Strength in numbers
A rallying date for bike riders is the annual Ride2Work day, and we can all do our bit to make sure it’s a fabulous success, writes Scott Whiffin and Stephen Huntley.
You already know the wonderful pleasure bike riding brings, and if you are like most of us, you take delight in the growing numbers of people making a similar discovery. The great thing is, as rider numbers grow, there is a flow-on positive effect for all riders, which in turn stimulates others to give it a try. The thought becomes, if all these people are out riding, and obviously enjoying themselves, then maybe I can give it a try too.
Governments are pressured into improving facilities as rider numbers grow, and other road users get used to our presence, which lessens potential friction and incidents. Similarly, destinations such as workplaces, sporting grounds, shops, restaurants and public events feel the need to improve their bike facilities.
So it’s in all our interests to be seen to be riding more, and to get others to ride. And you can help with both.
Ride2Work day, the biggest mass-participation bike riding event in Australia, is on 17 October this year, and it is a fantastic way to visually highlight to the non-bike riding world how massive riding has become. But its effects last far longer than the day itself; many of those encouraged to try riding to work for the first time as part of the event will help form the new wave of people who regularly ride their bikes throughout the year.
So what role can you play? If you don’t currently ride to work, it might be time to have a close look at why, and see if there’s some way you can overcome the hurdles that are stopping you. If you do already, then you can certainly help out by mentoring other potential riders, or perhaps becoming a workplace co-ordinator. And even if you don’t work, or if it is simply impossible for you to ride to work, you can still help out by sharing your bike riding knowledge, skills and passion with others who might be able to, but lack the confidence.
You, the mentor
One of the key reasons why people don’t ride is a lack of confidence. They would like to give it a try, but are not sure what bike they should buy, where the best places to ride are, what to do if they get a flat tyre or the chain falls off, what they should carry with them in case of emergencies, and how to confidently ride in traffic.
For some potential riders this isn’t a problem; they’ll read books and online articles and advice, ask questions of those they know ride already, and just get out there and try it. But for many others, they need a one-on-one helping hand, even if it’s just for those first initial forays out on the bike. Once they’re up and running, it is likely they’ll be fine, but initially they’ll need a mentor to fall back on. And that mentor can be you.
The first step is to let those around you who don’t ride that you’re available to help out. Explain that you’re prepared to spend some one-on-one time to get a new rider started. If you’re subsequently inundated with requests, it would be best to limit yourself to one or perhaps two potential riders at a time, so you can concentrate on their needs.
If someone needs help buying a bike, you could offer to visit a bike shop with them, or perhaps you can help source a spare bike they can ride, at least initially. Ride On regularly publishes a buyers’ guide which can help you with decision making when it comes to bikes and their accessories, but just having someone who knows a little bit about bikes with them in a bike shop situation can help reduce the intimidation factor.
Basic skills and confidence can be built up very quickly in a session on a local bike riding path. Once you’ve got them going, you don’t have to be there with them all the time as they build up their handling confidence. But you perhaps should be available by phone in case anything crops up.
Simple maintenance skills like keeping the tyres pumped up, oiling the chain, replacing a tube, and getting the chain back on if it falls off can be taught easily. Add confidence by saying that if some mechanical failure does happen, and they forget what to do, it’s no big deal; they can use their phone and ask you for advice, walk the bike home, or lock it up where it is, find alternative means of transport, and come back to it later in the day.
If you’re mentoring someone on riding to work, no doubt you’ll have some great tips that can help ease the journey. But one of the key things that can help more than any other is being there and riding the route with them the first few times they try, and helping set an initial route that is not too challenging. Usually that’s all it takes; a couple of accompanying rides, taking it easy and building confidence, while pointing out things to look out for. After that, as long as it seems you’re available for advice, they’ll be on their way.
And remember, just riding a bike to the train station rather than taking the car, or driving part way, parking, and riding the rest of the distance, is to be encouraged if it’s not initially possible to ride all the way to work.
It is an incredibly satisfying experience mentoring a new rider. You will have helped change their life for the better, and we will all benefit for it.
You, the workplace coordinator
In 2011, National Ride2Work Day attracted 45,000 people across Australia, with over 7,000 of them first-time riders. This 15% new uptake is due in no small part to the more than 4,000 workplace coordinators registered with the Ride2Work program who volunteer to inspire, support, educate and encourage their workmates.
Being a coordinator for Ride2Work day on 17 October does mean taking on a bit of extra responsibility, but the rewards can be immense: as well as the benefits to the individuals who start riding, it can help transform your workplace over time from one where bike riding is viewed as a bit of an oddity, to one where it becomes embedded in the culture, with better facilities as a natural progression.
Last year, Rebecca Ryan was the Ride2Work Day workplace coordinator at Townsville Hospital, where bike riding was virtually ignored by management.
“When I started working here just over two years ago I was delighted to find that there was a secure bike shed,” Rebecca said. “I’d been riding every day for about a month and had no idea it existed. It was only through word-of-mouth that anyone found out about it as it was tucked away at the back of the hospital.
The timeless art of stimulating conversation is one of the best ways to encourage and sustain a riding culture in a workplace, as Rebecca found out.
“I started speaking to friends and colleagues and slowly I built up a network of people interested in bike riding at the hospital. I looked at the on-line guide provided by Bicycle Network and got in contact with a Bicycle User Group (BUG) in Brisbane for advice.”
Ride2Work Day is a great way to build the profile of riding as it acts as a focus point and attracts the attention of those that might not be aware there is a growing riding culture in the organisation.
“When Ride2Work day registrations opened I hung around the bike lock-up at work and got people to sign on, explaining how important it is to be counted,” said Rebecca. “I and my colleague Naomi signed up as workplace co-ordinators, and the posters and stickers provided were great. The stickers are a perfect size for the back of swipecards and advertise the joy of cycling without anyone even trying.”
Promoting the event and creating a sense of excitement and anticipation helps stimulate the buzz around riding, and goes a long way to getting new riders to sign up.
Rebecca organised a bike raffle, and had promotional screensavers put up on computers for a month, and on the day itself, the hospital’s health promotions team organised a workplace breakfast and the hospital PR team organised some positive media coverage.
It’s amazing what can happen once the passion for riding is unleashed. Townsville Hospital now has its own BUG, which has now linked up with the James Cook University to form an umbrella organisation, the Townsville BUG.
Don’t feel overwhelmed by Rebecca’s story; as a workplace co-ordinator, even getting one more person to take part in the day is a great achievement; anything else is a bonus. It’s a matter of raising the profile of riding, and letting others who may be interested know that there is a person they can turn to for support and advice.
Rebecca has five tips for anyone trying to encourage workmates to ride to work.
1. Get management on board. Contact anyone in a position to help you promote the event. If your organisation is big enough to have its own newsletter, be sure to talk to the editor.
2. People will often say that they have thought about getting a bike, so let them know that Ride2Work Day is a good opportunity to give it a go. Offer advice and encouragement.
3. Tell people how much you enjoy it.
4. Sell raffle tickets for your workplace bicycle user group (BUG).
5. Stress how important it is to register for Ride2Work day. With supporting data on how many rode, we can provide the figures to convince workplaces and governments to spend money on bike riding infrastructure and consider the needs of bike riders in the design of roads and cities.
You may be a rider who has contemplated riding to work, but for one reason or another, haven’t been able to pull it off. Ride2Work day is the perfect opportunity to give it a go. The trick is to start off with reasonable expectations, build up slowly, and stick with it.
Set an example for others to follow, and encourage them to join in. There can be many barriers in the way, but with clever lateral thinking, it is often the case that any obstacles can be overcome. Employ persistence and determination and you’ll get there.
Below are some of the more common questions raised, with some solutions which may work, followed by links to some valuable resources which can also help.
Am I fit enough?
Riding to work is not a race – take it easy, don’t worry about how fast others are going, and use all the gears if you’ve got. Gradually build up your fitness and health over time; this is a long-term life-changing project! If it seems simply too far, or too hard, there are alternatives. Ride to a train station on your route, secure your bike there, and use public transport for the last bit. Or drive part way, and ride the rest. You might also like to investigate using an electric bike; they are now relatively cheap, you can still get good exercise in, but can travel much further, with greater ease, than a regular bike.
What equipment do I need?
A bike (new or old) is obviously a necessity, but don’t rush in to making a purchasing decision. There is no universally right bike for commuting; some trips will regularly be only a few kilometres on suburban roads, while others may be many kilometres on a mixture of roads and trails. You don’t generally need any form of suspension, however, and a bike that you can fit mudguards to when necessary, and possibly a rack, are very handy.
A well-fitted bike is a dream to ride, so get the size and seat height right. Serviceable brakes, tyres and chain save worry and trouble. Ask your local bike shop for advice and possibly a bike service.
You’ll also need a helmet and a good lock. In the dark or poor weather you’ll also need front and rear lights. Modern lights (LEDs) are cheap and highly effective. A bell is a legal requirement, and it’s also a good idea to carry with you a spare tube, a multi-tool, and some tyre levers.
How do I carry my stuff?
If you’re travelling light, try a backpack, courier-style bag or bike basket. Panniers (bags that can be fastened to a rack) are great for larger loads. Bike trailers or cargo bikes can be considered to drop the kids off or carry heavy work materials.
Do I have time?
Bikes are generally faster than cars or public transport in the congested peak travel times if your trip is less than 15 kilometres. The bonus is that you’ve also done your exercise for the day so you don’t need to find time to go to the gym as well. When first commuting, allow for extra time so you don’t feel under any pressure. As you progress, you’ll get fitter, find better routes and ride with more confidence, so the time it takes will come down.
What should I wear?
Clothes that are unrestrictive, light, warm and dry quickly. You can ride in work clothes or change at work. You can carry a fresh change of clothes with you or bring them in once a week by public transport or car. Ask other riders in your workplace about facilities for changing, showering and storing clothes.
What about riding in traffic?
Always keep in mind the ‘three Cs’ when riding in traffic:
• Common sense: Bicycles are recognised as vehicles and must follow the rules of the road. Riding on the left, obeying traffic signals and using hand signals before turning right are all essential for reducing risk. Check bicyclenetwork.com.au for links to specific road rules for bike riders for your state or territory.
• Courtesy: Be assertive but considerate by knowing the road rules and acting on them. If you make eye contact with motorists you can be more confident that they’ve seen you.
• Caution: Find a low-risk route – try quieter streets or off-road bike paths. Ride predictably and leave yourself room to manoeuvre. Try to be aware of what’s happening around you and look ahead. Watch for opening car doors. If possible, ride out from the door zone – a car door is about 1.5m wide. If you can’t do this, then slow down to a speed where you can stop in time. Don’t ride up on the left side of cars or particularly heavy vehicles where they might turn left – particularly with trucks, you’ll be in the blind spot!
What if I get a puncture?
You can purchase puncture-resistant tyres that are so good you can ride enormous distances without a flat. If you do get a puncture, simply replace the tube and repair the old one at your leisure after the ride. If a fix isn’t possible, options include a phone call for help or a walk to the nearest train station. Apart from glass and other pieces of road detritus or hitting a drain edge or pothole, the other major cause of punctures is low tyre pressure. Tyres will slowly lose pressure over time so you need to pump them up at least weekly.
How do I plan my trip?
Start by speaking to regular riders and checking out maps available from your state or territory bike riding organisation or local council. Aim for a route that avoids traffic and narrow roads (plenty of riders also plan their route to avoid hills). Using off-road bike paths and on-road lanes will reduce the risks and stresses and will almost certainly be more interesting. Someone who rides in from your direction might be happy to show you the ropes. Experimenting with new routes is best done on the way home or on the weekends when time is less pressured.
What if it rains?
Wear a rain jacket, preferably with underarm vents and reflective or bright panels. Take a change of clothes for your legs or wear waterproof overpants. When riding exercise extra caution, just like when you drive a car in the wet. Avoid metal surfaces such as tram tracks and drains and generally anything painted. If it rains at the end of the day and you’d rather not ride, don’t! Leave your bike at work and grab a train, tram or bus.
If you’re going to ride to work on Wednesday, 17 October, make sure you register the fact: the number of registrants is used as a tool to demonstrate the strength of bike riding in Australia. Register for Ride2Work day, to become a workplace co-ordinator, or to find other tips on how to ride to work, at www.ride2work.com.au.
Ride On content is editorially independent, but is supported financially by members of Bicycle Network Victoria. If you enjoy our articles and want to support the future publication of high-quality content, please consider helping out by becoming a member.