Friday, 21 March 2014

The roads more dangerously travelled: biking the change we want to see in the world

As our friend and mentor David Holmgren has said many times, permaculture is about creating (through a succession of considered activities) the world we want to see rather than banging on the doors of power in the hope of change.


When people ask us about our trip and after we give a brief explanation about what we are doing, they often tell us we are crazy. Some mean this in a complementary sense, some mockingly, others a mix of the two. A question we have been asking ourselves, and that often stems from such a comment, is why subject our family to the dangers of Australian roads that treat bicycles as second class citizens, or worse?


On the whole Australian motorists and truckies, despite the endless noise pollution, oil wars and streams of residual toxic chemicals they produce, are pretty courteous. The real danger is the state of the roads. While some legs of our journey have been made relatively safe by the state of the road,


others are decidedly not. Shoulders, not those things that branch out from our necks but those little lanes that run alongside the bigger, cleaner, wider lanes where first class citizens are able to travel in comfort, can either disappear in an instant, have never existed in the first place, are covered in sticks, litter, old tyre parts and gravel, blocked by a parked car, or are just too small to be of any value.


Shoulders, depending on their width, are either our best friends or our worst nightmare. They mean the difference between safe transit, terror and rage, or potenial premature death. We hear the concerns of others that we adults are subjecting our kids to potential life-threatening situations, but what are the alternatives? Stay at home, put the kids in front of the tele, drive them between school and park and shopping centre, teach them to be passive, riskless, conformist and more than likely overweight?


Despite the risks, we believe if we don't try to pioneer truly sustainable travel opportunities in an unfolding era of climate change, energy descent, bodily ill-health and environmental crises then those who have the authority to make the changes won't see there is a need. In other words if we don't try to create the bike utopia we wish to see in Australia by at least living a little of its reality, then it will never actually occur. This is our dangerous performance. Some parts of Australia are now more bike friendly and much safer because bicycle lobbyists (those who have repeatedly banged on the doors of power) and cyclists (by their physical and constant presence) have demanded the change. Many cyclists have also died during this transition of culture from industrial damage to material accountability (appropriate technology).


So come, if you're able, be careful and vigilant on our roads and highways, and join a critical mass of two-wheeled friends for change. Bicycling is a joyous thing, and there's nothing quite like bike travel with family and friends.

9 comments:

  1. We are in the Upper Murray area, on a bending road with double white lines and no shoulder. Lots of cyclists about this weekend and I still don't really know the best way to share the road with them. This afternoon we slowed right down until it was legal and safe to pass, leaving at least 50m between us and the bikes, but some riders say it's stressful to have cars hanging behind them...help! is there a cyclist's code for cars out there anywhere? As stay-put farmers we love following your travels and are so inspired by your insights. Cheers, Charlotte James and Joe

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    1. hello charlotte, james and joe, thanks for your comment.

      we're not sure if there is a code for cyclists to motorists, but it sounds like a good idea to invent one. when the shoulder runs out while we're cycling and we have to move onto the road we indicate with a repeated wave of our outstretched right arm. but a whole series of arm movements as code made between fellow travellers would be beneficial. we have invented a few between our bikes like thumbs up and over the rainbow for 'we're stopping for a moment but you keep going past if you wish'. often a road is deafening and a form of sign language between cyclists is the best way to communicate.

      we also try to be as visible as we can and not hog the road. we motion cars around us when we can see it is safe for them to pass. so the courtesy goes both ways and many motorists know first hand what it's like to be a cyclist.

      thanks for being courteous to cyclists.

      aaf

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  2. You should really look into Health At Every Size before conflating excess weight and passivity.

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    1. thanks for alerting us to Health At Every Size, we certainly had a read. we agree with you that you can't collapse excess weight and passivity into the same bag in every case, however in the case of many young people the combination of inactivity, poor diet and excess weight leads to numerous pathologies, including heart disease, diabetes and depression.

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  3. I did a trip years ago (which is why I am so interested in your blog) from Adelaide to Eden Valley in the Barossa, then back down the Fleurieu (not correct spelling) to Jervis Bay and across to Kangaroo Island for five days carrying all my own gear. There were moments when it was truly scary. I also did the great ocean road from Angelsea to Warnambool over 5 days and that was even scarier, but exhilarating and dont regret a minute of either of those trips! Keep on truckin (pedalling) AAF:)

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    1. yes, scary but exhilarating and no regrets, absolutely! another day today on the shittiest part of the pacific hwy, north to nambucca heads. two lane hwy, trucks and cars belting past, shoulders disappear in an instant. we lived!!

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  4. Hi u5.
    Often after a tandem ride Walter and I concur about the feeling of freedom riding a bike. No wonder it's a booming industry as so many people rediscover that essence of cycling in all forms.
    On my wishlist for a less car dependent society would be some simple things. Ride on/ride off carriages for buses and trains. Cycleways followng the level contours of rail tracks. When shoulders and footpaths are dug up for nbn, water and electricity why not finish the job with a simple gravel cycle path on top. And one day I reckon critical mass rides will seem normal and not peculiar.
    I'm enjoying your art and will be following your travels.
    Good Luck
    David

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    1. Thanks for your kind words David. We're in beautiful Belligen with all manner of things growing out of us, it's so fertile here. Yes, the bicycle is a freedom machine and moves us along at a knowable rate of knots. We see, smell, hear and taste the world as we ride – the ocean's salt, the insanity of roadkill, the signals and senses of being present, open to becoming lost. Much love, AaF

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