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Cycling Australia
Australia's Century Old Love Affair
Words and Images by: Miranda Unicomb

‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;

He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;

He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;

He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;

And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,

The grinning shop assistant said,

“Excuse me, can you ride?”

(Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, by A.B  ‘Banjo’ Patterson)

Cycling has a proud and long standing history in Australian culture. Our affiliation with cycling began in the 1860’s.

The penny farthing made its first debut on the streets of Victoria in 1875 making Melbourne, a true haven for cycling enthusiasts and home to the first Australian Bicycle Club. The Melbourne Cricket Ground saw capacity crowds attend on bicycle race days, putting some cricketer’s noses out of joint.

Men and women took to the penny farthing as it fulfilled a need for cheap and comfortable transport. This gave people independence and a sense of freedom they hadn’t experienced before.

At the height of the cycling craze the streets of Melbourne were congested with cyclists. Media commentators suggested that the city would have to build underground pathways to cope. One newspaper even suggested that the bicycle should be included in the national coat of arms!

A child’s first bicycle is still seen as a rite of passage even though most of us choose to drive rather than ride later in life. Perhaps it’s this innate connection rather than the careers of Phil Anderson and Cadel Evans that perpetuates the Australian love affair with cycling.

Why Cycle?

Today, cars are congesting our streets; along with heavy traffic comes ozone polluting greenhouse emissions and  poor air quality. Now more than ever, the Federal Government is trying to entice us to ‘ride a bike’.

The National Cycling Strategy aims to double the number of people who ride a bicycle in Australia by 2016 by investing significantly in infrastructure. The Government recognises that increasing the number of people riding for transport and recreation will benefit Australia by improving health, productivity, the environment and community liveability.

There is a lot to be gained from a bit of pedal power so why not leave the Suzuki on the A-Frame and enjoy the freedom of cycling?

  • Regular activity improves your body’s overall health and immunity by strengthening your cardiovascular system preventing the risk of heart attack, diabetes, osteoporosis and a myriad of other ailments. Cycling, like motorhoming, can assist you to ‘laugh more and live longer®’.
  • Riding as a form of transport can help reduce your living expenses as the cost of maintaining your bike is minimal compared to that of your car. The Australian Bicycle Council proposes that ditching one family car and cycling to work can save up to $800 a month.
  • Cycling can be a fun social activity; it is also a great way to sight see and connect with a community.
  • Bicycles have greater access to areas of interest than your car, such as parklands, foreshores and reserve trails.

The Basics

Purchasing a bike

With bikes, like nearly everything else, you get what you pay for. There are basically five main styles of bikes to choose from, and your selection should really depend on what you anticipate your main type of riding to be.

Road bikes are designed for riding on paved streets, and speed. They have skinny tyres and a lightweight frame such as those used by athletes in the Tour de France. This type of bike is best suited to experienced riders.

Mountain bikes have wide tyres, usually with knobby tread and a stout frame. They are designed to handle rugged trails and do not go as fast as road bikes, which is a trade-off for their durability along with a more comfortable riding position.

Hybrid bikes are a compromise between road and mountain bikes, and offer the best features of both. They typically can go faster than mountain bikes, yet feature the upright seat and handlebar position that many people favour.

Cruisers are bikes that have wide tyres, wide seats, upright handlebars and most times a single gear. These are the bikes that you’ll often see at the beach. They are suited for flat sealed pathways and are more about comfort and style rather than practical means of transport.

Folding bicycles are designed to fold into a compact unit, useful for transport and storage in compact spaces such as your RV. Another advantage of these bikes is that they can be easily carried into buildings or on public transportation, enabling mixed mode commuting.


Cycling stores will stock a myriad of equipment and accessories some of which can be quite costly. When you’re just getting started you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment or clothing. The basic gear you need is:


It is against the law to not wear a helmet - ride smart and protect your head.

Water bottle

Keeping hydrated while riding is very important; get a water bottle with a cage that attaches to your bike.


To ensure you are not stranded with a flat tyre, always bring a pump along for the ride.

Repair kit

A repair kit should contain a patch kit, a spare inner tube, 2 tyre levers, and a multi-tool for bikes; store your repair kit in a bag attached to your bike.

Things you might consider getting later

Cycling gloves

In case of an accident, gloves will protect your hands from scratches and cuts.

Gel-padded seat

For a little added comfort, consider padding your seat - your posterior will thank you after long rides.


To protect your eyes from road debris and UV light, sunglasses should be on the ‘essential’ list.


A shoe/pedal combination helps with efficient peddling. The combo can either be used with regular shoes and a cage, or pedals that lock into your cycling shoes (that have clips on the sole, called cleats).


To help you easily carry things around on your bike, like your shopping or lunch, consider investing in some racks/panniers.


Bikes have gears for the same reason cars do: to let the engine (or you) work at a comfortable and efficient speed.

Most bikes use external gear mechanisms to move the chain around different sized toothed wheels, called ‘sprockets’ on the wheel and ‘chain wheels’ at the pedal end. The smaller the chain wheel or the larger the rear sprocket, the lower and easier the gear is. You should move between sprockets and chainings to find the correct gear to suit your needs.

Many beginner riders find the gears the most daunting feature of their bikes. Get yourself to a quiet place, like a bike path, and shift up and down through the gears until you’re completely confident with how they work and what they do.

How high should my saddle be?

Many beginners want to be able to put a foot flat on the ground while sitting in the saddle. The problem is that this puts your saddle too low for comfortable, efficient pedalling. With your saddle too low, you’ll get tired quicker. You should have your saddle high enough that your knee is at a 25 to 35 degree angle when your foot is at the bottom of the pedal’s rotation.


In order to stay safe and avoid obstacles, braking is a major safety skill to learn. A few braking tips are as follows: 

Downhill braking:

When riding downhill, your first reaction may be to ride the brakes, but this isn’t ideal as the brake pad could burn out. The best way to brake is by quick short bursts.

Front brakes

Use the front brake simultaneously and in combination with the back brake to slow you down. But don’t pull too hard on the front brake or you’ll go over the handlebars. 70 percent of your braking force is in your front brake.

Rear brakes: 

Are good in wet, slippery conditions.

Know the road rules The road rules for bicycle riders are slightly different from state to state, if you are ever in doubt err on the side of caution and use your common sense.

  • Always wear an approved safety helmet - not only is it compulsory to wear a helmet that meets the relevant Australian Standards but a helmet can save your life.
  • Wear bright colours or reflective clothing that will make it easier for others to see you.
  • Your bike must be equipped with a bell, horn or similar warning device; use it to warn others that you are approaching.
  • If riding at night, it is a legal requirement that your bike has a white headlight, a red taillight and a red tail reflector.
  • Keep your bike well maintained - check that the brakes, lights and bell on your bicycle are working before you set out on your ride.
  • Ride safely, predictably and defensively. Maintain control of your bicycle at all times, making sure you are able to stop quickly and safely if you need to. 
  • Alcohol affects your coordination and balance, which are both imperative to safe cycling. It is illegal in most states to ride your bike while under the influence; never drink and ride. 

ABC Bicycle Safety Check

These checks should take you less than 30 seconds, and really just require a visual inspection of your bike’s main components. This is an easy way to make sure you stay as safe as possible when you’re out on your bike.

A - Air in tyres.

B - Brakes are working.

C - Chain and gears are in working order.

Bicycle Tourism

The catchy term ‘Bicycle Tourism’ consists of cycling as a means of travel and sight-seeing. It has largely emerged from the United Kingdom and other European countries. Cycling as a means of basic transportation has prevailed in Europe where it is still somewhat expensive and cumbersome to rely solely on personal cars for transportation.

While the vast expanse of our country is better suited to the use of motor vehicles for long journeys, the Australian Government is taking action to improve cycling infrastructure within towns and regional centres. This includes the installation of cycling paths, bicycle lockers and a number of facilities to encourage the cross usage of both bikes and public transport. This is all designed to improve the experience for cyclists by facilitating safe and user friendly areas.

More enthusiastic tourists are embarking on tours which can range from singe day rides to multi day endurance tours.

There are a variety of cycle ways and activities throughout metropolitan and regional Australia for you to explore. It is easy and affordable to mount a bicycle rack to the rear of your RV - an ideal form of local transport; riding a bicycle gives you the freedom to pop into town or go and see the local sights without having to pack up the entire RV!

Category: Features
Written: Fri 01 Feb 2013
Printed: February, 2013
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