Bike share shenanigans

September 16, 2019 at 10:47 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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The Melbourne bike share scheme is going to be scrapped. It was the first bike share scheme to be launched in Australia, and was the traditional sort with fixed rental stations. I did take a ride on it some time ago, but unless I get to Melbourne before the end of the year, that first ride will also be my last.

Of course, the post-mortems go on about why it failed – too few stations, too far apart, in the wrong places, not enough bike lanes, too expensive etc etc. But whilst any one of those might have been a handicap, the real reason is Australia’s helmet laws. Given that you basically can’t legally use the scheme in the way they are designed to be used, it is sort of not surprising that it, erm, wasn’t used. And if you think that’s hyperbole, consider that there are only three urban fixed-station bike share schemes in the world that are failing – Melbourne, Brisbane, and Vancouver. The link? They are the only three in jurisdictions where mandatory helmet laws apply. Go figure.

Bike share bikes did make it into the news last week in Sydney too, when prominent ex-politician Sam Dastyari turned up to a corruption inquiry on one. This is a man who lost his job as a Labor senator some time ago because he was linked with dodgy donations from a dodgier businessman. He was due at the corruption commission as a witness in a different case involving a different part of the Labor party taking large sums of money in cash from a dodgy businessman. (If you are not from Australia, that might seem remarkable, but it’s pretty much politics as usual down here). Well, anyway, Sam had the temerity to ride on the footpath for a short distance outside the ICAC HQ, leading to a stern talking to by the NSW Police – including being issued with a caution for riding on the footpath. Keeping us safe as usual. Still, at least he was wearing a helmet.

An open letter to Bicycle Network’s CEO Craig Richards

August 31, 2017 at 23:15 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Dear Craig,

For perhaps ten years, I have been involved in low-level cycling advocacy, predominantly in NSW. I’ve written to MPs, responded to surveys, made submissions to plans and proposals and encouraged people to ride. I’ve supported various advocacy groups, and even dabbled in political activism.

However, for most of the past ten years I have not felt that Bicycle network (formerly Bicycle Victoria) was an effective bicycle advocacy organisation, and have hesitated to support them. To me, they always seemed to be more intent on furthering the interests of a narrow segment of cyclists – the keen road cyclists – to the exclusion of others. It felt more about preserving cycling as a special club for the initiated, rather than presenting it as a casual everyday activity for everyone.

You surely have to see my perspective here. I mean – campaigning for higher fines for cyclists, campaigning against close passing laws and pressing heavy handed legal slapdowns of fellow cycling advocates just aren’t a good look.

However, today my opinion has changed somewhat. You have announced that you are undertaking a review of your policy on mandatory helmets. You are encouraging input from a wide range of stakeholders; from different perspectives and different types of cyclists – and non-cyclists too.

Of course, from a personal perspective, I hope that your review will lead to a change of policy. But whatever the outcome, I commend you for undertaking this review – which I am sure will generate significant controversy and heat. I truly hope it is the start of a new chapter for BN – a more consultative and open-minded approach to cycling advocacy that is prepared to look at the big picture, and make policy decisions based on a wide evidence base.

Because if this really is the start of a new approach to advocacy from BN, then I might be encouraged to join. Whatever the outcome of your helmet review.


Yours sincerely,


Keeping us safe… (updated)

August 8, 2017 at 16:58 | Posted in bicycles | 8 Comments
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I got pulled over the cops the other day. Rather excitingly, it’s the first time I’ve ever been pulled over with lights and sirens blaring!

The reason was that I was riding like cyclists do in 98% of the world – that is to say without a polystyrene hat. In Australia, of course, this deviant behaviour is considered a criminal offence. And not a minor one – the fine is $325. That’s the same as a car driver not giving way to pedestrians on a crossing flashing amber, and drinking alcohol whilst driving.

I spoke to the officers, and explained I have an exemption, and showed it to them. It remains to see if they accept it or if I get a ticket through the post. But what a waste of everyone’s time.

Still, it seems the NSW police are keen to ensure vulnerable road users are suitably penalised for daring to use a Sydney road network that is hostile towards them. A few days later, I was in the city and witnessed no less than five motorcycle cops booking pedestrians who dared to scuttle across a pedestrian crossing when it wasn’t green. Given that this is right outside Sydney Central Station and there are a lot of pedestrians needing to cross, that there is relatively few vehicles, and that the green time for pedestrians is woeful (about five seconds every three minutes), you can hardly blame a few people for crossing on the red man.

But no, the NSW police were there, handing out tickets ($72, if you were interested). Whilst I watched, I saw two cars drive through on very amber lights ($325, as explained above), and one on red ($433), but rather than jumping onto their powerful motorcycles to catch the miscreants putting people’s lives in danger, they just chatted amongst themselves.

Great to know our safety is so important to them.


In recent news, it was reported that the number of fines issued to cyclists rose massively last year  – $1.99m in fines, compared to $0.33m the previous year. The number of injuries also fell, by about 7% – but cycling participation fell about 25% (from 17% of people to 12.5% of people regularly riding bicycles). This means, of course, that cycling actually became more dangerous last year. All those fines and police activity have driven people off their bikes, and made it more dangerous for those that remain.

And, true to form, I was pulled over yet again this morning. This is on a ride where I saw perhaps 4 drivers using a mobile phone, and close to 10 drivers driving through an amber or red light. So a pretty typical ride. The road safety priorities in NSW (and Australia more generally) are truly f—-d.

police again

Melbourne bike share

September 21, 2013 at 12:05 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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2013-09-16 14.13.06I had occasion to travel to Melbun on business recently. My schedule was fairly tight, but in the end I arrived at my destination half an hour or so earlier than my appointment. And, as luck would have it, there was a bike share station right outside the door.  Here was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up – I just had time for a quick ride! I have never had the opportunity to use a pubic bike share scheme before, so I was very excited.

The whole thing is very easy to use. Stick in your credit card, agree to the 60(!) pages of terms and conditions (does anybody actually read them, I wonder?), and then unlock your bike and off you go!

IMG_00011It costs $2.70 for a day’s hire, which seems excellent value to me. Each ride has to be less than 30 minutes – the idea being that you hop from bike station to bike station throughout the day, rather than just getting one bike and riding around on it all day.

Reviews I have seen of bike share scheme bikes tend to go on about how heavy and ponderous they are. I have to say, that didn’t really strike me. Clearly cruising around on a cargo bike for so long has inured me to big, heavy bikes. Indeed, I reckon the Melbourne bikes are lighter than the Radish, especially as I always seem to be carrying a whole load of locks, chains and straps in the panniers. Indeed, I thought they are very comfortable – the saddle height is easy to adjust, the ride position good and the handlebars are great.

They have three gears, and they are not super-low (another thing I have read about bike share bikes). Sure, first gear is a real crawler, but up in third you can get a bit of speed up and bowl along. Upon doing this, however, I did discover that the brakes are not especially good. I’m not sure if the bike I chose was somewhat defective, or whether that’s just par for the course for roller brakes, but it was hard to effect much more than ‘gentle slowing’ without hauling on the levers for dear life.

Overall, though I was very impressed. The whole thing just works really well. In my twenty-minute tootle around the block I went past two other bike stations, so there seems to be plenty of them around, at least in that part of the CBD.

Plenty of bikes, but not plenty of riders. I didn’t see a single other bike share bike in use the whole time I was in Melbourne, and I’m pretty sure I was the only person who took a bike from that docking station that whole afternoon – I checked when I came down after my meeting, and the pattern of bikes and empty slots was exactly as it had been. This gels with the data – almost no-one is using this scheme. Yet the scheme is easy to use, the bikes are great, and there seems to be plenty of stations. In other cities around the world with comparable schemes – such as Dublin, or Toronto – they are extremely successful. So what is different in Melbourne?law

The answer stares you in the face as soon as you get onto one of these bikes. ‘It is the law in the state of Victoria that you must wear a helmet while riding a bicycle‘ states the bald notice on the handlebars.

The docking station has a long list of shops you can buy a (subsidised) $5 helmet from, and indeed there are also a few free helmets on some of the bikes (there was one on the bike I hired). But the reality of this is that having to faff around with helmets, whether carrying one, buying one or using some skanky one left on the bike – is a major turn-off. Studies have shown that over two-thirds of people when questioned said that having to wear a helmet was the primary reason they did not use the bike share scheme. It’s just so sad, and so short-sighted. The safety record of these schemes is incredibly good – far better, in fact, than for regular bicycle riders. Yet the Victorian government (like most in Australia) cannot see beyond the dogma and refuse to budge on the issue, despite increasing numbers of voices (including those in local government) calling for a helmet exemption for bike share. It’s just so sad to see these fantastic bikes go unused for no good reason. Hopefully sense will prevail – because at the moment, the fine for not wearing a helmet in Victoria is the largest in Australia, at around $150.

Did I wear a helmet for my ride? Of course not. But given the size of the fine and the legendary zealousness of the Victorian police on this issue, there were few others following my stance. Still, riding around the city on an upright bike wearing my suit I hope sent out some kind of message – this is the way it is supposed to be!

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