It's been a dreadful few days for cycling in Australia, with horrifying and disturbing incidents in several of our capital cities.
On Sunday, a car collided with a bunch of cyclists riding on Sydney's Southern Cross Drive. Six of the riders were injured, four seriously; the images of the devastation would be stomach-churning to anyone, but especially those who regularly ride a bike.
Also on Sunday, a woman in Adelaide died from her injuries after a collision with a car the previous day.
Then, on Monday, video footage was released of an incident in Brisbane in which a cyclist was hit from behind by a car. It's astonishing that he only suffered minor injuries.
On Tuesday, more video footage - this time a rider's-eye view of an incident in Melbourne where a taxi passenger opened a door in the path of a cyclist on Collins Street.
It's hard for anyone who cycles to avoid being unnerved by these incidents. The vulnerability one feels can take an effort of will to control. The feeling that your life is, at times, in other people's hands. People who might not be paying attention – but who won't suffer the same consequences as you will if things go wrong.
The commentary that surrounds cycling can also be unnerving and depressing, especially in weeks like this one. An astonishing amount of victim-blaming and denial of common humanity. The worst place for this has been Facebook, where loathsome people have deliberately gone to cycling pages to post abusive and hateful comments. The downside of the internet is that it's so much easier to encounter the percentage of society that you'd never choose to meet – and the realisation that they're out there.
The problem with all this controversy is that it can put us off cycling, or make us forget all the good things about travelling on two wheels.
Even in a rainstorm. On Sunday, I was out on a 75-kilometre loop of the Ku-ring-gai Chase and Akuna Bay, in preparation for this weekend's Bobbin Head Cycle Classic. The first half was warm and lovely, but heading back home along Wakehurst Parkway I was hit by a monsoonal downpour as a black-sky thunderstorm swept in from the south.
There was no hiding from it - a glorious, immersive drenching of the kind that makes one feel good to be alive, literally bathed in the elements. I arrived home a soggy, squelching mess, having taken on mother nature's best efforts and giggled them off.
On Monday, I rode across the Harbour Bridge - toll free - for a lunchtime meeting in the city, taking in the sun-splashed views of Luna Park. A rock-star parking spot on a pole outside the café – no charge, of course – reminded me once again that, in crowded, parked-up environs, utility cycling is often the easiest option.
And on Wednesday, my Twitter feed was filled with pictures of kids on bicycles, taking part in the annual Ride2School day across Australia.
I used to love riding my bike as a kid. The feeling of freedom, of independence, of exploring the world on my own terms, under my own steam.
Coming back to the bike as an adult has given me so many good things. Now, rather than explore new suburbs, I use my holidays to pedal across other states and nations.
Last year, I spent some time off the bike due to injury. My weight increased. My mood soured. My motivation lagged. It made me realise that cycling isn't just an interest for me – it's a health and wellbeing package.
So I may at times be unnerved by this week's run of bad news – but I'm going to roll with it. Cycling can go through tough times, but it's on the up. With increased participation, greater awareness and improved infrastructure, we'll hopefully one day be telling the kids who rode to school on Wednesday how much tougher it was “back in the day”. And, as is the right of youth, they won't believe us.
The man who faces possible charges after opening a taxi door in the path of a cyclist on Monday says the collision was not his fault but he regrets behaving belligerently after the incident.
Jeff Hunter, 65, from Brighton, was caught on film knocking a woman off her bicycle then refusing to give his name, instead walking away and insulting the woman, calling her a "fool" and saying "the way people like you ride around is disgusting".
The cyclist filmed the incident from cameras mounted on her handlebars and helmet, and uploaded the vision onto YouTube.
It has since gone viral, being viewed by tens of thousands of people and attracting huge public and media interest.
Mr Hunter, a toy and sportswear importer who last year sold his Brighton mansion to former Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting for a reported price of almost $10 million, said he now wished he had conducted himself better.
"It's just a spur of the moment thing that I reacted the way I did but I'm not proud of that fact. If I could do it all over again, I would have approached it in a much more different way," he said.
Mr Hunter told Fairfax Media that although he believed the collision was an unavoidable accident, he regretted his reaction.
He had not known dooring was an offence, but if found guilty by police he would accept any penalty.
"I have to take, the same as everybody else, the full weight of the law, and if I have to pay the fine, I will pay the fine," he said.
"I'm certainly sorry that I didn't give her my name, and I'm certainly sorry that we acted as if we didn't care.
"She was standing up at that stage and quite irate and I can understand her being irate. She was really aggressive and I should have responded in a much more passive way but I'm really apologising for that reaction."
Police told Mr Hunter they would investigate the incident but have not yet been back in touch, he said.
The woman, who declined to be identified, told Fairfax Media by email that she did not sustain any serious injuries, just "bruises and a little scrape, as well as a sore knee and shoulder".
She said police had indicated to her that they were preparing to lay charges.
"Yes, they said on the night that if they could identify the male passenger who doored me they would charge him," she said.
"Now that he has been identified they are determining what charges to lay."
Collins Street has no bike lane, only a narrow cycling refuge marked by white lines and green paint.
Nevertheless, cyclists have the right to overtake vehicles on the inside, unless the vehicle is in the act of turning left.
Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said Collins Street was too narrow to ever have a dedicated bike lane.
"If you look at Collins Street, it's not a bike lane, it's actually more of an indicator ... to motorists to stay on the right side of this line. And to cyclists it says, be careful, there's not much room here."
Victoria's most senior bicycle police officer said confusion about Melbourne's ill-defined network of bike lanes was putting cyclists in harm's way.
State bicycle operations co-ordinator Sergeant Arty Lavos said white lines and bike symbols painted on the road were lulling cyclists into a "false sense of security".
He said lanes with bicycle symbols painted on them were not necessarily bicycle lanes, pointing to a "classic example" in front of the Victoria Police Centre in Flinders Street.
"That's a painted bicycle symbol in that lane there, but it is not a bike lane because it has no signage," Sergeant Lavos said.
"It must have a 'start bike lane' sign on the top [of a pole], as well as the markings on the road, then an end sign either at an intersection or wherever it technically ends.
"Technically speaking, if I was a cyclist who knew no better, I would be feeling pretty safe in that lane, but it is really not a legal lane on its own."
Meanwhile, a Facebook user attracted criticism for publicly calling on drivers to start dooring cyclists and then upload the videos of the offences to social media.
The post attracted disgust from other Facebook users, who are calling on the man's employer, BMW Australia, to answer for his comments.
One Facebook user wrote: ‘‘Last night an employee of yours incited violence by calling on others to start "dooring" cyclists and uploading videos to social media’’.
"Dooring a cyclist can kill a cyclist. He has incited others to injure, maim and possibly kill cyclists."
Another user said: "This is pretty bad. I hope [he] gets a good talking to about this, and appropriately reprimanded for how he has irreparably damaged BMWs image."
When Fairfax Media contacted BMW Australia for a response, a spokeswoman said: "BMW Group Australia does not in any way support or condone the views expressed by this individual on their personal social media account. This individual is an external contractor to BMW Group Australia.
"Vehicle, passenger and commuter safety is an integral part of BMW’s Corporate philosophy and is a matter which we take very seriously. This issue has been handled internally".
She also said the company's response would be posted on the BMW’s Facebook page.
- ADAM CAREY
smh.com.au, with Deborah Gough and Caroline Zielinski
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