Cycling in Melbourne

Cycling in Melbourne
Cycling: Victoria, Australia
Bicycle Victoria
Melbourne Critical Mass
Around the Bay in a Day
Austral Wheel Race
Amy's Ride
Great Victorian Bike Ride
Great Ocean & Otway Classic Ride
Herald Sun Tour
Hell Ride
High Country Cycle Challenge
Melbourne Autumn Day
Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic
Melbourne Summer Cycle
Oppy Family Fun Ride
Rotary River Ride
Shepparton Fruit Loop Ride

Cycling in Melbourne, Victoria is common on the roads and paths for recreation, commuting and as a sport. However it is not one of the popular modes of transportation despite an extensive network of bicycle paths and some designated bicycle lanes on roads. There is an active cycling culture enhanced by a relatively flat topography, and a generally mild climate.

Cycling in Melbourne was a very popular form of transport at the turn of the 19th Century, however overall bicycle use went into steady decline with introduction of helmet legislation in the 1990s having a significant negative effect on its popularity. In recent years, the popularity of cycling for health, fitness, and as a non-polluting alternative to the automobile is increasing in Melbourne. Use of bicycles for transport as cycling still accounts for around 2% of trips in Melbourne.[1]

Cyclists are often maligned and seen as an annoyance by many people in Melbourne. Victorian government policy has begun to favour bicycle-friendly projects, however a ban of bicycles on trains during peak travel periods in 2008 was introduced only to be rescinded a few months later after an outcry from bicycle users.[2]

There has been some recovery in the Central Business District of the City of Melbourne (population appx 70K) where figures put cycling at 8% of all peak-hour (7am-10am) commuter traffic.[3] Planning for improvements to CBD bicycles routes and other major arterial routes is underway. The projects, including a bicycle hire system, similar to Vélib' in Paris, commenced in June 2010.[4]



Sunday cyclists in Melbourne in 1895.

During the 1890s cycle races like the Austral Wheel Race, and later the Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic, were very popular forms of entertainment drawing crowds of many thousands. Cycling was also an exciting new option for transport taken up eagerly by many people. The craze for cycling in the 1890s is portrayed in the poem Mulga Bill's Bicycle by Australian poet Banjo Patterson, and many other ballads from the time.

For women, cycling provided the opportunity of more freedom and being able to wear less restrictive clothing, or rational dress.[5] The First Victorian Women’s Road Race occurred in Melbourne on Saturday 16 May 1896 on an 11-mile hilly course through the northern suburbs of Northcote, Heidelberg, Ivanhoe, Alphington and Clifton Hill.[6]

Cycling provided an enduring activity for ordinary Melburnians until falling automobile prices and growing consumer affluence saw increasing numbers switch over to the car in the 1940s and 1950s.

Cycling as a sport

Coburg Cycling Club, based in the Melbourne northern suburb of Coburg, is one of Australia's oldest cycling clubs. It was established as a social club in March 1896 by members of the St. Paul's church choir on Sydney Road.[7] Members quickly found themselves participating in all levels of cycle sport. Many cyclists from the Coburg club rose to prominence including Iddo 'Snowy' Munro, Ernie Bainbridge, Richard 'Fatty' Lamb, Richard 'Dick' Ploog (1956 Olympian).[7]

Victoria has produced many cycling athletes of world renown. Sir Hubert Opperman, "Oppy" (1904–1996), is perhaps the most well known and internationally recognised Australian cyclist of the 1920s and 1930s. As an Australian sportsman, his feats in cycling are compared with Sir Donald Bradman in cricket.[8] He set the 24-hour road distance record of 505.75 miles (813.9 km) in 1939; the track record for 24 hours covering 489.3 miles (787.5 km) in 1940. He won the 1928 Bol D'or 24 hour race and the Paris–Brest–Paris 1200 km marathon in 1931 in record time of 49 hours 23 minutes. Many of his long distance records stood for many years. In France and Australia he was feted as a sporting hero, with thousands attending a parade in his honour in Melbourne 1928.

Post World War II, Geelong cyclist, Russell Mockridge, was widely described as "Australia's greatest all-round cyclist for all time". Due to his upper class accent he was initially dubbed Little Lord Fauntleroy, however his race wins soon earned him the nickname of The Geelong Flyer. Tragically, he was killed by a bus in 1958 participating in the 225 km Tour of Gippsland. He was just 2.1 miles (3.4 km) from the start of the race at the Dandenong Rd / Clayton Rd intersection in Melbourne.

Cycle racing continues to be popular in Melbourne with the Herald Sun Tour, since 1952, bringing professional cyclists from around the world for a multi-stage race around regional Victoria and Melbourne. More than 9,000 cyclists and triathletes, including many elite riders, use Beach Road and the Nepean Highway from Black Rock to Mount Eliza on a typical weekend.[9] Each Saturday morning the Hell Ride, a large bunch ride leaves from Black Rock at 7am. It can contain up to 200 cyclists in summer months with speeds up to 60 km/h. The Hell Ride is a politically contentious topic both amongst Melbourne cyclists and the broader community; most formal cycling organizations discourage their riders from participating, including Cycle Sport Victoria.[10]

A large number of local cycling clubs organize amateur-level racing, with criteriums mostly held in the summer and the road racing season in the winter months.

Cycle touring and commuting

A goldminer pictured after a 1000-mile (1,600-kilometre) round trip to the Mt Rugged Gold Rush in 1895

Long distance cycle travelling was a fact of life in the 1890s for many sheep shearers and other agricultural labourers with migratory work. The bicycle and swag conquered much of Australia on dusty dirt tracks, long before the automobile made its appearance. In the main, however, long distance cycling was a sport of endurance or was done out of necessity.

Up until the 1940s the bicycle was an important commuter vehicle for many Melbourne people. Post war affluence saw a decline in cycle commuting, and the bicycle was largely relegated to a children's activity or for sporting or recreational use.

It was not until the 1970s that cycle commuting and cycle touring started being widely promoted and used again. In Melbourne cycle commuting and touring was stimulated by a number of factors:

  • The establishment of the Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club[11] (MBTC) in October 1973. The Club aimed to promote cycle touring and a healthy, active lifestyle. The club has a fundamental commitment to public transport making extensive use of country and suburban trains to get to and from the rides it runs.
  • The Bicycle Institute of Victoria (now known as Bicycle Victoria) started in 1975, as a broad appeal membership organisation to campaign for improved facilities and recognition of cyclists. By July 2004 it had grown to 40,000 members.[12] Its first Great Victorian Bike Ride was organised in 1984 with 2,100 participants, commonly regarded as the largest single touring bike ride in the world at that time.[13]
  • Innovative supported tours by Friends of the Earth to Canberra to protest uranium mining - the FoE Rides Against Uranium - in 1975, 1976, and 1977.[14]
  • Australia's first bicycle plan instituted in the late 1970s in Geelong.[15]
  • Growing general environmental awareness of pollution, negative impact of automobiles, and protest at the construction of inner city freeways
  • The first triple crank, or granny gears, started being sold. Ron Shephard, an engineer and founding member of the MBTC and Bicycle Victoria relentlessly promoted use of triple cranks to promote cycle touring among a wider audience.
  • The Westgate Punt service across the Yarra River for cyclists and pedestrians operates on Weekends, Public Holidays and special days. It operated on weekdays on a two-month trial in 2006 paid for by local councils and the Government, but the trial ended through lack of funding.

In 1993 Bicycle Victoria launched the 210 km Around the Bay in a Day ride around Port Phillip, held in October, which in 2006 attracted more than 14,000 participants.[16]

In recent years Bicycle Victoria has run regular Ride to Work and Ride to School days to stimulate, with some success, cycle commuting.[17] This is assisted by the formation of many workplace Bicycle User Groups (BUGS). The Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) in 2004 introduced a Bike Assist membership option, to assist cyclists with punctures or basic repairs.[18] The success of Ride to Work Day has since seen it become a national event.

In November 1995 the first Melbourne Critical Mass was held. This has become a popular regular event with cyclists meeting in front of the State Library of Victoria at 5.30pm on the last Friday of every month to ride around the city in safety as one mass. They are accompanied on a regular basis by the Police Bicycle Squad. Generally the police do not interfere in the event but act to facilitate its smooth movement to reduce any obstruction and to calm the antagonism of some car drivers.

Melbourne's cycling network

One of the few so-called "Copenhagen" cycle lanes in Melbourne
Melbourne Bike Share station on Macarthur St

For the most part, bicycles ride on the road with cars; some have bike lanes, most don't. There are bike paths all over Melbourne, and often you can use them for part of your journey. Paths are often more scenic, but are frequently shared with pedestrians. Very occasionally pavements will be shared with pedestrians but check signage carefully.

Public bicycle sharing system

On 31 May 2010 the first public bicycle sharing system in Australia was launched in Melbourne.[19] It is also the world's first bicycle share scheme in a city with compulsory helmet laws. On completion the system will consist of 50 docking stations with 600 bikes, situated around the Melbourne CBD. The total cost is estimated at $5.5 million over four years. The system is operated by the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria and the US firm Alta Bicycle Share, which runs bicycle share systems in four North American cities.[20]

Cycling rules and regulations

Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other road users, but some specific rules also apply so it is best to review these before setting out.[21][22][23]

Public transport

It is free to carry bicycles on public transport in Melbourne but only folding bikes (folded and in a bag) are allowed on metropolitan trams and buses and country bus & V/Line coaches.[24]

Cycling equipment

Wearing of a helmet at all times,[25] and suitable lighting at night are enforced by law.[26] It's also best to take other precautionary methods such as wearing light coloured clothing or reflective panels to increase your visibility and safety.

Effects of cycle helmet legislation

As with other Australian states, Victoria's 1990 compulsory cycle helmet legislation[27] had a strong negative impact on cycling in Melbourne. Surveys carried out at the same 64 observation sites in May 1990 and May 1991 detected 29% fewer adults and 42% fewer child cyclists,[28] with an overall reduction in cyclists of 36%. Further falls were recorded to May/June 1992, with teenage cycling reportedly showing a 46% decrease from pre-law levels. The limited injury reductions recorded among Melbourne cyclists did not match the actual decline in cycling. This has led some experts to the conclusion that the law has actually resulted in increased rates of injury among Melbourne's cyclists. The law has also reportedly resulted in significant police efforts against cyclists. As of 2003, Victoria Police were still issuing around 20,000 Bicycle Offence Penalty Notices a year. Since the law, cycling in Melbourne has never been able to recover its previous share of the transport split. In 1985-6, 3.4% of trips in Melbourne were by bicycle, recent 2004 data shows a decline to 2.0%. The experience of Melbourne's cyclists has given added impetus to the efforts of cyclists in Europe and elsewhere to resist, or repeal, such helmet laws.[29][30]

Bicycle parking and theft

Official rules regarding bicycle parking appear to state that bicycles should only be parked in supplied cages or parking rails.[31] In practice these facilities are not always available and affixing the bike to street poles is common and does not seem to be penalised. Bicycle theft is a problem in Melbourne[32] and it is best to invest in a strong D-lock or hefty chain lock to protect your vehicle. Always lock the bicycle whenever it is unattended, including at home if the bicycle is kept outside. Further tips on protecting bicycles from theft can be found on the Bicycle Victoria website.

Transport Integration Act

Policy and legislation affecting cycling in Melbourne is increasingly directing state government agencies to recognise cycling as a mainstream transport mode which offers significant sustainability and health benefits.[33]

The 2010 Transport Integration Act sets a policy framework for creating a more integrated and sustainable transport system for Victoria including Melbourne and contains features which support improved conditions for cyclists. For example, the Act charges the state road agency, VicRoads, with managing the "...road system in a manner which supports a sustainable Victoria by seeking to increase the share of public transport, walking and cycling trips as a proportion of all transport trips in Victoria..."[34]

Annual bicycle events

Bicycle organisations and groups

  • Bicycle Victoria (BV) is a self-funded community organisation, owned collectively by all of its members. BV works to build more cycling infrastructure, organises their popular "Great Rides", co-ordinates programs such as Ride to Work and Ride2School and provide practical and legal information to achieve their aim of "More People Cycling More Often". Members receive benefits, including bike crash insurance, Ride On a bi-monthly full-colour magazine, and specials deals with various businesses.
  • Melbourne Critical Mass
  • There are many Bicycle User Groups (BUGs) around the city usually associated with the local government area or other locality; check with a local council or on Bicycle Victoria's page for details.
  • CERES teach bike maintenance.
  • Bikefun is a ride listing and organising service characterised by social, fun rides at a moderate pace often involving food and drink, with most people wearing ordinary street clothes. Rides organised include Full Moon rides, pub crawls, dinner rides, beach rides (in summer) etc. bikefun calendar[35]
  • Melbourne City Cyclist is an advocacy website for cycling in the City of Melbourne[36]
  • Bonza Bike Tours provides guided bicycle tours, as well as bicycle hire and bike rentals[37]

See also


  1. ^ Australia Cycling Bicycle Ownership, Use and Demographics July 2004 (Draft), Australian Bicycle Council
  2. ^ "Bin the bike ban!". Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  3. ^ Melbourne Bicycle Account - Cycling Census 2007
  4. ^ Gardiner, Ashley (9 December 2008). "Public bicycles for inner-city trips". Herald Sun.,21985,24772441-2862,00.html. 
  5. ^ Wily Wheelwomen of the 1890s, Question Mark Collective,, 30 April 1999. Accessed 28 May 2009.
  6. ^ 113th Anniversary of First Victorian Women’s Road Race Celebrated, Come Cycling with Me Blog., 21 May 2009, accessed 28 May 2009
  7. ^ a b "Welcome to Coburg Cycling Club". Archived from the original on 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  8. ^ Cycling News
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Bicycle Victoria at a glance". Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  13. ^ "History of the Great Victorian Bike Ride". Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  14. ^ "Cycling for a Nuclear free future - Remembering the FoE Rides against Uranium". Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  15. ^ Greg Allerton. "History of the Geelong Touring Cyclists". Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  16. ^ Two heart attacks at Vic cycling event, The Age, 15 October 2006. Accessed 15 October 2008
  17. ^ "Bicycle Victoria: National Ride to Work Day". Archived from the original on 2008-05-29. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  18. ^ "RACV Bike Assist - Bicycle Victoria". Archived from the original on 2008-05-31. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  19. ^ "Melbourne bike share not a sure thing". Retrieved June 7, 2010. 
  20. ^ Clay Lucas: Share scheme out of the blocks for city cyclists in The Age 1 June 2010, retrieved 13 July 2010
  21. ^ Victoria’s road rules
  22. ^ Appendix to Victoria’s road rules with bicycle specific rules
  23. ^ Bicycle Victoria document on road rules for cyclists
  24. ^ Travelling on public transport vehicles with bikes
  25. ^ Rules regarding helmets in Victoria
  26. ^ Information regarding bike light requirements with equipment recommendations
  27. ^ Cycle helmets
  28. ^ "Bike numbers in Western Australia: government surveys". Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  29. ^ CTC Yorkshire and Humber Region. "The Case Against Bicycle Helmets And Legislation". Retrieved 24 October 2009. 
  30. ^ Fédération française des Usagers de la Bicyclette. "Le casque à vélo : une fausse réponse à l'insécurité routière". Retrieved 24 October 2009. 
  31. ^ Restrictions on stopping and parking
  32. ^ Crime statistics for Victoria 2007/2008; See 2.k for bicycle theft figures
  33. ^ Requirements to encourage and facilitate active transport including cycling are contained throughout the Act. See, for example, the Victorian Cycling Strategy (March 2009). Relevant directional sections of the Transport Integration Act include sections 13(2)(c), 86(2)(b) and 120(1)(c)(i).
  34. ^ See section 86(2)(b) of the Transport Integration Act 2010., retrieved 2 November 2010
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^

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