Newcomer to Brisbane reports how a cycling app guided his first rides
In 2017, I left Adelaide for life in Brisbane. After living in a cycle-friendly city I was unsure of what to expect in a much larger one. My first trip along the riverfront at half past five in the morning was eye opening. The subtropical environment makes it ideal to commute year round. I find the weather a little humid for travelling to work but the locals don’t appear to break a sweat at the first sign of an incline. Bike paths to the southwest of Brisbane are well connected and all but impossible to get lost on. Living close to Brisbane River is a bicycle commuters’ dream.
The Brisbane Experience
Brisbane contains the most amount of easily accessible bike lanes that I’ve ever come across in Australia. This allows people to commute from all directions rather than having every cyclist funnelled down the same route. Complementing these highly visible bright green bike lanes are dedicated bike paths. By using the Bicentennial Bikeway it is possible to ride between the city and the mountains without leaving a bike path. Many major thoroughfares operate transit lanes for those choosing to car pool during peak hour. This limits the number of cars in city bound lanes and makes commuting on the open road safer.
A negative is the hilly nature of the city and suburbs. Think San Francisco. Some urban streets are so steep that they are too difficult to ride. Bike paths are well planned and avoid this problem. It is as if these paths were designed by those who use them. You can also count on bike paths. I can safely assume that any given bridge connecting the south of Brisbane to the city will have a pedestrian walkway. The Goodwill Bridge is a somewhat unique construction. Built solely for pedestrians and cyclists. Coffee venders take advantage of the bicycle network and set up shop during peak hour. You can literally roll up, order your caffeine hit, and continue to work.
It is important to remember that Brisbane is a big city and, in Australian cities motorised vehicles remain predominant. The roads start getting congested before six in the morning and your dedicated bike lane quickly becomes claustrophobic. If you know the backstreets and where the bike paths are then major thoroughfares are easily circumvented. Having just moved from interstate, this was not knowledge I possessed. In fact, I felt a little more intimidated and anxious about cycling in my new city than I would care to admit. After achieving mixed results by blindly riding around town in search of safe routes, I enlisted some help from the Bike Citizens Cycling App.
Road testing the cycling app
The application leverages user-generated content from OpenStreetMaps to design cycle safe routes. You can plan the route online, program in an address or simply pick a point on the map. I prefer the latter option. It gives you more freedom. Despite this, I was sceptical. After all, I would be using it on Australian roads which the European creators had never seen. The application has a similar look and feel to a GPS unit once programmed.
You have three modes to choose from: easy, balanced and fast. These categories determine your route by placing descending importance on the use of dedicated bicycle infrastructure. Note that fast still avoids busier roads to deliver you a safe route. Seeing how these settings determine the best route into the city has been interesting. Using easy I have found an extensive network of paths I never knew existed. The trade off is a significant increase in distance. Balanced and fast get me to where I need to be with minimal fuss and on relatively quiet streets. It is possible to shave time off the fast route by taking major thoroughfares. The choice to do this comes down to personal levels of risk tolerance. I would recommend using the Brisbane cycling app in the initial stages of exploring. This way you could learn a variety of safe routes before incorporating busier roads as you please.
Having tested the application around the city I decided to challenge it. I picked a point on the map forty four kilometres away which would be unlikely to have infrastructure for bicycles. Riding with a balanced profile the application took me on an adventure. I barely ever used the main road and relied upon the voice commands alongside occasional glances at the display. Endless series of backstreets and farmland eventually brought me to a dead end in a cul-de-sac… or so I thought. Prompted to turn left I discovered a one-foot wide pathway hidden underneath overgrown grass. I can’t imagine when it was last used but the application knew it was there. Needless to say I reached my destination. Almost. The place I picked on the map was so far west that the road turned to dirt. With a kilometre to go I was kindly instructed to dismount and proceed on foot.
I’m impressed. The app contains local knowledge and operates without a data connection. The different settings vary your route but always get you there. The navigational prompts are incredibly accurate. You won’t miss a turn wondering if it means the next street. The only issue I encountered was at overpasses. Many paths either cross underneath major roads. On a few occasions this upset the application as it assumed I had taken the other road. Once you are considered to be off-route further instructions are paused as it recalculates. Small issue, unless you’re travelling a long way. For commutes under fifteen kilometres recalculation was fast. You need no stop. For my fifty-kilometre experiment, it meant having to pull over and wait. The length and complexity of the route simply slowed the recalculation process down.
Run the application with brightness and volume on high. Many smart phone mounts will work but Bike Citizens recommend the Finn. The application is free but some city maps are not. It is possible to unlock maps for free by tracking one hundred kilometres of riding over thirty days . At this stage the application is compatible with android and apple devices. If you are planning a trip to Brisbane you need not bring a bicycle. Brisbane has a City Cycle scheme which provides easy access to bicycles and helmets. When it comes to directions, just don’t forget your phone!
Photo © Ryan Waddington