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Cycling

Life is like riding a bicycle. In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving - Albert Einstein

Cycling

image by: Jason Parrish
     

 

It’s been one pedal forward and two pedals back on the great fixed wheel of cycling life lately. As a keen card-carrying MAMIL (middle-aged man in Lycra) and soon-to-be OFIL (old fart in Lycra), I was heartened to read of the latest study of 125 long-distance cyclists in their 80s that found they had immune system function similar to that of 20-year-olds. The study, published in Aging Cell journal, found ageing cyclists produced the same number of T-cells as adults in their 20s and a separate study found cyclists didn’t lose muscle mass, strength, or gain body fat in the same way as non-cyclists.

There was good news for ­female cyclists, too: researchers from the University of California in San Francisco found that women who rode bicycles had better sexual function compared to other athletes, and also the more miles a woman rides, the better her sex life. (The study also found that female cyclists were also more likely to develop bladder infections, saddle sores and genital numbness. So go figure.) But even as cyclists were coasting towards a smiling, satisfied senescence, fate was waiting around the next bend to scatter some thumbtacks across the road.

No issue in cycling seems to get emotions running higher than the eternal debate on whether helmets should be mandatory. Having had one serious fall and cracked my helmet-encased ­noggin rather firmly against unyielding cement, I tend to lean ­towards the compulsory side of the conversation.

Even so, the heavy-handed ­response of the constabulary ­towards a collection of cyclists ­intending to pedal around Centennial Park with their hair in the wind last Sunday as a peaceful protest calling for reform to mandatory helmet laws marked another low point in the fraught relationship in Sydney between cyclists, drivers and the long arm of the law.

Similar rides in other cities across Australia and New Zealand passed without incident. But in Sydney, police dispatched seven police cars to intercept and stop the planned “helmet optional” ride around the park’s Grand Drive cycle lane, threatening participants with $330 fines (among the highest anywhere in the world).

As the NSW Council for Civil Liberties pointed out, this action by police appeared grossly disproportionate to any conceivable safety concerns, a waste of public resources and fails to respect the fundamental right to peaceful protest in a democratic society.

I also ran head-on recently into the other big issue plaguing those who favour life on two self-­propelled wheels: the vexed and infuriating matter of dockless bikes for hire. I was cycling at a moderate speed down the path from my street to Blackwattle Bay when a helmetless fellow on a Readybike darted out from behind a wall and connected with my front wheel hard enough to make me see stars.

Certainly these app-driven schemes put more inexperienced cyclists on to our roads but that should be a temporary inconvenience offset by a raft of benefits.

China’s vice minister for transportation Liu Xiaoming recently announced that shared bike schemes had reduced traffic congestion to the tune of 16.1 billion yuan ($2.6bn) while accruing other social and health benefits ­totalling 200 billion yuan as 23 million bikes had hit the streets and 70 million rides had taken place every day.

Certainly other cities — cities that don’t need to be smacked on the bottom and sent to bed early by their nanny — have embraced this mode of transport with little fuss or angst. In Sydney, however, we are unable to resist the siren song of our inner idiot, and the temptation seems too strong to ride them recklessly, pedal them into the harbour, throw them into trees, hang them from fences, strew them across paths, and send serried orange and yellow rows of them crashing down like dominoes.

Frustrated councils are making noises about banning rental bikes outright or restricting them to mandated docking zones, thereby defeating their main advantages of convenience and ubiquity, as complaints mount up about their irresponsible use and the eyesore factor that entails. But in a city growing at a frightening pace and at risk of choking on its own congestion, surely the China figures suggest it’s worth persevering with the experiment.

Maybe we can all make a difference. Instead of kicking that Readybike to the kerb or going all mofo on that Ofo, let’s try picking them up off the paths, standing them out of harm’s way and riding them like responsible adults. Is it an impossible dream?

Source: Jason Gagliardi, Cycling is good for you so give bike sharing a chance, The Weekend Australian, Msrch 26, 2018.

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Last Updated : Monday, May 14, 2018