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First thoughts on cycling down under, over there on the left side of the road

Some of you blog readers may know that I’m spending a few months in Australia while on sabbatical from my academic job in the Boston area. And of course I brought my road bike with me. But I just started riding this weekend, about 2 weeks after I arrived. Part of the delay was that I was recovering from jet lag and then getting oriented at work (I’m visiting at the University of Sydney, and gave a talk on Thursday).

But really, the reason why I hadn’t started cycling was fear. I was terrified at switching to riding on the left side of the road. Okay, I feel a little better now that’s out there.

In my partial defense, just about everyone I talked to in Sydney thought that cycling in the city was dangerous. Of course people in Boston think the same thing, and they’re not completely wrong. And I don’t let that stop me from riding all over the place at home.

More defense claims: I haven’t seen many bike commuters around in my part of Sydney (inner west for you Aussies). Nor have I seen many in the downtown area, either—not on the main roads anyhow. So I was thinking, hmmm— maybe they know something I don’t.

But then there was my bike, sitting in my landlord’s garage, all alone in a new country, not getting any attention from me. That’s just wrong. I owe it to myself and the bike to get out there and develop some new skills and have some new adventures. Right? Uh, ok.

So I did just that this weekend.

Part of my motivation was a combination of necessity and laziness. I had brought a hand pump with me (a floor pump was too heavy to transport), but forgot the connector hose (oops). So I needed to get a new pump and some CO2 for keeping my tires in shape. The nearest bike shop was only a 12-minute ride (according to google), but a 40-minute bus trip. Clearly I’m getting on the bike.

So I made my way to the shop, going up and down (Sydney is hillier than I had expected), making right and left turns, which are reversed in order of difficulty. And I didn’t even end up on the wrong side of the road while turning. Yay! Whew…

Having obtained my new pump and some cartridges for my inflator (and basking in the glow of praise for my bike from the shop guys—love when that happens!), I headed back out there to explore a little. I found some lovely mixed-use paths by the water and rode around. There were a bunch of cyclists, including road cyclists—finally I found some of my people! Sydney is so beautiful, with water everywhere you look, and I enjoying winding my way around, taking some quiet side streets and paths.  Here’s a shot from near the water.

Here’s another one.

Who wouldn’t want to see that all the time?

My next step is to do some proper road rides. Samantha has been very nice and given me some contacts, and I’ll be talking with them and others about getting out on the road at speed. But one revolution at a time….

In the meantime, here are a few parting observations I made based on this weekend’s experience:

  1. Traffic is traffic, and many commuter cycling traffic skills translate nicely.

Riding on a busy city street, I encountered buses, cars passing me (on the right), pedestrians popping out everywhere—business as usual on a bike. I found that paying attention worked the same way. Of course this is unsurprising, but I was really gratified, and it helped build confidence.

  1. Old instincts die hard when encountering other cyclists.

Riding on a mixed-use path around Sydney, I saw a guy on a lovely vintage Bianchi coming toward me around a narrow corner. I immediately swerved a bit to right. Of course, so did he. Oops! Actually, this was what I said out loud, followed by “sorry about that”.   We were going slowly, so all was well, but it reminded me to be more aware, as my instincts were not always going to lead me in the correct direction (quite literally).

  1. Cycling totally rocks, no matter where you are.

Getting back on the bike really made Sydney feel more like home. I’ve got my mode of transportation, I’ve got another way to meet people and make new friends, and I’ve got a passport to new adventures. Yes, that’s a little cheesy, but when it comes to me and my bike, I’m a sentimental soul. And I’m really glad it’s here with me.

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