Category Archives: History

Human Powered Transport: Sydney Northern Beaches School Bans Scooters, Skateboards

If you live near a school, you have probably noticed that very few Australian kids ride bicycles. Many of them are ferried by their parents in their cars, causing frustrating traffic jams. There are still some children who ride skateboards, scooters and even some who walk, but they seem to be an endangered species.

There are a lot of factors involved in this, sure, but a big one is ‘safety’. Riding a bicycle to school is now considered by many parents as ‘unsafe’ because of all the traffic (ironic, much?)

Scooters and skateboards still seem to be popular amongst kids though. A school in Sydney is now attempting to snuff this out as well. 

NORTHERN Beaches Secondary College Cromer Campus has come under fire from parents after it banned students from riding skateboards and scooters to school.

Last week parents were sent a text message announcing that “Due to a number of serious incidents, including a collision with a car, students will no longer be allowed to ride skateboards or scooters to school.”

The ban is also included on the school’s website under its code of conduct.

The response is somewhat mixed – the Manly Daily article states that parents are outraged, but Channel 10 reported on the story this evening, and some of the parents, interviewed vox-pop style while sitting in their SUVs, inarticulately stated their support for the ban. There was a lot of ‘well they should stay off the roads and out of the way of cars.’ It’s hardly fair since these kids are just trying to get to school.

When we talk about cyclist safety on the roads, comments about ‘lycra loonies’ abound. What about the kids, though? When I was in the Netherlands I often had instinctive reactions to sweep children and pet dogs off the street. There was no need for it, if cars were allowed, they were only travelling at 30kph – plenty of time to stop.

As long as we steadfastly stick to the ‘cars always have right of way, and should be impeded as little as possible’ philosophy of road planning, it will come down to a trade-off between the risks of getting hit by a car and the risks of physical inactivity and obesity in our kids.

In fact, according to David Hembrow, cycling was resurrected in the Netherlands in part because people were concerned about children being injured and killed by cars. In 1973 a group called Stop de Kindermoord was formed and started lobbying for changes to traffic and road planning. You can read David’s version of history here.

Also thanks to David Hembrow – this is how Dutch children get to school. Watch the video – it shows massive mobs of kids riding to school on separated bicycle infrastructure. If we had this in Australian cities it would go a long way to helping them get their daily exercise, and helping their parents save a lot of cash on running multiple cars.


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What Inspires Me to Ride My Bike

There is a common theme amongst cyclists in Australia – most of them rode bikes as children and teenagers, but put the bike away and forgot about it when they got their first car at 17 years of age.

Mine is not dissimilar. I was a late starter on the bike, not really riding until I was 10 years of age. There were a couple of bikes I used to ride – a blue dragster with a banana seat, and a green ladies shopper type bike with the U-shaped step through frame. The dragster was my favorite, of course. Not only did it look cool, but it was super easy to lean back and pop wheelies.

When I started high school, I was given a flourescent pink bike from Toyworld. It was pretty rough really, heavy steel wheels which very quickly went out of true, a nasty plastic white seat, handlebar grips that gave me callouses, and plastic brake levers. It had U-brakes so it didn’t stop too well either. It was my freedom though. It got me to school, the shops, basketball training, friends houses, and my part time job.

I moved out of home and went to University, and I didn’t take my bike. I had a little green Mitsubishi Colt to drive. Petrol and parking were dirt cheap, even for a poor student.  I found though that I was slowly putting on weight, and getting a little lethargic. I started to borrow my housemate’s bike and used it for short trips to the shops, and for recreational doddles around the neighbourhood.

After I’d had the Colt for about a year, I crashed it. I didn’t have the money for another car and only had third party insurance, so I got my old highschool bike and pressed it back into service. It had faded to a white colour by then. I had moved into a different house, and my housemate bought a nice shiny Haro with alloy wheels. Frustrated by my poor brakes, and clunky gears, I also bought a new bike – a Malvern Star Vertigo for $350 which was a great improvement on what I had. For those who want to keep track of inflation, this was in 1999 or thereabouts.

The Malvern Star was dubbed ‘Dizzy’ and I rode it to uni about 3 times a week. Other times I car pooled with my housemate or caught the bus. I used that bike for my first real bike tour, which was a pretty tame doddle through the Rhine Valley (Germany and France). I revisited this tour recently, but that is for another post. Car ownership was on and off for me over my uni years, but that bike was a constant.

Dizzy met an untimely death sometime in 2005 when I got hit at a roundabout by a car that failed to give way. I got out of it with some scrapes and bruises, but it put me off riding for about a year. It was then replaced when I bought a Giant CRX2, for just under $1000. I was getting sick of catching the  bus to work. I had a car at that time too, I could afford to have a big gas guzzler because I rode to work and most other short trips were also on the CRX. It was during this time that fuel prices started to seriously increase.

I had a few brief breaks from commuting to my job via bicycle, and every time I stopped, I felt a little unfit. I was constantly frustrated by public transport, the bike was always a better choice. Recently, when I hurt my ankle and couldn’t ride, I hobbled to the train. I got the flu for the first time in years for my trouble.

So I ride to work because:

It takes the same amount of time as public transport, and I don’t get exposed to germs/poor hygiene habits and other things that are often prevalent on the train.

Driving makes no sense at all, it takes the same amount of time, I get no exercise, and have to pay $20 a day for the privilege to park.

It helps me keep an eye on my waistline!

I ride to other places because:

It’s cheaper, there are no parking stresses (for instance at IKEA!), and it’s just fun!

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Posted by on August 24, 2011 in History, Reasons to Ride


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