FOR many years now, bike riding has been touted as the way of the future – an effective way to tackle obesity, drive down petrol dependency and reduce adverse environmental impacts.
But while metropolitan cities have been quick to take up the cause – establishing numerous bike lanes and paths – regional centres, and Tamworth in particular, have been lagging well behind.
According to 2011 ABS census information, just 0.9 per cent of people in Tamworth’s local government area (LGA) travel to work by bicycle, up a minuscule 0.1 per cent since 2006.
As the table, pictured, reveals, the Country Music Capital takes the wooden spoon when compared to nine other regional cities of similar size in NSW and Victoria.
It comes as the Bicycle Network hosted its annual National Ride2Work Day on Wednesday, when bike owners are encouraged to dust off their neglected treadlies and get moving.
But for many Tamworth residents, the associated dangers of riding a bike where no cycleways exist, is, as the figures show, a major deterrent.
Terry Targett is one of the few who roll the dice.
The Tamworth local has been pedaling to work for years, competing with trucks, taxi drivers and P-platers along the way.
The New England Highway near the Longyard is a big danger area for cyclists, Mr Targett said.
“Where you’ve got the Calala Ln turnoff out to the Homespace Centre, there’s just two lanes there and you get really squeezed,” he said.
“You have to pin your ears back and ride like hell and don’t swerve or sway if cars beep their horns.”
Nathan Lewis started riding to work from his home near the Longyard about two months ago and enjoys the fact it helps keep him fit and saves money on petrol, though he admits he was “a bit nervous” when he first started out.
Mr Lewis’ biggest gripe is the fact that the limited number of cycleways in the city do not link up, or proceed for a couple of hundred metres before coming to an abrupt halt, making it difficult to ride safely with his young sons.
“If they link them up a bit more ... more people would be more inclined to use them,” Mr Lewis said.
Tamworth Regional Council regional services director Peter Resch said council was “very
supportive” of people riding to work, pointing to the associated health benefits and the fact it meant there was “less parking issues we have to deal with”.
Establishing an off-road cycleway along Manilla Rd (to Lemon Gums Dr, if funding permits) was council’s next priority, Mr Resch said.
When asked how many bike lanes Tamworth actually had, Mr Resch conceded he was unsure of the exact number, only saying “a lot”.
But ask the average punter how many they are aware of and the answer elicits a distinctly opposite response. Council hopes to unveil its new bike plan early next year.
Social, practical exercise
So bike riding is an effective form of exercise and can be part of a fitness or weight loss program. But there are other advantages as well.
n Unlike working out in a gym, bike riding will get you out in the fresh air and in different environments, all resulting in clearing your mind and helping you relax and enjoy yourself.
n Riding outside also exposes you to sunlight, which is a natural source of vitamin D.
n It isn’t very stressful on most of your body, and it’s certainly less jarring than going for a run.
n Bike riding can be practical. Consider riding next time you need to visit a friend or maybe even use it as a way to get to work each day. Not only will you get some exercise, you’ll save petrol money and may even save time.
n Make it social. It’s hard to chat while swimming or doing aerobics, but bike riding with a friend allows for chatting and you can have a picnic or well-earned drink at the end.
n In the same time, you can move a lot further on a bike than you can by walking, so you can explore more places and get an extra sense of freedom from the everyday.
n Once you have a bike, bike riding is cheap. Apart from the odd tyre tube and maybe some grease, bike riding doesn’t cost much for months or years at a time.
n Bike riding gives a cardiovascular workout and also builds leg muscle. And don’t forget that more muscle means you burn more kilojoules – even when you’re sitting still!
* Tash Hughes, Save Time Online