Lord of the rules

It was a sunny morning on Coolangatta beach. The sea was sending small swells around Greenmount headland. Two young girls were learning to surf in the shallows. A slight sweep of the current and undulating sand beneath made it awkward to pick the right place for the peak. We bodysurfed a couple of waves and headed back to the bikes to change and ride on to a new little coffee house.

Riding slowly on the footpath in Griffith Street, we dismounted and looked for somewhere safe to park the bikes. Somewhere safe usually entails a spot where the bikes can be locked to something, where they’re out of the way of pedestrians and cars; and where we can see them. With panniers, water bottles and other kit on the bikes, it’s always reassuring to have the bikes in view.

There were no bike racks nearby so we decided to park our bikes against the wall next to the café and lock them together. As I was arranging the lock around the two bikes, I heard the voice of a man saying something about bikes and footpaths. I turned around to see a shortish man, his face tanned and aged by years and weather. I didn’t know him and I hadn’t seen him as we were riding along.

“What was that?” I asked politely and curiously.

“You know it’s illegal to ride on a footpath. They’ll fine you.”

“I don’t think it is you know,” shaking my head in response.

“Yes!” he said adamantly. “They changed the laws.”

“When was that…is this part of the new changes they’ve just made?”

“Oh I dunno…it’s been the law for ages. And you can’t ride ya bike across the crossing either.”

Now I’m starting to think this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The Queensland laws relating to bicycles have changed recently but I couldn’t recall anything about making it illegal to ride on footpaths and I definitely know the new changes permit cyclists to ride across the pedestrian crossings as long as they stop before proceeding.

The longer this conversation went on it was clear to me this guy was just being a grumpy old man who didn’t know his ‘facts’ and his accusatory tone wasn’t being respectful. Respect together with rules are important ingredients for keeping society civil.

“It is legal you know, to ride across the pedestrian crossings and to ride on the footpaths. We’re allowed to share the footpaths.”

“No it’s not,” he says.

In a nanosecond, I notice my chest lift and my height gather as I reply:

“Well I can assure you it is.”

“Well, the another day” he says, changing tack, “I saw this lady almost get knocked over by a bike down there on the footpath. She was just coming out of the shop and whoosh! past goes the bike. Almost knocked her over.”

Now I find myself ignoring the possibility of the bike-rider riding irresponsibly –I’m batting for the cyclists here – and say, calmly enough to hide my irritation with this persistent old codger: “Well she needed to look left and right before she stepped out.”

“She was here though” as he gestures towards the space immediately outside a doorway. With this, I’ve had enough. How likely is it that a cyclist could be riding that close to a doorway and fast enough to be unseen? This conversation is going nowhere and I’m out of there!

For me, though it didn’t end there. It was a little unsettling and caused me to reflect.

The old guy’s accusations were faulty. That was irritating. Some cyclists do ride without due care. That’s true. Yet it confused me as to why he launched into these accusations and bully boy behaviour. It was such a beautiful morning. We’d had no altercation with him, not even any interaction with him prior his random irrational claims about riding on the footpath. The clue though was in his story about the woman who was almost knocked over. This helped me see what was really going on. This old man was probably scared of being knocked over himself. With that realisation, I felt empathy and could let it go.

So it’s important to know your road rules, not only for safety and to avoid fines but so you can counter grumpy old men with some modicum of compassion.

Later that day, thanks to this experience, I did some research into the cycling rules that apply here in Queensland. I read a list of many things that are offences for bicycle-riders. Some of them you might have tried yourself over the years, like riding no hands or doubling a friend.

The next day as we rode along the street, I saw a young teenager riding his bike along the footpath. Usually, I see him riding his bike carrying his surfboard in a side rack, wearing board shorts or a wetsuit rolled down, dashing to and from the beach. This Valentine’s Day though, he stood dancing on the pedals as he pushed them up and down, dressed in smart clothes, with a young girlfriend sitting on the bike saddle, feet dangling in mid-air, hands holding a single rose wrapped in a clear cellophane cone, eyes gazing into its red petals. Both young teenagers smiling in their microcosm of new love moving on two wheels.

It made me smile and, although technically it’s an offence to ride like that, I hope everyone else seeing them found their heart warming and their face smiling too.


If you enjoyed this story, click ‘Yes email me new stories‘ and receive my stories straight into your email inbox 🙂 If you know other people who might enjoy it, use the icons below to share it with them on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn or via email. You can also read the About page to find out how this bike riding experiment began and why I’m doing it.


For more details about cycling rules in Queensland see the Queensland Government’s website.

12 Comments on “Lord of the rules

  1. Don’t mess with my little sister. Lol. Hello Gail. There have been issues on the turtle path between Bargara and mon repos with cyclists and walkers in sharing the route .

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    • 🙂 Hello Bevan.
      We’re so lucky to have these pathways to use for walking and cycling. Grumbling about sharing them spoils the good time everyone could be having. Hope they sort it out on that lovely Coral Coast trail.
      p.s. the grumpy old man left unharmed and heading for the beach for a swim 😉

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  2. Gail I love your response to this encounter and the subsequent reflection it brought. The man’s behaviour is not however, an excuse for him to blather on without checking his facts nor does it give licence to be disrespectful. He does the ambulators among us a disservice.

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  3. Thanks Robyn. Thankfully these examples haven’t happened often. I can report many more encounters with walkers who are pleasant, respectful and quite happy to share the paths.

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  4. Hi Gail it’s Glenn (of Glenn and Cathie) from LHI. Say a big “Hi” to Jane for us both please! I read the story…being a cyclist (in Sydney!!!) I kind of agree…but have to say that it’s a bit of a frontier world in Australia at the moment regarding cycling and cyclists and there are new things happening in cycling, good things, but new things, lots more cycle paths and lots more people on the roads on bikes. That inevitably means conflict with other road users. Cyclists have got to respect that and remember that it’s a change for the rest of the community as well. I’m hoping that we as cyclists can take the Gandhi approach – we might have to cop a lot of crap on the way but in the end if it’s done patiently and peacefully we will win, because the cause is sensible and the cause is just.

    Having cycled, walked, and driven, in the most stressful city in Australia, for many years, I’ve seen all sides of the equation! And sometimes cyclists do put other people and themselves in danger – especially inexperienced ones – and maybe that’s what the old bloke saw. Or not. Anyway I’ve seen a lot of it lately with the new lanes and new people on the roads in Sydney. Anyway sorry for the long-winded blargh and basically I would have been pissed off with the old bloke too.

    PS love the Valentines Day story. Cheers from Glenn.

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    • Hi Glenn, it’s great to read your view as a regular cyclist in Sydney. Thanks! Yesterday I read a piece shared on social media by Safe Cycling Australia. It was written by a Perth cyclist who gave examples of similar experiences. It was quite a heartfelt call for cyclists and drivers to understand each other better. As a father of three and husband, he asks drivers to consider the consequences of them venting their frustration on cyclists. Responses to his post suggest this abuse is an issue that is common across many Australian cities.

      He doesn’t quite get to a Gandhi-esque solution but it is really a call for change. And your suggestion rings true to me. Patience, perseverance and respect. I like it!

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  5. Hello Gail

    I love your reflection on the situation with the old gent (and he would have made me angry – messing with my sense of [in]justice!). You also set the scene beautifully at the beginning. I could feel the sun and smell the salt!

    Jen

    Like

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