Friday, October 7, 2011

Transport evolution - commuter bikes

Every tram ride into work gets me thinking as I see the swelling in numbers of those who chose to ride each morning. The numbers are growing significantly; to the point where the number of bikes at the intersection of Swanston Flinders Streets waiting at the lights often out number cars and trams.

It’s an awesome sight each morning as the lights go green and the “peloton” takes off heading down St Kilda Road. There are all shapes and sizes, both in bikes and people all in the pursuit of.......well I’m not sure.

What is driving this change in behaviour? First instinct for many would be the “Cadel effect”, especially when bike shops were reporting boom trade during and in the wake of the victory at the Tour De France, but this is unlikely as the ground swell started much earlier with a 32 percent increase in people cycling in Australia since 2000.

I think it is a combination of factors that are at play such as public transport patrons disgruntled with inconsistent performance, employers improving facilities for storage and showering at work, environmental conscious citizens keen on reducing their carbon footprint and Melbournian’s on a quest to improve their health to name a few.

In 2009 the Federal Government invested $40million into the National Bike Paths Fund sighting that the “provision of high quality infrastructure costs a fraction of other transport modes“. Whilst this is a national focus, some change or improvement will filter down to Melbourne and it’s growing number of cyclists.

The Victorian Government support to develop bikes as a means of short trip vehicle was evidence by the installation of the Melbourne share bikes. This system works well in Europe; in particular Paris Parisians are never more than 300 metres away from a ‘Velib’ terminal and have between 50-100,000 users a day depending on the weather. Early data suggested that increased usage of the rental bikes also had a positive correlation in usage of bikes owned by individuals. In fact, this is where the largest increase in bike usage in Paris has come from.

All of these drive change, but for me one of the more significant elements locally has been the availability of low cost commuter bikes.

Melbournian’s are at the forefront of the fixie/single speed revolution here in Australia which other cities like Sydney are catching on to. If you want a piece of art like the bikes here (
) then you’ll need to pay some serious money. In reality you’ll need not drop thousands of dollars on a commuter bike; instead the prices I found ranged from $350-$600 depending on your desires.

This price point is appealing to all, whether it’s a second bike for the serious cyclist or even uni students. It is made even more attractive when you compare it to an annual zone one Metcard which is just over $1,200.

My wife and I are also caught up in this revolution, looking to dump the car for short trips in favour of the healthier bike option. We started shopping around and found that there was no shortage of options online and in the shops. One of the most appealing things was the ability to custom design your bike, thus creating a sense of uniqueness. Here is short list of sites where you can whet your appetite:

Brown Jersey -
Chappelli -
Jelly Bean bikes -
Reid Cycles -
Papillionaire -

Trying not to play favourites, but for us it will be hard to go past Papillionare and Reid cycles. I just think they give the best value.

We stumbled on Papillionare when looking to buy a gift on the Melbourne Wedding Registry. After playing around with designs and options on their website we decided we must go see these bikes in the flesh. I admit to getting caught up in the excitement of walking down an off piste cobble stone laneway to the shop, but their bikes have a sense of style and the vintage look was so appealing.

For me the build was fantastic and the three gears provided some options for my wife when encountering hills. For my wife it was all about the bike. She was sold; the vintage styling, the range of colours and the option of the basket on the front. It was like a little piece of Paris in Melbourne for her.

You can also check one out at one in the window of my favourite Melbourne bike shop - Northside Wheelers (, but be warned you will walk away wanting to buy more than just a bike.

The Reid Cycles shop is located over near the Vic Market. It’s a very simple exchange, pick the model, the wheels and the colour and you’re away. I managed to do a very quick test ride of the Reid Harrier and can tell you that I was more than happy given the price. It’s simple and clean looking although slightly heavy, but I’m used to bikes sub 8kg and this weighs in around the 10kg mark.

We will undoubtable be getting her a Papillionaire bike shortly, but for me I am torn between the Pappillionare and the Reid “Harrier”. It’ll come down to whether I want a single or three speed. Once we purchase the bikes I will put up some pictures and a more detailed review.

Join the evolution of transport in Melbourne and get on your bike. The more people who commute on bikes, the more likely the Government are to increase funding for bike paths. The added bonus of course is the health benefits and reduction in unnecessary obesity.

Worthwhile read:
Gears: One, Three or Twenty-One?

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