One less car: my commute on an e-bike

Good Mover Jessica Stewart, gives us a run down on her experience so far with her Lug+Carrie HSD.

A year ago, I started a new job only six kilometres from home. The 10 minute drive was bliss after years of cross-city commuting but, after a while,  I noticed the bike paths which followed my exact route. I tossed the idea around but I hadn’t ridden a bike for 15 years, and never with the kind of confidence Sydney cyclists seemed to need. It was talking about e-bikes with a family member that gave me the push I needed.  ‘You don’t get sweaty,’ he said. ‘And hills are a cinch.’ I found a bike subscription company, Lug+Carrie, that would deliver my bike, come to my home to maintain it, insure it, and provide emergency pickups if I needed. I took out a month’s subscription.

First time out felt like taking my first baby home from hospital. ‘Are you really going to leave me with this thing?’  Exposed and vulnerable. Taking it slowly, I went up my street to visit a friend a kilometre away. So far so good, but coming back, I accelerated too fast, braked too hard and fell off. Bruised, bloodied, I got back up. That night I dreamt of riding through rain-filled gutters with danger everywhere. 

Next day,  Sunday morning, I did a dummy run to my office. Calm, cool breezes, little traffic at 7.15am. I struggled a little with the seven gears and four modes of power, until I remembered the advice of Neroli at Lug+Carrie:  ‘Stay in 4th, adjust only when you need, and keep it in Turbo. What’s the point of an e bike otherwise?’ I loved this. The fewer things to adjust, the better.  

On Monday, I flew out of bed, determined. And I wasn’t wearing lycra. I put on tailored pants, a silky top, low heeled shoes. I strapped my work bag onto the basket in front, and fixed my hi viz rain jacket over it, fastening with the occy straps. It was quiet and I cruised easily past the shops and houses, loving the breeze around my body. Busier than Sunday, no question, but definitely manageable. I arrived at work, locked it up, and after a quick tidy up in the bathrooms, I was good to go. I was so buzzed that first morning, though, it was hard to concentrate. Riding home was busier still. Scarier. Hotter. People seemed more intent and focused and less inclined to friendly gestures.  But I got home safely.  Then got up next day and did it again, this time wearing a slim fitting knee length skirt. I’ve found most of my wardrobe has scope to move my legs. Amusingly, heeled shoes are good—I like the way they latch onto the pedal. 

The cycle path I use crosses from one side of the road to the other at a point where there seems a constant flow of cars andI’m getting better at slipping into the traffic to make a turn. I ride into the middle of the lane when I need to turn right, or I’m moving quickly. Visibilty is key!

My path also runs alongside parked cars in higher pedestrian zones. I can see how dangerous this could be. ‘Dooring’ is the lead cause of injury to cyclists. If I judge the risk too high, I move onto the footpath for these metres, dismount, and walk through. On shared paths, I smile and thank everyone and most people are friendly, or ignore me. I have learnt that if dog-walkers or joggers are alone, they’re likely wearing headphones . The dog always looks round!  I call out ‘On your right!’,  ride at a snail’s pace and skirt them easily.  

The gears mean I can take off again from a standing start easily and I have become adept at handling the long downhill parts, braking gently—pulsing the brakes. A final steep climb home is akin to walking uphill, at a quick pace. My heart rate accelerates and my legs are working hard. Then it levels out and I cruise home and jump in the shower.

One less car - Jess Stewart

My ride takes 15 minutes longer than driving and every day, I increase in confidence, feeling more and more part of a community—I see people, they see me and I am seeing firsthand how our cars dehumanise us, locking us into our bubbles, shut off from the world. 

There was a recent flurry of media about Sydneysiders and bikes. My experience says it’s not as bad as either party would have you believe. While separate paths for pedestrians, bikes and cars would be ideal, it isn’t happening in the short term. 

Instead, how about we look up and see the person ‘in our way’? Sharing is a simple negotiation—something we teach toddlers. It’s been four weeks now and I’m sold. I am astonished by how easy this has been for me. Join me!

PS: I rode in the rain today, morning and afternoon  and it was *fine*! Once you know you’re going to get wet, put on some gear that won’t be ruined and take it slowly. I loved it—I felt so alive! Getting  thwacked in the face with some wet lantana was the most peril I think I was in. 

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