‘I’m strong and fearless, not strong and stupid’

03 Dec 21 | By pp-admin | Advocacy, Cycle safety, Guest blog, Pedal Power

Why one of Canberra’s most committed cycling advocates was forced to pick up the keys

Pedal Power advocate Roger Bacon is arguably one of Canberra’s most committed bike riders. He pedals his way around town for appointments, meetings and leisure. But when the Australian Institute of Sport closed its doors recently, his new gym’s location left him with an undesirable commuting choice between his safety and the car. Here is his story.

I’d been doing gym work at the AIS in Bruce, to keep myself out of the clutches of the orthopaedic surgeons. During the last ACT lockdown, the AIS announced out of the blue that its Fitness Centre would not be reopening. The heading of the email was a masterstroke of spin: ‘An update regarding the AIS Fitness Centre’. The timing was sublime: it was RU OK? Day.

This left me wondering where to go? The Stromlo Leisure Centre run by the YMCA was a natural choice: reasonably close and near-new.

This decision soon led me to the Great Canberra Conundrum: how to get there, other than by car? Walking would take about two hours each way. Bus could do it in a bit over half the time on a 23 km route with a change in Civic. The safe bike route would be via Glenloch, Scrivener Dam and bike path into Molonglo from the south: 15 km in about 50 minutes each way. It’s the sort of distance I can ride, but probably once a week rather than three times.

You see, I can’t cycle the direct route from home in Cook to the Stromlo Leisure Centre. It’s not that it’s too far. It’s too dangerous.

I could easily ride the 9.7 km over Coppins Crossing in about half an hour. It’s the same distance as my trip to the Pedal Power office, and I normally wouldn’t hesitate. The problem is sharing the road with vehicles.

For about 500m either side of the Crossing, the road is narrow, steep and winding, with broken edges. Traffic is heavy in both directions and mixed – mainly four-wheel-drives, SUVs and light trucks. It’s the only northside link with the Molonglo suburbs.

There is no room on this stretch for drivers to safely give the one-metre passing distance. I would have cars and trucks trying to squeeze past, with a few occupants hurling abuse and maybe something harder. That’s the good news. The bad news is I could be hit and end up in the river.

I draw the line at that. I’ve been riding on busy main roads for 57 years in Australia, Britain and Europe – about half of that time without even a helmet. You could say I’m one of the ‘strong and fearless’ brigade, confident around traffic. Some might call me a geriatric kamikaze. But I’ve never been strong and stupid. I choose routes carefully.

At 74, I’m not as strong as I was either. It’s the knees, which is where this story began, and my need to visit the gym regularly.

So I’ve got the little red devil of Canberra transport whispering in my ear: “Go on, drive. You can do it in ten minutes. It’s the direct, safe, convenient option! You know you want to.”

And so I have. Not because of the wet weather. Not because my e-bike has been out of action for a month. Because it’s what the Canberra transport and town planning systems require me to do.

I know I’m not alone. There are many similar trips that people would ride if there were a direct, safe, convenient route – but there isn’t. The Cycling Capital of Australia doesn’t give them the option.

Mind you, it will be a different story when they open that Molonglo River Bridge in (draws deep breath) late 2025. I will be swooping down that active travel superhighway well before I turn 80. It could take ten minutes off the bike ride.