Category Archives: Australia

Bicycles, culture and tradition

Over the past few years, I have been mulling over what it is about the countries I have visited in Europe that really appeals to me. It may be the weather in the summer which is lovely. It definitely is not the winter weather – far too cold for a sunshine worshipper like me.

Paved areas are for pedestrians, sealed zone is for cyclists.

Paved areas are for pedestrians, sealed zone is for cyclists. (Braunschweig, Germany)

During my recent trip to Germany (which you can read about here if you are interested), I thought about this a bit more. Because this trip was during the German winter – the days were short, it was snowy and cold. Yet that “European appeal” was as strong as ever.

I have decided that it comes down to the cycling culture and tradition of these countries. While European cyclists enjoy dedicated biking zones, and a happy tolerance and acceptance of bicycles as a means of transport, we in Australia have a long way to go.

It is often a battle to convince the general public that cycling zones are even worth having (probably because so few people here ride a bike). Rarely, there is a cyclist track available, and these are fabulous. But most often, cyclists are forced to mix it with the trucks, cars and busses in the general traffic.

Sadly, many motorists in this country dislike cyclists with a passion and feel that they have no place being on the road. A few motorists even go so far as displaying aggressive behaviour towards cyclists that is simply dangerous. It is illegal to intimidate other road users, but, they have to be caught to be prosecuted. Fortunately, these incidents are not too common, but in my opinion, the general motoring public still has a long way to go with respect to learning about being courteous towards cyclists.

A wide sidewalk with clearly demarcated cycling and pedestrian areas. (Braunschweig, Germany)

A wide sidewalk with clearly demarcated cycling and pedestrian areas. (Braunschweig, Germany)

The above photos were taken on my most recent trip to Germany. I was amazed and very impressed with the designated  cycleways that are found on all the main roads in Braunschweig, where I stayed for a while. I was even reminded on a few occasions that I was ‘walking in the cycling zone’ and this was not acceptable 🙂

Even late on a cold night, cyclists are out and about.

Even late on a cold night, cyclists are out and about.

Comparing the density of population/traffic between this German city and the one where I live, I can only surmise that many of the inner city inhabitants of Braunschweig must own a bike and use it as a primary means of transport. Even late on a winter evening, people were out using the cycleways provided.

Oxford. Bikes are an integral part of the culture.

Oxford. Bikes are an integral part of the culture.

I have only cycled in two European countries so far – the UK and France. Each country is different, but both exhibit the same cycling acceptance to that I found in Germany. In Oxford, for example, bikes are so much a part of the university city culture, it would simply not be the same without them.

Where I come from, a ‘large’ public bicycle parking area may be able to accommodate a dozen bikes perhaps. Certainly nothing like what is found in Oxford or Paris.

Bike parking near a major French railway station.

Bike parking near a major French railway station.

French and German trains have allocated space for bikes.

French and German trains have allocated space for bikes.

But this is what different cultures are about. The countries of the European continent have had bicycles as part of their cultures and traditions for many centuries. In Australia, we do not have this experience to draw on. But as petrol gets more expensive and finally runs out, we may have to change our attitudes and learn a few things from the Europeans.

This biking culture is what appeals to me so much about these countries. It is a magnet that will bring me back to enjoy this environment time and time again. I can’t wait for the day when we have it as part of our culture here too.

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Tracks, but no trains

There is no doubt that Tasmania (Australia) is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The natural beauty of the rainforests on the western coast has to be seen to be believed.

Exquisite scenery

But beware! Tasmanians think nothing of their wet weather and when they casually invite you to explore their ‘railtrails’ on the western side of the state, you had better make sure you are well prepared!

Most importantly, you will need a good camera to capture the magical waterfalls, creeks and the magnificent rainforest vegetation. But, you should also take a raincoat, even if the sun is out when you leave (the weather is notoriously changeable, and it gets wet, very wet, very quickly!).

The wise railtrail cyclist will realise that they will most likely also get somewhat grubby! If you are really keen, and love splashing through the mud, then you will be in for the ride of your life and will emerge in dire need of a hot shower. It will also be weeks before you get all the grit out of the moving parts of your bike, no matter how well or how often you wash it! If you are not an avid mud lover, you may even be tempted to consider porting along some gumboots for the really wet bits (just kidding!) 🙂

Remains of rail sleepers left in the forest to decay

Old wooden rail bridge, now overgrown with mosses and ferns

In the summer of 2010 we tackled the railtrail near Zeehan. The trains have long since ceased running but evidence of their presence can still be found in some old wooden bridges and half buried sleepers.

I am a bit sentimental about disused railways and never get tired of marvelling at and exploring the relics of bridges and other infrastructure that is now sadly abandoned and left to rot. It is difficult to imagine those heavy old engines and their loads steaming over the fragile looking wooden bridges and stone culverts with their shrill whistle echoing through the valleys.

Being a bit passionate about plants too, I found the forest truly awe-inspiring. It is one of those places that is spectacular regardless of the weather. We rode through rain, mist and smatterings of sunshine and the vegetation was different and lovely in each one.

A few sections on the trail posed some interesting challenges. I must confess that I was not overly impressed at the creek crossing which had to be negotiated on foot, given the size of the boulders in the river bed.

There was no mention of rocky beds and creek crossings in the guide book!

But my fellow cyclists were highly entertained by my discomfort and delightfully caught it on camera! Afterwards, when I was no longer wet, it did get me laughing too! The only consolation was that it had not been raining for long, so I only had to negotiate shallow water. It would have been a different story if the creek was full!

Railway cutting, now only accessible to bush walkers and cyclists

We rode on two sections of the trail. One part is only open to cyclists and bush walkers. The condition of the track was excellent in this part and gave you the opportunity to look around as you were riding.

Unfortunately the other part, which is open to motorised transport, was very degraded with big muddy potholes and slippery sections. Here it was necessary to watch the road carefully all the way to avoid ending up in the mud. If I did the ride again, I would not bother with this section, as I really did not enjoy it.

But overall, it was a great experience and a wonderful way to experience the incredible natural beauty of Tasmania.