If you look at Google Maps using the beta cycling tab, Melbourne becomes a network of dark green, of cycle tracks spreading out from the city and criss-crossing the suburbs.
The paths wind around the rivers and creeks, then settle abruptly into the grids of the inner suburbs. There is something tantalising about maps, and Google by bike is no exception.
In green, the map of Melbourne suggests a different city – a whole new world, one that I started exploring in earnest in winter last year. Now that I know I’ll be leaving Melbourne in the coming months, I’m very glad I began when I did.
Cycling for me began with tentative forays along the bike paths that fringe the Yarra near where I live. I spent time getting lost on dirt tracks or riding up unnecessary hills because I took the long way by mistake. I discovered the errors of Google – such as the presence of safe cycle lanes on the map where there are none in real life – and the gaps in the network of green where there is no easy way of getting from one lovely cycle path to another.
If I found myself too far from home in those early cycling days, getting back seemed like a mission. My legs grew tired and I would doubt my ambition and my ability; doubt that it would ever be possible to discover this city by bike. Roads were daunting; the news stories of cyclists killed in traffic always popped into my mind.
But then one day we rode to my workplace. We left nice and early in case of getting lost and took the long way around the river to avoid busy roads. We were worn out before we were half way there. But we made it and it was worth it for the sweetest part at the end – riding up to the front of the University.
In many ways it was momentous: that ride changed my perception of space, time and distance by bike. The next time I rode to work, I did so alone and with less caution – I took a quicker route across the river, following another cyclist to navigate the bridge and the bike lanes on the highway.
Since then riding has become a regular thing. It isn’t easy and perhaps never will be, but most of the time it’s more fun than hard – the positives outweigh the negatives. Since that first ride to work, I’ve taken my bike on the train, I’ve tried riding a road bike, I’ve ridden in the CBD and I’ve ridden 45k in a day.
All these feats are nothing for those who ride all the time, yet daunting for those who, like me six months ago, had only ever ridden a few k on the local bike track or been mountain biking as a teenager.
Cycling is accessible yet oddly terrifying; challenging yet surprisingly easy once you find your feet – or your wheels, in this case.
I’m on a countdown now: I’m planning to leave Melbourne in a few months’ time. Suddenly my exploration of Melbourne by bike has become a project of some urgency – just has writing about Melbourne, both on my blog and off.
Where I ride and what I write will always depend on place – and so it seems vital to ride and write while I can, in this place, before the next journey that takes me back to the west.