On Yer Bike. A story of living riding a bike.

I grew up in a household where riding a bike was "normal".  When we lived in the country, my Dad didn't ride to work, because that would have been silly.  With many country railway workers, home and work were, almost literally, only the side gate apart.  When Dad was transferred to the Pt Adelaide gang, he would regularly ride from Mansfield Park to the Port for work, even though we owned a car.  What stopped him wasn't either of the couple of accidents going to work, but a severed Achilles tendon caused by a disintegrating sledge-hammer head.  So cycling was "normal".  Mum and Dad both would regale us with their (separate) stories of growing up using bikes, in country SA, or various parts of Queensland.

Although we started with pedal-cars and tricycles, all three of us children learned to ride Mum's old 28" step-through that Dad also rode to work on.  We would sit on the top-tube and pedal, reaching up to the handlebars.

When each of us was thirteen, our grandparents gave us a new BSA bike, with 3-speed gears and Dynohub lights.  (₤42 – several weeks' worth of pension.)  I got mine a few weeks early, so I could ride to High School, instead of having to walk the 2½ miles.  (My brothers, one older, one younger, had to wait for their birthdays, as their "Technical High School" was only about ¼ mile away.) 

Having bikes of our own opened up whole new areas of exploration.  We could explore for ourselves the sand-hills and pools and rubbish-dumps in the "outback" – the area north of the Port-to-Dry-Creek railway, or the swamps where West Lakes is now.  Even so, I was 17 before I first rode into the city on my own.

When I started work, based in the city, my natural thought for transport was to use the bike.  (I didn't have a car anyway.)  A couple of weeks before I started my job, I had ridden my first long(ish) ride from home to Port Noarlunga and back, So I knew that the seven miles to work was easily doable.  I only needed to do that for a few weeks, as I was enrolled in block training course at Trade School, 6 months of 5-days-a-week, only a mile or so from home.  When I resumed commuting to the city, I succumbed to the peer-pressure and bought an old car. 

Yes, it gave me some "freedoms" that I thought I didn't have with the bike, like visiting friends at Smithfield Plains (about 20 miles away), or going to Church at Plympton (7½ miles) to be with friends.  It wasn't long, though, before reality took hold.  I was spending about 20 minutes a day more in the car to and from work than I would have on the bike.  Most other places that I wanted to go to I could easily get to on the bike, or with a bike/train combination, with fares cheaper than the cost of driving.

So it was that I sold the car (complete with its 17 spare wheels) and went back to riding the bike to work, and anywhere else I wanted to go.  Later on, when I wasn't riding the bike to get around, I would walk.  (Long white robes aren't the most practical attire for riding.  This is the 1970's, when there were in many ways far more social liberties than we enjoy now.)

Much of my courting of a certain young lady (who is now my wife) was done in the presence of my bicycle, sometimes with her riding on "a seat specially constructed for the purpose" (my jumper rolled up and held on with an occy strap) on the carrier of the bike. 

I didn't get another car until someone gave us one a few months before we were married, and I had already shifted into the house where we still live.  Even then, though, my "normal method of shifting just me was to ride a bike, or to use a bike/train combination.  (My wife did not learn to ride until after we were married and I had built a suitably-sized bike for her.)

"Work" was now only about a mile away (not yet metric), but I still rode regularly.  In later years of my employment, I would often go the long way around, via Athelstone, or Hallett Cove, or Outer Harbor, both for fitness and for the sheer pleasure of going for a ride. 

I took a redundancy package from my employer in 1999, after nearly 30 years, and entered a new phase of life.  I was going into the hills every weekday to work on our partly-built new house (started in 1984) and to take our youngest to school near there.  Riding the bike was not really feasible for those trips, and because walking is actually better exercise (load-bearing), I began to use the bike far less when going to the shops or Church or the like, instead walking.  When I started tertiary studies (at age 55!), I would often walk to college at Malvern (4.6km) instead of riding.  The car was only used when I had to go somewhere else much further away before or after lectures, or provide transport for other family members.

Now we no longer have any kids at home, if I don't have to drive my wife around for work (Clarendon, for example, is a bit far for her to ride to from the city) I will almost always use a bike, or bike/train combination, for getting around.  (Cheap with a Senior's Card.)  Even Cherry Plantation Road is (again) doable for me (by using an electric-assistance bike).  When I do need to take the car to our place in the hills, I have a bike there for local journeys.


For me, the bike is a useful compromise between the freedom and leisure of walking, and the speed (which is often only illusory) of using a car, without the hassle and inconvenience and indirectness of bus transport.  I still have much, but not all, of the leisure and time to think and pray and enjoy the simple pleasures of the trip and the environment when riding as I do when walking, but I can move much faster and further.  Those things are mostly lost when driving, and severely compromised when using public transport.  Riding a bike is about getting from A to B, sometimes via a rather roundabout C (and D, E, …), whether I really need to make the trip or not, and enjoying the journey.

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Comment by snappy_don on November 18, 2013 at 7:26

Nice story David- was the 'courting' machine the same BSA you ride now?

Comment by David Southern on November 18, 2013 at 11:47

@Don.  The "courting machine" was my 1971 Phillips 10 Speed (Photo here).  The BSA I ride now was originally my younger brother's 13th birthday present.

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