Bicycle NSW History

Many thanks to Neil Irvine for compiling the information below…

Bicycle NSW was originally named “The Bicycle Institute of NSW” and was founded in 1976 to advocate for the use of bicycles for transport.  Over the years, Bicycle NSW has run many events, published many magazine editions and lobbied Government (advocacy) in many ways, all with the goal of creating a better environment for cycling.

At a time of oil crises and imminent global environmental disaster in the mid-1970s, the cycling movement was vocal but fragmented.  A group was needed to focus on bicycles for transport.  Bicycle NSW, officially founded as “The Bicycle Institute of NSW”, was born out of a May 1976 meeting of cycling advocates at Science House in Gloucester St, Sydney.

The meeting, chaired by cycling promoter Phill Bates (later of Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic fame), included other luminaries such as then-Associate Professor Elias Duek-Cohen of the Town Planning Department at UNSW, an enthusiastic champion of government spending to promote cycling, fellow academic John Ross and film-maker Pat Fiske.

The Bicycle Institute of NSW was announced to the world in a fitting way through a bicycle ride from the City to Vaucluse which was led by Andy Fitzsimons, the first president of the BINSW.  Pat Fiske became the organisation’s first Treasurer while long-time bicycle advocate, cycling magazine publisher and now sustainable transport consultant, Warren Salomon, served as its second president during 1977-78.

Early members of the BINSW Committee (forerunner to the Board) included Don Morison (spokesperson), Pierre Prigent, Wilf Hilder (who compiled detailed commuter routes, many of which later formed the backbone of various bikeplans), Kathy Conroy (a long serving volunteer and, later, employee who looked after financial matters), Fred Renneberg and Marie Zuvich.

An early member and subsequent BINSW President, Clive Lackey, recalls bicycle lobbying in the ’70s: “I first encountered the cycle lobby in about 1976 when I joined in one of several regular demonstration rides around the Sydney CBD after office hours.  The rides would inevitably end somewhere like The Domain, at which point it never seemed clear who had organised the ride or what they wanted, other than the usual, ‘What do we want? Cycleways! When do we want them? Now!!'”

Things didn’t seem to gather much of a momentum until a large sunny Sunday rally at which Don Morison was BINSW spokesman.  At that rally (c. 1980), Neville Wran announced that a million dollars would be spent on NSW cycling projects over the next three years.  He even got a round of applause for such a pittance!

Early in BINSW’s life, Professor Duek-Cohen raised the idea of a continuous bicycle route between the Queensland and Victorian borders, to serve coastal communities and to encourage cycle tourism.  A major early connection was achieved with the conversion of the disused railway bridge between Oatley and Como, south of Sydney, into a pedestrian/cycle facility.  Sections of cycle route avoiding the Pacific and Princes Highways now exist in many places.

In 1989, BINSW became the Bicycle Institute of New South Wales Incorporated, a non-profit association.  In 1994, the organisation shortened its name, becoming simply Bicycle NSW.

People

BNSW’s first office was a small room in the “Environment Centre”, then home of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, at 399 Pitt St, Sydney, now site of the World Square building. The fledgling organisation’s day-to-day work was carried out by young volunteer activists who survived on various part-time jobs. Pierre Prigent and Charlie Vassel ran the office, which expanded over the first few years to take a full floor.  The office seemed a little scruffy, but Pierre and Charlie were extremely knowledgeable and helped many people get started on their journey into the world of bicycles.

Tuesday evening was volunteer night.  The volunteers included Russ Webber, Ray Pantlin, Maurice Stanton, Fred Renneberg, John Kalkandis, Mishka Davies, Michael Blackman and Russell Moore, who recalls riding there and back on many Tuesdays from Green Valley, a round trip of about 80km. Clive Lackey told drily amusing anecdotes (like the one about winning a cross-office cycling event against 1988 Seoul Olympian Martin Vinnicombe).  Russ Webber displayed a single-minded passion for improving cycling conditions which has still not dimmed in the ensuing 30 years.

The late, great bushwalker and ride leader Wilf Hilder occasionally appeared in the office but was most fondly remembered for leading rides that examined every feature capable of being improved for cyclists.  Such was the detail of the infrastructure examination that the rides became more of a crawl.

In 1978, after lobbying from BINSW and the Newcastle Cycleways Movement, the NSW Government formed the State Bicycle Advisory Committee.  Don Morison, then a Masters student at USyd studying the integration of bicycles and motor traffic, became the first and then only representative of cyclists and BINSW on the committee, among members of government agencies such as the Traffic Authority and the Department of Sport and Recreation.

Although cycling activists were soon on first name terms with Minister for Transport, Peter Cox, and senior public servants, progress in the early years was slow.  The main challenges were the establishment of a Newcastle Bikeplan as a pilot program for the state and the establishemnt of a bike route between South Dowling St, Moore Park, and the University of NSW.  The latter was completed in the early 1980s and is largely unchanged since.

Around that time, more local bicycle groups, the precursors of BUGS (bicycle user groups), began spawning and lobbying for bicycle plans.  Over the Christmas holidays of 1981/82, Neil Irvine, Clive Lackey and Alethea Morison surveyed routes for the first North Shore Bike Plan, covering Mosman, North Sydney, Willoughby and Lane Cove, an early lobbying project for the incipient North Shore Bicycle Group.

Cycling was changing rapidly and the BINSW was a hub for learning about innovations in cycling and cycling technologies.  The BINSW itself needed to stay in the forefront of technological change.  The person mainly responsible for bringing the organisation into the computer age was John Sutherland.  In the early ’80s, he laboured for long hours after work setting up a database system to keep track of the burgeoning membership, financial records and essential information, as well as a back-up procedure to keep this vital data secure.  John also served a term as BINSW president.

Alethea Morison became BINSW President in 1984 and saw the arrival of mountain biking in Australia.  The mountain biking craze took off with the BINSW fostered its growth through Push On which covered en early national championships held at Oxford Falls in 1986.

The US champion John Tomac came to Australia in 1992 and David Barnes photographed him leaping his bike off the Opera House steps.  In the early 90s, Alethea remembers Steve Nesbitt, owner of Cranks Bike Shop, Roseville, a firm BINSW supporter, coming into the office and telling us about the discovery of a sensational 17-year-old mountain biker who would put Australia on the map, some kid called Cadel Evans. “Cadel”, Alethea thought. “What an odd name…”

In the same period triathlons had arrived and taken off in Australia and people were flocking to take part or just adopt the gear, like tri-bars and camelbaks.  These were popular with the growing number of BINSW members attracted to long-distance Audax rides. As well as the transport, recreational and sporting base of cycling growing and diversifying through the ’80s and 90s, Australia and BINSW were absorbing many new concepts in cycleplanning from overseas to improve conditions for all 2-wheel converts.

With Russ Webber championing world’s best practice in cycleplanning, he and other members attended a growing number of national and international conferences, studying the wisdom of gurus like Werner Brog including the Five Es of bicycle planning (Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement and Evaluation) and learning a new lexicon with phrases like “dual-mode commuting” and “end-of-trip” facilities.

Rides

Running rides and promoting other organisation’s rides has always been an essential part of Bicycle NSW.  The rides that Bicycle NSW has run over the years have varied from long expeditions in rural NSW designed for serious cyclists to short family-oriented rides that aim to widen the market of bicycle users in NSW. 

The Rides Calendar
BINSW produced a popular Rides Calendar which eventually became a lift-out in the centre of Push On and which, today, allows keen cyclists everywhere in NSW to contribute to a ride program which encourages cycling all over the state. One of the first calendars was a separate poster-sized sheet, dated late ’77/early ’78.  It listed activities such as:

  • a two-day (overnight) ride from Penrith to Springwood and on to Richmond, run by Alan Greene;
  • a late-August three-day tour in the Cooma area, run by Warren Salomon;
  • a women-only five-day tour around Dorrigo/Armidale in September, run by Diana Whitehead;
  • The Green Valley Century ride run by Russell Moore;
  • a border ranges 10-day tour, run by Warren Salomon;
  • a southern highlands weekend tour, also run by Warren;
  • The Down-to-Earth-Festival Ride to Canberra, again run by Warren;
  • and a four-day Hunter Valley tour over the Australia day weekend, run by… yes, Warren.

The BINSW also held touring group meetings at 310 Abercrombie St, Chippendale, also hosted by Warren.  Later, Warren served on the BNSW committee from 1990 to 1993 and was Executive Director of BNSW from 1993 to 1997

The Green Valley Century Ride
The Green Valley Century Ride began in 1976, straight after organiser Russell Moore had ridden the “BikeCentennial Trail” across the USA as part of that country’s bicentenary celebrations.  For the first two years it was run as a 50/100/160km event, hence the “century”, as it offered both 100 kilometres and 100 miles options.  In 1978 it became the Green Valley Twin Century, with courses of 50, 100, 150 and 200km.  The first few GVTCs started at the Green Valley Community Centre, Miller, before moving to Green Valley Primary School until the late ’80s, when it moved again to Bigge Park, Liverpool, to be closer to trains for participants from far afield.  In the mid ’90s it moved to Campbelltown, with a name change to the Highlands Double Hundred, reflecting a new route.  Increasing traffic and organisational hassles eventually led to its demise.

The Great Eastern Australian Rally
Russell Moore first organised GEAR (the Great Eastern Australian Rally) over Easter 1987.  Modelled on multi-day overseas events such as the Great Canadian Bicycle Rally (which Russell rode in 1983 in Ontario), it offered a variety of rides that set off from a base camp in Centennial Park, Bowral.  It stayed there for five years, before moving, in 1992, to nearby Chevalier College, Burradoo.  The GEAR continued after 1995 without the involvement of BINSW.  Because participant numbers were falling, 1999’s GEAR held at Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley, was the event’s last hurrah.

The Big Ride
Bicycle NSW began running the Big NSW Bike Ride series in 1991.  The Big Rides attracted up to 2000 cyclists each year for a 9-day tour, or sometimes longer, on different routes across the state.

Some of the varied routes took riders from Tweed Heads to Sydney, from Kosciusko to Kiama, from Holbrook to Binalong with a rest stop in Tumut, and in a figure-of-eight pattern from Taree to Taree with a rest stop in Port Macquarie.  The last, big ride run by Bicycle NSW in 2008, started in Lithgow, had rest stops in Mudgee and Singleton, and finished in Newcastle.

These large group rides introduced many people to cycling as they were encouraged by their cycling friends to come along and join the fun. They also brought much-needed tourism revenue to NSW regional areas – the sudden influx of riders and support crew often outnumbered towns’ populations.

Townsfolk, too, were introduced to that unique group of people – cyclists – and many people in these towns took up cycling as a result.  After-ride surveys indicated that many cyclists, once introduced to regional areas, returned to those areas with their families at later times.

The Spring Cycle
The Spring Cycle was first run in 1984 as the Sydney Spring Cycle. Starting in Hyde Park the ride headed north over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, stopping at Lane Cove River Park before making its way into Parramatta Park – a vastly different ride to what we see today.  In 1996, the Spring Cycle moved its start location from the city to North Sydney which has remained the iconic start location for the ride for the past 17 years.

Throughout the 80’s and 90’s the Spring Cycle took on many different names including the Panasonic Sydney Spring Cycle, 2UW Sydney Spring Cycle, RTA Sydney Spring Cycle, Portfolio Partners Spring Cycle and Panthers Big Sydney Bike Ride to name a few.

For the first time in 2005, the Portfolio Partners Spring Cycle moved the finish line to the world famous Sydney Olympic Park, showcasing the facilities and parklands that gained international exposure during the 2000 Olympics.  Sydney Olympic Park quickly became the perfect finish site for the iconic Spring Cycle and has remained the major finish location for the past 8 years.

2011 saw the introduction of the City Ride, an amazing 15km route that wandered its way through Sydney iconic landscape, crossing the harbour bridge, gently rolling down the Cahill express way, through the botanic gardens and the City, finishing at Pyrmont. The City Ride brought with it thousands of young cyclists and first timers to the Spring Cycle experience.

Today, the Spring Cycle attracts around 10,000 riders annually and is Sydney’s landmark cycling event.  It provides safe cycling conditions and allows a broad range of riders both young and old to experience some of Sydney’s iconic landmarks such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Mrs Macquarie’s Point.

For more information about the Spring Cycle check out www.springcycle.com.au

Advocacy

To the frustration of commuters and racers alike in the 1980s, cycling was being largely ignored by government.  In 1983, Clive Lackey (the president of BINSW) and Phill Bates (from the NSW Amateur Cyclists’ Union) organised the inaugural ‘Centenary Cycle’ celebration to get the racing and commuter communities together to reinforce lobbying efforts.

In the same year, the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic (CBCC) from Brisbane to Sydney was first run.  The joint impact of the CBCC, which was the biggest cycling event in the country, and the Centenary Cycle served to raise the profile of cycling enormously for the first time in decades.  Push On first hit news stands with its 52-page ‘Centenary Cycle’ issue [October–November 1983].

When Clive became BINSW president in 1982 he concentrated on having the organisation seen as a valid road user group.  He knew that without a media profile a lobby group has no political profile.  He therefore set about raising the profile of the organisation to the point where the media saw BINSW as a valid road user group long before government did.

Clive promoted the bicycle as a vehicle that could be used to train young people about road use before they were old enough to drive a car, a concept that is as valid today as it was in the 1980’s.

This effort culminated in the BINSW submission to the May 1984 NSW Road Safety Conference which received backing from Transport Minister Barrie Unsworth as the basis for his government’s approach to road safety.  The BINSW submission led to the development of a number of groundbreaking projects for the time.

Clive negotiated a major east-west link across the western suburbs called the Parramatta Valley Cycleway (PVC).  The PVC was opened in 1991 by Wal Murray, then deputy premier and Minister for Roads.  Clive then compiled a submission proposing a link from the PVC to Botany Bay, incorporating the Bay to Bay Walk.

The Keating Government had just launched the Building Better Cities (BBC) program to fund cycling facilities, among other things.  With RTA engineers looking for a project to build under BBC, the project connected up many short cycleways scattered throughout the suburbs of Sydney. When the key link opened in 1994, it formed a connection in cycleroutes from the Hawkesbury to Port Hacking avoiding busy roads.

 

It was not all growth and positive progress.  S-lanes were introduced in the ’80s and BINSW had to fight for “bike-safe” S-lanes which had mixed results.  It was also a constant battle to acquire funds for the cycling budget.  Some other memories of the battles with bureaucracy are too painful to mention.

Leichhardt Bicycle User Group (LBUG) supremo and former BNSW president, Bob Moore, remembers the enthusiasm in the run up to the Olympics, where BNSW had high hopes that ORTA would build a network of cycling routes to the venues or at least really encourage cycling to the venues.  Unfortunately not a lot was achieved after many meetings although the long term goal of making Bicentennial and Millennium Parks into cycling “Meccas” helped improve local cycling infrastructure.  This also encouraged cycling in the area from Parramatta to Concord, and helped open up Rooty Hill, Blacktown and Western Sydney Regional Park to cycling.

Publications

Pierre Prigent, who at the start of the 80s was the heart and brain of BINSW, decided that the key to recruiting more members and building a strong cycling community lay in better communication via a magazine.

Push On magazine was born, taking its name from a film produced in 1975 by Pat Fiske.  The film had featured a bike rally across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on Public Transport Day in August 1975.  By late 1983 it had grown into a 52-page newsagency-circulating magazine with a colour cover.

Push On grew along with the organisation.  It was produced by a group of enthusiasts including co-ordinator Clive Lackey, writer Alethea Morison, editor Neil Irvine, product reviewer Stephen Poole, layout artist Michael Wilkie, photographer David Barnes, tech drawer Garry Weicks, artists Mishka Davies and Jan Gillbank, typists Ellen McFarlane and Mary Johnson, cartoonists Phil Somerville and the late Graham Wade, and proofreader Cheryl Williams, along with regular contributors including Wilf Hilder whose specialty was cycling commuter routes.

Early on it was largely delivered to members by a small army of volunteer “pedal posties”.  Push On was also delivered to all members of the NSW Parliament and, in October 1983, began circulating in newsagencies.

In 1989, Push On morphed into the nationally circulating Australian Cyclist magazine, while the name Push On was retained for a stitched-in insert for members only.

As Features Editor of Australian Cyclist, one of Alethea Morison’s main tasks was to run articles about cycling’s environmental benefits and how countries like the Netherlands and even the US were making sustainable transport planning mainstream Government policy. Victoria’s Alan Parker supported this effort through his own research and experiences, providing a huge volume of knowledge-dense material.

BINSW’s first office in Pitt St was cramped and haphazardly stuffed with donated furniture and carpet remnants.  The volunteer staff would work late into the night after finishing their “day-jobs” to complete many tasks such as letter stuffing and magazine production.  The basic production facilities in Push On’s pre-computer days required stories to be laboriously entered into a rented memory typewriter before all the text was laid out in galleys and gummed to layout sheets by hand.

Sometimes someone would trip on a cord, unplugging the memory typewriter, and bodies would hit the deck, scrambling madly to plug it back in before an article, or several, were lost from memory as the flywheel spun down.  Or, during layout, corrections (individual words or letters on tiny bits of paper) would get lost among the carpet remnants.  One way or another, a lot of time was spent in close contact with the carpet remnants.  Sometimes it was too late to bother going home and the volunteers would sleep on them.