Around the world in 80 days

Things have been crazy, so my husband is picking up the slack for this week. (And if I’m really lucky my friend Nancy will also weigh in her recent trip to Cuba and the bikes there.) Enjoy!

Guest blogger Matt aka, the Bullitt pusher, here.  So, Dorie always asks me to take pictures of bikes whenever I travel and then sits on the photos for ages – understandably, since she wasn’t along for the journey, she doesn’t always know what to say about the images.  I thought I would pre-empt that here and inject my own narrative for once… thanks for letting me hog the mic, hon.

Grocery bag bike

Grocery bag bike

During this long, cold winter, I had the questionable pleasure of going back East several times, including a one day trip to lower Manhattan in the midst of a freezing rain and snow storm in mid-February.  One of the things you notice about bike culture in New York, especially in winter weather, is that it is predominantly a practical thing – working bikes deliver not just legal documents, but lots of ordinary goods – Chinese takeout, groceries, etc. — that people would drive to buy at stores in any less urban place with more ample parking – and where it’s not a half-hour trek through slush filled gutters to get some decent lobster chow mein.

If you ignore the thumbs up you can kind of see the t-shirt.

If you ignore the thumbs up you can kind of see the t-shirt.

While walking along, I happened upon a hipster bike shop in the Village, where I picked up T shirts for the kids and proclaimed the gospel of family biking to the bemused staff.

At the beginning of this month, I went to Australia for the first time for work, and visited three cities during a busy week – Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne – that have decidedly different infrastructure.

"Watch out for the bus on the right, dude."

“Watch out for the bus on the right, dude.”

Sydney, like New York, has an older, densely built up downtown.  While the weather was nice (April is late summer there), the bicyclists I saw clearly struggled with the narrow, one way streets and congested interchanges that are just ill-suited to bike commuting.

Note the "no pedestrians" sign (which I personally would appreciate having in the Golden Gate Park bike lanes.)

Note the “no pedestrians” sign (which I personally would appreciate having in the Golden Gate Park bike lanes.)

Only in the greenways along the central park section did I see dedicated (raised/separated) bike lanes that actually looked inviting… not unlike Central Park in New York (or the Panhandle/Golden Gate Park in SF), more of the bikers here appeared to be tourists or exercise cyclists, rather than hardcore commuters.

By contrast, Brisbane (a city of 2 million on Australia’s tropical Gold Coast) and Melbourne (a cultural hub and Sydney’s rival to the South) are both modern, planned cities, with wide, open thoroughfares,  and thriving commute bike cultures, as well as the omnipresent bike share.

The increasingly ubiquitous bike share of total awesomeness, in Melbourne

The increasingly ubiquitous bike share of total awesomeness, in Melbourne

Interestingly, both are river cities – whereas Sydney is a natural ocean harbor and commercial port.  I think this matters in terms of infrastructure, as well, as coastal waterfronts tend to box a city in – inhibiting sprawl and promoting upward urban development – whereas riverfronts create promenades, lower density development, and a longer, more linear pattern of urban/suburban connectedness that lends itself better to bicycles (here I think of our experiences in Portland, versus SF).

Matt was definitely in Sydney

Matt was definitely in Sydney

Finally, a word about non-bike culture, since I have the rare podium here on what is normally Dorie’s soap box.  As an opera buff, I was excited to take in a show outdoors at Sydney’s harbor steps on a stormy, overcast night – with the iconic opera house as backdrop.  The production of Madame Butterfly was not only dramatically and vocally compelling, but took full advantage of the setting – with real fireworks going off over the water during the wedding scene and ship borne cranes assembling the second-half set in full view of the audience during intermission… if only our real contractors could build a house that fast!  Ahem.

Anyway, it was a thrill to add a fifth continent to my resume of world travel (and great opera houses).  If I make it to Africa (or Antarctica), I promise you’ll hear about it here… but until then, this is Matt signing off.  “Dovunque al mondo, lo yankee vagabondo… “


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