The Canberra cyclist is many things: some are fit and some are not, some are old and some are young, both men and women. There are different types of bikes, and people ride for many reasons.
Sports cycling is most influential in the ACT and growing strongly. Most of the riders are locals. We have an ACT minister for sport. The ACT Government regularly awards grants to sporting clubs in Canberra, including cycling clubs. They say people are tribal and cycling clubs certainly are.
Periodically, there is a call to promote cycling tourism. The cycling clubs are mainly the ones that respond to this call. It is all about sport. In 2019 the ACT Government held another community consultation for this purpose but, like the previous attempts, it appears to have gone nowhere.
Mountain biking has been growing strongly in Canberra for over a decade. Stromlo was a huge boost and there are now many areas in the ACT that clubs use. Canberra Off-road Cycles (CORC) is the largest mountain bike club in the ACT. There is very likely a mountain biking destination close to where you live.
The mountain bikers are passionate and competitive. They prefer to ride on singletrack (multi-use tracks) and not gravel roads (management trails). There are many competitions. Downhill and cross country are both popular. Cross country mountain bikers ride up and not just down, and combine skill and fitness. Many BMX riders seem to move on to downhill.
The smartphone app mountain bikers talk about: Trailforks
Road cycling was very popular in Canberra and we even had competitions here. Now the competitions are far less common. Road cycling is still part of the ACT cycling agenda. The road cyclist is lean and keen. I have been told Canberra is a wonderful place to live if you are a road cyclist. Longer rides into NSW are not uncommon but not without risks.
Cycling Canberra Club is a very old and popular road cycling club and is well known to the ACT Government. Stephen Hodge Criterium Cycling Circuit is a fast and safe training facility at Stromlo Forest Park. Cycling Canberra has regular training days.
The problem with Stromlo is these cyclists seem to be stuck in their paddock. A few kilometres of path have been built to the back of Stromlo but this is a road to nowhere. I could imagine that a 10 km loop around the hills of Stromlo, particularly on the western side, would be attractive. The Mount Stromlo Master plan suggests as much but this plan also seems to have stalled. An expected 55,000 people living in the Molonglo Valley is likely to change this in the coming decades.
The smartphone app road cyclists talk about: Strava
The recreational cyclist is out on a bike with friends and family, and for health and fitness reasons. How many there are is hard to say but surveys show a surprising number of people in Canberra own a bike. The recreational cyclist rides more commonly on sunny days and warmer months. Recreational cycling is often a very social activity. Many cycle for fitness and are often seen on their bike mornings and evenings across Canberra.
The smartphone app I recommend is Komoot.
Riding to work is not so common in the ACT but even less common in other Australian cities. ABS data for over a decade shows that only about 3% commute to work on a bicycle, and for every woman, two men ride. The ABS Census is in winter. This is not the best time to ask a Canberran whether they ride to work. Another government source suggests it may be as high as 5% but this is presumably during the warmer months. Recent studies suggest the number of cycling commuters is actually sinking across Australia, including the ACT.
Pedal Power ACT would like to represent the commuting cyclist. One senior official recently commented that they expect more people would ride to work if paths were built. Paths certainly make cycling a lot safer. Many studies confirm that most people do not want to ride on the road, particularly women.
The ACT Government would like to see more people cycling. The reasons are many including health and wellbeing benefits, less costly and more sustainable cities, and since 2019 climate change. The strategy would see more people riding and less driving.
The future of cycling
Throwing our gaze globally, particularly to northern Europe, we can expect more cycling and increased investment in cycling infrastructure. As cities get bigger we need to pack more people into the same space. This makes traditional forms of transport very expensive, time consuming and stressful. Canberra is ideal for sports cycling, which has been booming worldwide. It would be nice to see further growth of Canberra as a tourist destination but it remains unclear whether cycling will be part of that.
It makes sense for the ACT Government to increase the investment in cycling infrastructure. The recent ACT Government Fast-track, the COVID-19 stimulus, sends the right signals, but there is still a long way to go.