Blow-in from Melbourne takes it to the Sydney Streets

It's nothing short of a miracle; It's been three weeks cycling through Sydney's wild and somewhat non-stop peak hour and I remain in possession of all 20 fingers and toes. These few weeks have provided some of the most terrifying, infuriating, confusing, surprising and exhilarating cycling I've experienced to date. I'd like to share some of my experiences and insights into this new thing that I do: cycling in Sydney.

I love Melbourne, was born and bred there and have grown up to some extent in the saddle of a two-wheeler careering around my western suburban streets. One month ago, after 20 years living in my beloved capital of Australian cultural wankery that it became apparent that I would be relocating to Sydney immediately and indefinitely to commence study at USYD. With barely enough time to scrape together sufficient quantities of underpants and bike accessories I found myself suddenly setting up residence in Sydney's inner west with an already simmering dislike of the local public transport system (sorry guys but the ticketing system here makes Melbourne's Myki look like a work of inspired genius which I assure you it is not).

Suffice it to say, the bike was a must regardless of the heinous traffic and tangled streets I'd experienced already.

The first ride into uni was an experience I will truly never forget to the end of my days. I'm not sure what time I set out from Marrickville but soon enough I found myself plunging headlong into the darkest depths of Sydney's AM peak hour. Buses chase me up the hills of Victoria Rd onto Enmore Rd and then King St where the two pot-holed lanes (neither bikelanes) have me ducking and weaving between stop-start buses on the left, opportunistic drivers on my right and those cars stupid enough to get stuck in the left lane with me. Indicator times max out about 5 seconds. I make it to Parramatta Rd having glared at half-a-dozen automobile cattle, been distracted by some pretty girls and memorise the location of two Vego restaurants. So far so good, but that's the easy part.

I'm heading to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music situated next to Circular Quay. I have no plan of how to get there other than ride north until you can see water then turn right. 

As I turn into Parramatta Rd two things become apparent. Firstly, this is Sydney you idiot. Cyclists do not factor in the Buses/Cars dichotomy and therefore you're heaped in with the buses. And secondly, that anyone regularly cycling on Parramatta Rd is hard to the core and doesn't give a shit about bike lanes, bus lanes, turning or transit lanes rendering the previous point basically null and void. So while I do my best to negotiate the with the buses in the left I occasionally glance with awe to my right to see cyclists holding their own and better in the left, central and right lanes; gracefully merging, swerving and overtaking where necessary.

Busy stuck up the arse of a bus for some time I don't realise where I am until I reach the George St / Pitt St junction. I'm in the far left lane with buggerall chance of comprehending this intersection let alone turning right in time. So George St it is. 

It's organised chaos virtually impossible to traverse in any kind of straight line. Buses attempt to turn left into pedestrians, cars attempt to turn left through buses that are continuing down George St, buses attempt to overtake other buses that have stopped to drop off passengers and cars attempt to merge to the left to avoid those turning right. Close calls abound as I strive to pass through unimpeded - my bum barely touches the saddle from UTS to Bourke St. Particularly close is  a bus on George St that seizes upon a clear moment to veer unexpectedly into the lane to it's right - my lane at the time. I see it in time to swerve to the right myself coming within inches of a 4WD. What I don't see as I try to make eye contact with all and sundry is the traffic lights ahead turning amber. Unwittingly I enter the intersection alone just as the lights hit red and I have to scramble to pass a column of snarling, beeping traffic entering the intersection from the left.

I make it to uni sweaty and smelly and pondering the uneasy excitement of having nearly met one's end half a dozen times in half an hour.

The ride home that night at 9pm is much quieter and more enjoyable. The parked cars taking up half of the left lane on King St give me a much appreciated bike lane by default. I draft with a veteran mountain bike rider up Enmore Rd for a while, we whinge about traffic lights and bid each other good night as I peel off at Marrickville. I've survived my first day on the bike in Sydney and while I won't be venturing onto George St at peak hour again anytime soon I reckon I could get used to this...

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Comment by timothy.clifford on March 20, 2012 at 6:04am

Nice. Welcome to Sydney - we'll have to find you a better route. You seemed to have unwittingly picked the worst roads to cycle on in the inner city. Great story though.

Comment by Edward Re on March 20, 2012 at 6:49am

Exactly! You are tough to go Parra Rd/King St, Congrats Milo.Try

Comment by Michael O'Reilly on March 20, 2012 at 6:50am
Welcome to Sin City, Milo! Syd Cycs, can you line up a better route?
Comment by milo on March 20, 2012 at 7:29am

Thanks for the feedback guys! I've found a lovely new route along Wilson St into Redfern then Elizabeth St -Wentworth Ave - College St - Macquarie. It's busy but much safer and quicker.

Comment by Will Wassell on March 20, 2012 at 7:45am

Parra/Broadway/George are not for the faint of heart in peak hour, gutsy bro, very gutsy. Welcome to Sydney hope you and your bike enjoy yourselves while you’re here :)

Comment by Llewster on March 20, 2012 at 8:49am

Another story of why we really need to have proper signage for cyclists as to the safe way to get to the city. Wilson St - then left at George St - through Prince Alfred Park - Elizabeth - Wentworth - College is the better way to go.

Comment by milo on March 20, 2012 at 9:00am

Ah, I neglected to mention the park. I do cut through Prince Alfred's; it's the highlight of my ride :)

Comment by Rob Berry on March 20, 2012 at 9:39am

Hey Milo, my wife does that same commute, Dulwich Hill to the Conservatorium. She either does what Llewster does, or if she is in the mood for a more quiet and scenic route makes a bigger loop via the Bourke St cycleway, then uses a lift at the end of it that gets her up to Macquarie St in some way through the parks there.

There are some nicer ways to get to Wilson St than along Enmore Rd/King St from Marrickville (after being taken out by a car on Enmore Rd last year I try to avoid using it if I can). If you have a look at this map it gives you some quieter back streets to the east of Enmore Rd, while on the western side a lot of people use Agar St - Browns Ave - Ryan Park - cross Stanmore Rd at the lights and turn into Cavendish St - use the bunch of little lane ways that go parallel to Enmore Rd until you get to station St, where you can just turn into Enmore Rd/King St for 100m or so to get onto Wilson St.

Comment by Llewster on March 20, 2012 at 10:46am

Im actually interested in how many cyclists are coming into the city from the Inner West - which way do they go - is it mostly Wilson St - George - Elizabeth?  Or is it straight down King St - Parramatta Rd?  My commute is from Cremorne to UNSW so I only see the amounts of cyclists on the SHB - Kent St - College St - Oxford - Anzac Pde. Big numbers - how are the numbers from Newtown?  Do you think maybe if there was a well signposted - better laned cycleway more people from the inner city would cycle in?

Another option for cycling that I thought many cyclists would use is Wilson St - Shepherd - Mountain - Kelly - Mary Ann - Ultimo - Darling Drive - Pyrmont Bridge - King St.  I suspect that once Central Park is complete there will be a nice cycling boulevard connecting Jones and Balfour - so then the route will be simplified to Wilson - Shepherd - Boundary - Myrtle/Meagher - Balfour - Jones - Thomas - Harris - Ultimo - Darling Drive.

Comment by dr bean on March 20, 2012 at 11:12am

Welcome, Milo and congratulations on surviving the streets of our, um, fair city. I take it that you aren't commuting to the Con with a cello or a harp... :-)

One great rule of cycling in Sydney: the route you'd take by bus or car is rarely the one you take by bike. Sounds like you're figuring it out, and have some decent advice above. Good luck!


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