in Brisbane.
Sure, I only spent a few days, and stayed centrally, but my impression was that it’s a city with a lot going for cyclists. If you’re going for a visit, make sure you get on a bike.
Have you tried cycling in Brisbane? What measures do you think are needed to improve cycling in other Australian cities?
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