Cycling sees massive growth in Sydney

Over the last four years, Australia’s largest city has become an oasis of cyclers, with the number of bike-riding residents increasing more than 130% since 2010.

Over the last four years, Sydney has become a city of cyclers, with the number of bike-riding residents increasing by more than 130% since 2010. Comparatively, it took 10 years to double the number of cyclists in London.

In part, the culture shift came about because of the 110km cycleways network – dedicated cycling lanes that helped provide bikers with safer scenic routes for their daily commute. Starting in Sydney’s city centre and expanding to suburbs such as Alexandria and Pyrmont, the network is on track to reach 200km by 2030. Speciality cafes and improved biking facilities have also contributed to the culture’s growth.

The annual Sydney Rides Festival, taking place until 25 October, showcases the city’s vibrant cycling culture, offering more than 20 events including bike-inspired art exhibitions and cycle-themed film screenings, not to mention free pedal-powered smoothies.

New this year is Sydney Rides the Night, a 25 October event that will see thousands of cyclists tackling a 2.5km course that’s lined with light installations and special effects. “We want all kinds of people to experience Sydney, whether they’re a regular rider, dusting off the bike in the garage or just starting up,” said City of Sydney cycling manager Fiona Campbell.

Family man Mark Ledbury cycles 2.5km daily from his home in Pyrmont to his workplace at The University of Sydney. Although Ledbury has been biking since he was six, he said he’s just now noticing more cyclists on the roads. “The cycle culture is growing fast because it’s being actively encouraged – by new routes, by cycling festivals and events, by new maps and the online culture of cycling,” he said. “People [are] logging rides and suggesting good route tips for other commuters and cyclists.”

David Donald, passionate cyclist and organiser of the Sydney Rides’ Cycle-O-Rama (a bicycle-themed exhibition at the artsy bike-design space Protohub), doesn’t cycle simply to get from point A to point B; he said it’s a way to connect with his creative side. Since starting to cycle at the age of 17, Donald has owned more than 100 bikes (he’s never owned a car) and now he modifies bikes as well, occasionally showcasing his creations at exhibitions. “I worked out [that] I could use my love of cycling as a creative outlet,” he said. “To me it’s about promoting cycling in a different way and making it more accessible to the general public.”

And that promotion is working. Visit the Sydney Park Cycling Centre in St Peters on the weekend and you’ll see the smiling faces of kids learning to cycle, confidently whizzing past on colourful bikes. The track has been used for cycling courses and bike education since 2003, and even has a functioning traffic light to teach children how to cycle safely on roads. Of course, with the expanding cycleways network and the continued growth in cycling culture, the next generations may be biking through a very different Sydney.

Tatyana Leonov is the Sydney Localite for BBC Travel