I recently met Sarah from Vélo-à-Porter via Instagram (I meet lots of people on Instagram). Sarah is on a mission to see more people ride bikes around the city, and do it in Style! Her blog was created to showcase how you can ride a bike around the city rather than a driving a car even with a young family. As Sarah and I were talking on the phone the lightbulb went on for me! I'd actually seen this woman biking around Surry Hills with her kids in a cart, and now here we were on the phone talking about a collaboration with each other. We thought Vélo-à-Porter and Sydney Chic would be a good fit to do some features together.
A few days later I was heading up to the Central Coast via train (I don't have a car either and if need one I'll hire one). I sat in the quiet carriage and next to me were two inconsiderate people talking loudly, so I politely reminded them they were in the quiet carriage, and as I did so, the lady in front of me turned to me to say she had also pointed out to them this was a quiet carriage. Then she asked me "Are you Deb?" and guess what? It was Sarah! We laughed so much of this serendipitous moment as we hadn't actually met in person before! So we quickly bolted out of the quiet carriage to another one where we could talk. I'm still laughing about the chances of that happening.
Here are some questions I put to Sarah about getting around Sydney on a bike and doing it in style! Watch out for her on the streets of Sydney. Oh.... and if you are wondering, yes she is wearing a helmet in all the photos - a stylish alternative.
What’s your background?
I was born in Seoul, South Korea. I immigrated to the US with my family when I was two and grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I attended the University of Chicago and graduated with a BA in political science. Afterwards, I moved to New York to start a career in investment banking and then to London where I continued my career. I moved to Sydney in 2003 after meeting my Australian husband in London. I resumed my investment banking career but resigned in 2013. I started veloaporter.com in 2015 after writing a book about marriage that I'll self-publish one day. I've been in Sydney for 13 years now and have two lovely children with Australian accents.
Why don’t you own a car?
After the birth of our second child in 2011, I asked my husband if we would need to purchase a car. Previously, I had been walking to childcare to drop our daughter and continued to my office in the CBD. With two children and two different locations, school and childcare, the drop-off would become more complicated. We also noticed that congestion in Sydney was growing and that driving was becoming increasingly stressful. Furthermore, car loan payments, petrol, parking, insurance, parking fines add up to a significant sum and we wanted to spend our money in a more considered way.
My husband had already been bicycling to work in the city for several years. He told me about a cargo bike article that he had seen in the New York Times. Something clicked when I read the article and I became obsessed. I researched online for weeks afterwards and we imported our Nihola cargo bike directly from Denmark. We asked Glow Worm Electric Bicycles in Marrickville to install an electric-motor-boost to help deal with Sydney's hills. Not long after, I took a free course that the City of Sydney offered called "Cycling with Confidence." I use the skills from this course every day.
Is it safe to ride a bike in the city?
I believe that it is safe to bicycle in the city. The traffic is slower because of the congestion and drivers are more accustomed to seeing people on bicycles. People believe bicycling in Sydney is dangerous is because they think of the roads where they drive their cars. I never cycle on Elizabeth Street and rarely did so on George Street. I avoid throughways (like King Street in Newtown) because there are too many cars and speeds too fast. As a bicyclist, its better to choose quieter streets to make your way.
Fortunately, a series of separated cycleways in the CBD make it possible to cycle safely. But where there are no cycleways, I choose my path. For example, after leaving Liverpool Street Cycleway, I take Pitt Street into the city because it's quieter. I also take Riley Street through Darlinghurst and via the Domain to get to the eastern part of the city. I "take the lane" (position myself in the centre of the lane) to avoid being passed by a driver which is uncomfortable. When there is space for a car to pass, I will let drivers pass but otherwise, I cycle and signal with intent. It is possible to share the road.
How many bikes does your family have?
We have 19 bicycles. Each has a specific function. My husband and I consider our cargo bikes to be like station wagon/mini van given their utility for carrying kids and things like groceries, bicycles, furniture etc.
I own five: e-bike, cargo, urban, road and mountain bike
My husband has six: two cyclocross bikes, cargo, fixed gear, urban, mountain bike
My daughter has five: My old giant hybrid, bmx, mountain bike, road bike, dutch bike.
My son has three: a balance bike and two tagalongs - one for urban riding and one mountain bike.
How can you look glamorous riding a bike?
If you look glamorous in general, you can look glamorous on the bicycle. It's helpful to have a more upright style of bicycle - commonly referred to as a "Dutch" bike with greater than three gears for Sydney's terrain. Some great brands that offer this style of bicycle include: Gazelle, Lekker, Papillonnaire, Focus, Tokyo Bike, Linus Bike amongst many others.
The possibility for glamour is also greater if you use an e-bike, especially in summer here in Sydney. The electric motor gives you a boost and helps to extend your range. It also keeps sweat to a minimum which is very handy if riding in a suit or a dress. I ride an eZee Sprint but I also really like the Gazelle e-bikes. Glow Worm Electric Bicycles in Marrickville offer the eZee range. Omafiets Dutch Bicycles in Redfern offer the Gazelles and Eurocycles in West Lane Cove have a variety of premium European e-bikes.
What about high heels?
Definitely! Walking any distance is difficult in heels but bicycling in heels is much easier. In addition, it's possible to lock up close to the front door of your destination instead of walking distances from the parked car or shelling out for taxi, getting stuck in traffic in Uber. Also, placement of the ball of the foot on the pedal is the most efficient position to turn the cranks and propel the bicycle forward. Landing is the same, using the ball of the foot to put the foot down is also standard technique. Who in their right mind would pedal using their heel?
How do you transport a family without a car?
It's very easy transporting our kids in our cargo bikes. My son started sitting in the Nihola when he was 7 months old. He had a special baby capsule with five point harness and a soft helmet. He would routinely fall asleep during our journeys. My daughter started at the same time. She was a little more than 4.5 at the time. They enjoy the scenery and the interaction that we have with the people, bicyclists, animals, the city. My husband purchased his Yuba Mundo long-tail cargo bike and the kids sit behind him. The contrast is great when they are in the car. After 20 minutes, they begin to ask, "Are we there yet?" and the complaints begin.
In fact, we prefer to transport our kids via bicycle instead of the car. On Mondays I take them to music lessons at the Conservatorium and in Paddington. We are never late because we don't have traffic to contend with.
We have also gone on holiday to the Blue Mountains and the Southern Highlands many times with a combination of public transport and riding. We usually take the Yuba Mundo long-tail cargo bike and my eZee Sprint which both have electric-motor-boost. I carry the luggage and my husband takes the kids and we stay at a hotel or resort. We explore, go to lunch and dinner, shop by bicycle instead of using a car. It makes it possible for us to get to know an area well and to relax. We also travelled to Bali and took our push bikes and child seats a few years ago. I organised maxi taxi pickup to and from the airports and hotels. All the bicycling makes it possible to eat really well while on holiday!