Almost anything can be done by bike – if you have the right bike. Simon Vincett meets three biking enthusiasts who have looked beyond conventional offerings to machines that met their needs.
Folder for travelling
Tina McCarthy is founder of Wheel Women Cycling, ambassadors to Bicycle Network’s The Ascent ride for women. She has a passion for ensuring that women get active on their bikes and has used her own journey into cycling to inspire other women to ride.
Tina takes a group cycling in Japan each year on a Wheel Women Tour of Japan. While she usually rides a road bike, for her latest trip she opted for a Brompton folding bike.
“We knew the pitfalls of travelling with too much luggage on crowded trains and the lack of storage area on Shinkansens (bullet trains). Having cycled in Japan previously, we also knew the limitations of bicycle hire, cost and finding bikes that fit correctly.”
They rode the Shimanami Kaido and Tobishima Kaido.
“Neither route is what you would classify as difficult riding, especially on a road bike, even if you are carrying several days of gear in a backpack. But transfer that to a fully laden Brompton we’d owned for just two days prior to departure for Japan, and we faced a steep learning curve!”
The flatter sections of the first route, the Shimanami Kaido, was fine.
“There was no question we were riding slower than we would normally – but that was how we expected it to be. It provided a chance to stop and take in the sweet smell of the ripening citrus orchards and admire the breathtaking views across the Seto Inland Sea.”
“It wasn’t until we took a few detours that we knew we were in for some 10–17% climbs – steel, 10kg of luggage, six gears. Yes, I found it tough going. There was swearing… a lot of it. But on the upside, the downhills were like sitting on a mini rocket!”
The Tobishima Kaido provided the most challenge: the terrain became steeper and they were joined by friends with more experience and different expectations.
“They looked at us, looked at the bikes and laughed: ‘Really?’ was their only comment. They would drag us the distance of the Tobishima. Judging by their fast and excited discussions, and much gesturing and pointing, we figured they may well have made a quick change of the intended route.
“They chose well; a few gloriously flat sections on empty roads following the coast that was fun on the folders, with a few inland climbs in the rain which meant pain. While Aki and Mari took turns at leading, Gon-san sat on my tail on every hill guiding me up. “Okonau koto ga dekimasu” (“You can do it”) he would say smiling, and I’m sure secretly laughing.
“As we drew close to the end of our ride Gon-san turned to me and in broken English he apologised. ‘Tina-san. So sorry…one more hill!’ We laughed but as we stood in the rain after a fabulous day despite our language barriers, we knew we had gone from road riders to cyclists… adventurers on a bike!”
After this intense familiarisation, the bikes became their habitual companions.
“Post–Shimanami and Tobishima we’d arrive in a hotel room, and before we knew it we were unfolding and ready to rip through the cities. It was a joy to feel so unbridled but so free of worry about our precious carbon roadies.”
Cargo bike for family transport
For family transport, there’s nothing better than bikes for Mei Lim, her partner Troy Parsons and their kids. Mei’s bike of choice is the Urban Arrow Family cargo bike, which she particularly likes for transporting their two sons, Denali (5) and Nico (2).
“It’s basically my only mode of transport. I ride it everywhere. I pick them up from daycare, which is not very far away. Then when we do trips to the city we’ll always ride. We’ve ridden to the zoo, to the beach. If I want to go anywhere with them it’s my preference for transport, rather than trying to figure out public transport with the stroller and two kids and having to haul everything. That’s why the cargo bike is really good. It’s an easy solution for me because it holds things for me. I can store things in there and I can just collect the kids. I love it.”
The electric motor to assist was the clincher for Mei’s conversion to riding a cargo bike.
“Now that my boys are bigger I’m doing a lot of the work, especially when I’m going uphill. It’s electric and it definitely helps. If I didn’t have the electric I wouldn’t do it. That’s why we decided to upgrade to an electric cargo bike. That totally changed everything for me. It went from Troy riding the previous cargo bike to me basically taking it over – he doesn’t even get to ride it because I take it out all the time during the week, and even on the weekends.
“Because it’s an electric bike it means that I don’t have to worry about the route being an extra six Ks because I’m riding along the river, for example. It’s safer and more pleasant and because I’ve got the electric it doesn’t bother me. That’s my number one when choosing the route, not how fast it is or how long it will take for us to get there.
“We’ve never had the battery run out on us. We charge it once or twice a week.”
Mei feels her boys benefit from travelling by bike.
“We were just in Perth and had to drive everywhere and they talked about the bike. They prefer being on a bike than in a car. They are more aware of their surroundings compared to being in a car. For example Denali knows exactly where the icecream shop is from our house! He recognises landmarks a lot for a child at his age I think.
“One thing a lot of people ask us about is the weather: how do we ride with children when it’s raining or cold. But the kids – maybe it’s just our kids – they get used to it. We are never in rain for a prolonged period of time. Usually we wait it out and when it stops raining we ride. If it’s just a little bit of rain the kids don’t mind it – they actually love it. We don’t have the rain cover for the Urban Arrow – it’s very big. It has a cover that covers their body up and their heads stick out. It keeps them dry that way. That’s been working for us.”
Although it’s a big bike, Mei hasn’t had any insurmountable issues.
“A lot of people ask me if it’s heavy. I guess it’s like a motorbike. A motorbike is heavy but as soon as it starts moving you don’t really feel the weight.
“I don’t feel that I always have to lock it up to a pole. There will be times when I can’t lock it up to a pole but I can lock the wheels and that’s it. I’ve never had any problem.
“I’ve learned to really get to know my routes. Once I’m comfortable with that, there aren’t many obstacles in general.”
The trailer triumphs
Sometimes the right bike for the job is not a bike at all but … a trailer. Pip Hayes bought a trailer for a tour of Tasmania and found it useful for many other trips subsequently.
“The chariot for the dog is how we get around town. It makes people smile when they see her on the back of the bike. It was a couple of weeks of training, many years ago now. We did it by degrees, starting in the backyard, just getting her comfortable standing in there. It’s become one of those safe zones for the dog. She feels really safe there. She’ll only jump off if I tell her to.”
Pip rides trips up to 15km most often with the dog on the back but sometimes further afield.
“I’m in North Fitzroy. We’ll go into the city, we’ll sometimes go down to St Kilda, that kind of radius, Northcote, Thornbury. I’ve even ridden out to Mooroolbark with her on the back. It’s just a great way to get around.
“Now I’m exploring how to do some overnighters and still take the dog with just the panniers on the bike. The last one we went to the upper Yarra Valley.”
Pip also uses his trailer for work.
“I work for a company called Livelo, which is based in Sydney but has outlets in different cities in Australia. They rent out high-end road bikes. We get orders for bikes and I set them up and deliver them to hotels or Air B&Bs, mainly in the CBD of Melbourne.
“I made the adapter so that I can transport the bikes. Because they’re carbon fibre bikes they’re nice and light. You just have to remember how long it all is. I can take one bike or two. It’s an efficient way for me to do it.
“I used to be a bike courier so I’m pretty confident in traffic and all that. For me it’s a lot easier than trying to get through the city in a car and trying to find a park, and it’s fun!
“Sometimes for work I do use the car if the bookings are quite far and wide. Also, some of those really hot days I use the car. Sometimes I have to go to hotels on St Kilda Road and there was one time when it was raining and I took the car. It was peak hour and I couldn’t believe how long it took. In the back of my mind I was thinking ‘If I was on the bike right now this would take me 25 minutes at the most’.”
Pip sees bikes as the solution for many situations.
“I’m loving seeing how different people are using bikes – parents hauling their kids along in those sorts of trailers, those Bullitt bikes, it’s great. I’m also a baker and I’m very slowly setting up a wholesale bakery and I think one of those Bullitt bikes would be a great way to deliver bread.
“I’m inspired by how people get around in larger Asian cities. You see what people can do, it inspires me to have a go. My set-up for hauling bikes is nothing compared to what they do over there.
“It seems to me that the trailer has paid for itself. For a small initial investment what I’ve been able to do with it is fantastic.”
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