Cycling in Sydney Australia
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...