Bicycle Commuting Pt. 2 – The Trip
My feet feel the cushion of grass, thick, green and shaded by a tall stand of gum trees. It’s lunchtime at Griffith University’s Gold Coast campus, my surrogate workplace for National Ride2Work day, and I’ve made a temporary office on a quiet piece of lawn. A northerly breeze simpers through native leaves, casting a shimmering mosaic, promising a tailwind for the ride home.
Because I work from home, I’ve decided to shadow a bicycle commuter for National Ride2Work Day. Neither of us have ridden to this destination before. The bicycle commuter usually cycles to a tram stop, locks her bike and catches the tram to the university. Cycling all the way to the campus is double the distance.
Our commute started later than planned – 5.45am rather than 5.30am. I’d built in some extra travel time, as I always do, to cater for the unexpected so there was no need to worry. The sun was hidden behind a motley array of clouds, toning its heat to a comfortable warmth but mellowing the buoyant breath of a brand new day. Clear blue skies, sunshine and birdsong always speak in volumes that can’t be ignored. Cloudy days are quieter, moodier perhaps, less evocative to the senses. I was grateful though for the absence of both the rain that fell overnight and the northerly wind that blew for the past two days. A northerly would’ve meant a headwind for most of our 27 kilometres.
The first 17 kilometres was familiar terrain – across Tallebudgera Creek, over Burleigh Headland, along Nobby’s Beach esplanade, up to Broadbeach and onto Surfers Paradise with its high-rise towers hugging the beach. On the esplanade at Surfers Paradise, we stopped at the bike commuter breakfast organised by the Gold Coast City Council and Bicycle Queensland. Not to eat, just to say g’day. We had a picnic breakfast packed. I’d made Bircher muesli the night before, mixed it with grated apple and fresh blueberries in the morning, and packed it alongside an ice brick. We ate beneath a pandanus tree on the Surfers Paradise beachfront and enjoyed the view.
The kilometres less travelled.
Then came the kilometres less travelled. On the coastal strip, Surfers Paradise turns into Main Beach and, here, something unexpected happened. We decide to ride on the road for speed – it’s already 7am, the lecturer has to be in class at 8am and we still have ten kilometres to ride. But soon concrete barricades appear, wire fencing, grandstands wearing empty plastic seats and advertising banners for oil, fuel and tyres. We’re riding on the V8 Supercars racetrack!
For a few days in late October the ‘Gold Coast 600’ fills these streets with speeding cars, burning fuel and testosterone. During our bicycle commute, we had the track to ourselves – local car commuters know to avoid this area while the track is being set up each year because there are always traffic delays. Our only delay was trying to work out how to ‘escape’ this tunnel of wire fences and concrete barricades that we’d stumbled into. Did my pace pick up at the thought of being on the soon-to-be racetrack? Perhaps a little.
After a momentary panic about being stuck on this racetrack and the passing of about 600 metres, a gap appeared in the wire fencing and we wheeled over some grass, past the temporary port-a-loos, over a footbridge and into Macintosh Park where ducks and geese fed, and elaborate peacocks made theatrical displays of richly coloured feathers.
More new territory appears.
Then more new territory appears. And it comes in the form of a light rail system; the Gold Coast’s ‘G:link’ tram which opened in July 2014. There are underpasses for crossing the road and overpasses for traversing the river. New to navigate but easy to pedal. The cycle ways are smooth and the signage clear.
Then came the hill we hoped to avoid. We saw it from the top of a crest that dipped down into a gully before rising for a long slow climb.
‘What was that other way you were talking about?’ giving away my apprehension.
Then I reminded myself that hill climbs have a way of looking more daunting than they are. ‘We’ll be halfway up it before we know it.’ And we were. Over the crest, down towards an intersection and then onto a trail through bushland, glistening with moisture from the evening rain and refreshing our cells.
Birdsong gave way to sounds of cars speeding along the Smith Street Motorway and the light rail sliding on its tram tracks. We were almost there. One more hill and then the best part of this commute arrived in the form of some superb infrastructure: A bicycle lane, an entry way cut into the kerb for a quick exit from the road and we’re delivered to the Griffith Health Centre where a sign reads ‘End of Trip Facility’.
In this instance, ‘end of trip’ specifically refers to the end of a bicycle commute. Accessed only by staff or student card, the facility provides bike racks and two large change rooms with showers. This type of facility adds to the ease of bicycle commuting and is evidence of an organisation’s genuine commitment to encouraging active travel. I was impressed.
The lecturer arrived in class on time. I went to the coffee shop for inspiration for writing and, after lunch, set up my temporary office here on the lawn.
POSTSCRIPT: The trip home was less eventful and slower. We were both tired, plus the northerly didn’t follow through on its promise of a tailwind. A round trip of 54kms is a long commute pedalling a bicycle. But in the spirit of this experiment and of National Ride2Work day, this commute was about having a go, trying something new and seeing how it fits.
The lecturer’s verdict?
- It’s unlikely to be sustainable as an ‘every day’ commute.
- Weaving it in once a week or once a fortnight is possible.
- The cycle/tram combo is a more realistic option.