Why #quaxing is trending globally with cyclists

It began – like so many things these days – with a lively exchange on social media, and morphed into a cycling meme that is busy lapping the world.

And no, it's got nothing to do with Lycra.

Four months ago, Auckland local government councillor Dick Quax was having a debate with others on Twitter about transport options at a local shopping centre.

He made some bold statements about the practicality - or even possibility - of doing one's weekly shopping by train or bicycle (you can read an account of the exchange here).

In response, a few people started posting pictures of shopping being transported by bike, to show Cr Quax how it's done.

But in April, the term was comprehensively defined:

Quaxing includes shopping by various non-car means, but it's not surprising that cyclists - whose transport choice is too often ignored, lampooned or even vilified - grabbed hold of the term and made it their own.

Soon, quaxing hashtags were popping up around the world, including North America, Europe and Australia.

Sure, it may seem like a frivolous blip on the world wide interwebs, but commenters and cycling advocates have been using the hashtag to showcase the versatility of cycling.

In Australia, riding a bike is too often seen as primarily a recreation or a fitness pursuit.

Say "cycling", and the mental image for many is of a bloke in gaudy, skin-tight clothing, bent over a racing bike and peering from under an aero helmet as he races along.

It often is that, but let's not forget the massive numbers of people who roll along in regular clothes on bog-standard bikes to work, social occasions or the nearby supermarket.

Brisbane resident Tae Baker, whose laden bike is pictured at the top of this article, told me that a farmer's co-op delivers some staple food items to a friend's home nearby (they won't deliver to apartments) which she fetches on foot, and she otherwise does her shopping in small trips by bike several times a week.

"The idea of spending an hour walking through Coles or Woolworths is not my idea of a fun Saturday," she says, but laughs at how she strapped a 24-roll carton of toilet paper to her bike: "It was on sale."

Others get a lot done in one whack. Tom Boyle told me he and his partner shop for a three-person Newcastle share house at farmers' markets and grocery stores every weekend, using bike baskets, panniers and sometimes a bike trailer. 

Sara Stace, a transport consultant who is on the board of Bicycle NSW, carries her kids while quaxing, using a Bullitt cargo bike that has supplemental battery power to help her up the hills of Sydney's eastern suburbs.

She says that in a recent survey of Australian bike use, few people listed shopping as something specific they did with a bike - but a significant number said that going to the shops was something they often did on their way to somewhere else.

"I think it's quite an important distinction," she says - the fact that people are partaking in an activity without being conscious about it. 

Of course, it's nothing new: bikes were being used to cart goods before cars were in widespread use or even invented:

It can contain semi-hidden pleasures:

And there may be such a thing as extreme quaxing:

Before you jump into the comments section to explain the impossibility of quaxing in your life, relax - there are no plans to make it compulsory (well not yet, anyway).

But as a whimsical social media movement, it helps to highlight the possibilities of a society with less reliance on motor vehicles - and a greater provision for people who get around by bike, public transport, or on foot. 

Do you use your bike to shop or otherwise lug stuff around - what might be defined as quaxing?

To encourage constructive debate, this blog will be carefully moderated. Please stay on topic.

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