Thinking about cycling to uni?

Words by Claire Ciantar | @claire_ciantar

Image by Jasmine Wallis

While bicycles as a means of personal transport have been around for over a century, the use of them seems to be passing through a revival as we continue to see a continual increase of bikes on the road.

It’s hard to avoid hearing all about the benefits of riding a bike to uni or work. It is not only environmentally friendly and can be more time efficient, but it also saves a few dollars and reaps amazing health rewards.

RMIT University graduate Yasmin Nebenfuhr is an avid cyclist and rides her bike pretty much everywhere.

“Riding my bike is always my preferred mode of transport. I’m located in North Melbourne and it’s the best way to commute to surrounding inner city suburbs…Riding gives you time to clear your mind and that’s something pretty beneficial, studying or not!”

However, while cycling is so beneficial in a number of ways, it doesn’t come as a surprise to most that a lot of uni students like myself, avoid cycling to uni. Cycling in the city can be quite daunting and ultimately very dangerous.

In a study conducted by the Amy Gillett Foundation, it was found that the “highest proportion” of all bike rider crashes “occurred in urban areas, mainly metropolitan Melbourne,” 81% to be exact.

Fiona Wright, a RMIT University graduate and employee at SYN Media (located on the RMIT campus), says she has only really started cycling to uni in the last month but while feeling better in herself for doing so, she definitely found it to be a challenge at first.

“I believe in the environmental and also the health benefits of being human powered!” Fiona said. “If I can save on a gym membership and paying public transport costs and just consolidate those two things into one free activity, well, that just makes sense.”

Fiona recently posted a status on Facebook asking for any advice on riding in the city after experiencing her first ride to work. She recalled it being quite “scary and intense” and jokingly questioned if those who ride to work “are all crazy secret adrenaline junkies.”

There are many factors, other than danger and difficulty, that can cause people to be less willing to jump on their bicycles and ride into uni. Fiona said that “trucks, motorists being jerks, the unreliability of bike lanes and fear of injury” are all factors as to why people are often deterred from the efficient mode of transport.  

The Amy Gillett Foundation supports Fiona’s claim, reporting that “heavy vehicles were involved in over a third of fatal crashes” and “90% [of all bike rider crashes] involved a motor vehicle.”

“Why do you think those old dudes in lycra that ride on Sundays start so early? It isn’t because they like getting up earlyit’s because they feel safer when there’s fewer cars on the road!” Fiona added.

Yasmin also pointed out that “over the last two years Melbourne CBD has seen some massive construction, so the mess of traffic can be off putting. Also the possibility of being whacked by a car door is something that’s often on [her] mind.”

Distance is another of these factors; I’ve used Google maps to check and it would take me at least two and a half hours to get into uni if I rode my bike, which is simply impractical.

President of RMIT’s Cycling Club, Richard Wolter, also mentioned Melbourne’s flippant weather as being a definite deterrent, specifically during the winter months.

“Even the best prepared riders may be tempted by the comforts of rail or car when it’s wet and windy in winter.”

In spite of this, Richard keenly advocates the value of traveling by bike. “Traveling by bike can be an enjoyable alternative in developing or sustaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle.”

In an attempt to encourage active travel and sustainable transport, RMIT has provided many storage, parking and repair facilities for use by all staff and students.

In April 2016, RMIT established a huge secure Bike Hub for cyclists to use on the City Campus. The bicycle storage facility is located in Building 51 (corner of Victoria and Cardigan streets) and is also fully equipped with lockers, showers and a bicycle repair station.

It also has bicycle vending machines and kiosks, where you can stock up on any equipment you might’ve left at home. Additional to the Bike Hub and to continue the University’s efforts to encourage cycling to uni, the RMIT Cycling Club hosts rides throughout the year that discuss bike-friendly routes around the city.

While crowdsourcing on Facebook worked for Fiona, there are also a number of resources on RMIT’s website that can assist cyclists on their journey. These links include Ride The City, where you can plan the most suitable path for you as well as Map My Ride, which allows you to map your route, track your activity and share with your friends.

RMIT University also promotes the 18th of October each year as Ride 2 Work/Uni Day and encourages staff and students to make use of the many bicycle facilities RMIT provides.

If you’ve ever considered riding in the city, contemplate some of these useful tips to ensure you are well prepared for cycling in the hustle and bustle of our busy Melbourne streets.

Fiona says it’s important to “do test rides before you commit to riding to work for the first time…Chat to your mates, make a fb post about best routes to travel. I’ve had loads of great suggestions and tips just from having a conversation.

Yasmin says “on Google Maps you can tailor preferences to show bike paths and the main roads that have clear and wide bike lanes. Also, It’s best to ride in the right of the bike lane, not the centre, as you could get car-doored (grim but true). And always have lights and a good bike lock!”

Richard adds that “Community announcements are also published via [RMIT Cycling Club’s] page on Facebook … Have fun and ride safe. [RMIT’s Cycling Club is available] to help.”

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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