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