City Cycling at its Best
Words & Images: Roy Sinclair
This has to be my Number One cycling trail. Bordering the wide Swan River, it intriguingly twists and turns amongst trees; the rushing warm air is fresh, a modern city sprouts tall above the opposite bank; my coffee stop is almost in sight.
When it comes to pleasurable cycling I am not a city person. City cycling is typically a chaotic necessity having me feeling as vulnerable as a dodgem car.
But the Western Australian capital is different. Active transport is very much the daily event in Perth, a city with a population comparable to Auckland. Cycling leads the charge for recreation and viable transportation. Perth’s 700-odd km of cycleways have been allocated $39.95 million for the 2014- 15 to 2017-18 period. Money which the authorities say is “well spent”.
Bicycle sales have outstripped car sales in Australia overthe last ten years. In Western Australia, cycling numbers have increased over a short period, confirming that if safe cycling facilities are provided, they will be used.
Western Australian Department of Transport believes commuting and exploring the city by bicycle needs to be safe, connected and convenient. For this reason, separated cycling paths often parallel metro rail and freeway corridors. Exits to retail and other complexes are equally as convenient for cyclists as they are for motorists and train riders.
Coasting along one of these trails paralleling Farmer Freeway, I wonder why Copenhagen and the Netherlands are most often presented as examples of cycling-friendly destinations. Surely Kiwi cycling advocates need to explore innovation closer to home.
Having family in Perth means I can also store my own bicycle. It is an agreeable Giant hybrid. Astride my treadle I feel Perth is home. A short distance from the CBD and I am on the amazing Swan River paths offering a variety of rides including a 30-km trip to Fremantle. If I do not wish to return by pedal power I can wheel my bike onto a Trans Perth metro train.
The Department of Transport provides maps with details of coffee shops, toilets etc. Maps are available free from
information centres and bike shops.
I start my Swan-side rides either from either Barrack Street ferry terminal or East Perth train station. Both have me on a cycle path at the first pedal turn. Some cycling and walking paths are separated. Shared paths require adhering to some rules. They include cyclists sounding a bell before overtaking walkers. I am amused when crossing signs demanding pedestrians to stay alert.
Perth is a city of many sculpture works, each telling astory. I pause to contemplate several. Willem de Vlamingh is commemorated for his naming the river in January 1697 (presumably after the ubiquitous black swans.) The work also remembers the contribution Dutch navigators made to Western Australia prior to Captain James Cook.
I crouch on the riverside near Burswood Park to photograph a black swan. It is surprisingly tame, even taking a peck at my camera.
A champion swimmer, Shelley Taylor-Smith is remembered on a plaque with her photo, having won a gold medal for a 25-km swim of the river in 1991.
Further along is a sculpture of children playing hopscotch. Close by are the two Marys, adult and child. Dame Mary Durback is engaging with her younger self. Her writing captures the essence of Western Australian colonial days.
Cyclists of every description are encountered along the Swan. Some mosey along at my pace. Others are in serious training. The latter are less likely to acknowledge others. Children trailing parents are frequently spotted. In pleasant weather the landscaped foreshore is lined with picnickers crowding wafting barbecues.
A newly discovered sign has me making a short detour to another sculpture, this one the World Peace Dreamer. Standing in the natural setting of a scented garden, the dreamer represents Indian-born visionary Sri Chinmoy (1931 – 2007). The work is a symbol of universal hope.
A one-time busy paddle steamer PS Decoy identifies my coffee stop, Marquay Restaurant on Mends Street jetty. Decoy, said to be Australia’s only ocean-going paddle steamer, has had a “For Sale” notice on it since my first cycling stop here in January 2010. Four-and-a-half years later, it appears to have had no takers. It is promoted as being a floating wedding and functions venue.
Marquay Restaurant is directly opposite Barrack Street ferry terminal. Mends Street jetty is also the landing point for people commuting between the Perth CBD and South Perth.
I could take my bike on the ferry for a shortcut back to my starting point, but the day is ideal for riding on another five km to Matilda Bay. I pass Mill Point with its picturesque 1835 wind-powered mill and ascend to cross the Narrows Bridge.
The foreshore trail continues, passing the old Swan Brewery,
these days an upmarket restaurant. Shaded Matilda Bay is chocka with pleasure craft. In summer it is popular for those larking in kayaks and swimming. The city, as always, makes a striking backdrop.
No bike ride of the Swan environs is complete without a visit to the elevated Kings Park, Perth’s undisputed pride and joy, splendidly overlooking the Swan River and city. The 400- ha bush-clad park , more than double the size of Christchurch’s
Hagley Park, has memorials to aboriginal people and pioneer
women as well as the Western Australian State War Memorial.
At its centre is the 17-ha Botanic Gardens. Kings Park can be explored pedalling along quiet roads and shared paths. I finish my ride descending to Barrack Street ferry terminal. I know of a couple of bars for a refreshing pint. My around-the-Swan ride has clocked 30 km.