The Great Debate

The Great Debate

Last Updated: 19 Aug 2015
Louise Baxter

Tension between cyclists and motorists is well documented in Perth, and both sides have engaged in the blame game. But with the number of serious crash incidents on the rise, talk is turning to action. So, is change up to the individual or the law? Does Perth need to be more cyclist friendly?


Melissa Robinson, Director at Nicheliving Women's Cycle Initiative.

In Perth, we're fortunate to have well-maintained road surfaces and generous bike paths. It is the minority of road users that makes cycling on the roads dangerous, normally through a lack of education on road rules and the rights of all road users. It's anti-social behaviour from motorists – driving too close, verbal abuse and throwing objects at riders – that makes riding dangerous. On a weekly – if not daily – basis, our group is involved in incidents with vehicles. This is despite us taking as many precautions as possible. Cyclists are vulnerable, outnumbered and easily targeted.

Cyclists span age brackets, fitness levels, ability levels, motivations and gender, but motorists do not discriminate between a beginner rider and an experienced one. Unfortunately, one round of abuse or one close shave is enough for a beginner to leave their bike in the garage.

Media hype, and lack of foresight and direction from all stakeholders to administer a long-term solution to the issues has contributed to the current tension. The focus on cycling safety should be harnessed to encourage positive action from all government and cycling representative bodies. Existing motor vehicle licensing should include a section and assessment on rights and responsibilities of cyclists. We also encourage education for children on cycle safety, because tolerance, understanding and knowledge about road safety begins at an early age.

We support strict liability laws, as figures indicate the majority of cases involving a car and cyclist are eventually deemed the fault of the car driver. The enquiry is
a huge cost to the government and insurance companies. Mandatory liability laws would ideally save money and recognise cyclists as 'at risk' vehicles. All motorists need to see cyclists as permissible – and vulnerable – road users, need to slow down and consider the impact and consequences of their actions. Government needs to encourage tolerance and understanding between all road users and expand education to include cyclists' rights.

Investment in facilities to foster cycling as a sport, and infrastructure to create safer roads and more bike paths, are essential to the future of cycling in Perth.


Simon O'Brien, former WA Transport Minister.

Any road user faces an inherent risk, whether they are motorists, cyclists or pedestrians, and those risks can be ameliorated through better design, constant efforts to improve awareness, and dealing with problem areas when they become apparent.

Cycling in Perth is often compared to other parts of the world, but there is a range of reasons why, historically and culturally, the landscape for cycling is different than in many metropolitan centres. We're working through the pains of a rapidly growing city and how best to accommodate cycling within that. So I don't know the experience in Europe is necessarily applicable across the board in WA. If you do go overseas, where bicycles are used by large numbers of people, it's in a fairly quiet way, in a slow-moving and congested environment. That's quite different from the open roads that cyclists need here in Perth.

The idea of following Europe's lead with strict liability laws (in which motorists would automatically be held responsible for incidents with cyclists) is a debate worth having, but you'd need to have a detailed discussion before going down that track. The reason for my concern is that, wherever you've got a law that provides an absolute response to a situation, you'll inevitably have unforeseen consequences, and cases of injustice. It's not the sort of thing that you can necessarily just legislate and expect to work. What I'd like to see is greater community awareness rather than a punitive action after the fact. That's how you avoid having tragedy on the road. I think it's about everybody taking responsibility – whether you're driving a car or truck, riding a bike or negotiating a pedestrian crossing. If we accept that we've all got a role to play, that we've all got a right to be there, and that we've all got to look out for each other, that cultural change is the way we'll avoid conflict – and worse – on our roads.

Some people don't seem to have the skills to use our roads. I'm strongly in favour of providing training and guidance but not of mandatory training. I believe that parents have a big role to play with their children from an early age, and it's pleasing to see parents on bike paths, clearly teaching their young children what they need to know.

I don't believe that cyclists should require a licence and registration. We want to encourage bike-riders in Perth, and we're not going to do that by putting bureaucratic processes of sanctions in their way. I think there are a lot of benefits
in getting on a pushbike: for personal fitness, for the ease of getting around and commuting, and people doing their bit in reducing road congestion on short journeys. The last thing we want to be doing is putting hurdles in their path to actively discourage people from getting on their bike.


Perth is a pedaller's playground. From city and surf, to rivers and hills, every choice is the scenic route. If you don't want to forge your own path, trek some of these tried and tested trails.

Esplanade to Kings Park
Ride from the CBD via shared bike paths along the relatively flat Swan River foreshore. The terrain gets steep into Kings Park, around Poole Avenue, and Malcolm and Mount streets. There are 400 hectares to explore once you get there.
Distance 3km
Difficulty Low-medium

Around the Rivers
Stretching from Bassendean to Fremantle and splitting the city centre, the Swan River hosts some of our best vantage points. There are plenty of places to stop and start, giving flexibility for a range of riders.
Distance 28km
Difficulty Low

Swan Valley Heritage Cycle Trail
This well-planned route is peppered with informative signs about the area's history. Starting in historic Guildford, coast down West Swan Road, stopping in at wineries, fruit stalls and coffee shops along the way.
Distance 10-15km
Difficulty Low


We spoke to Pearce Selleck from Dismantle's mobile bike-mechanic service about what they encounter most on the road.

What are the most frequent problems you're called out for?
Gears. A lot of people know how to fix their brakes but getting your shift right is a bit more difficult. We replace chains and cassettes a lot. Commuters who ride every day accumulate kilometres very quickly. A bike chain only lasts about 5000km.

Any common mistakes you see?
Low tyre pressure and dirty chains. Both really slow you down. Always use
a bike-specific chain lube: your gear will last longer and your ride will be quieter.

How can cyclists protect themselves on the roads?
Being seen is absolutely paramount. Wear brightly coloured clothing and use good lights. Selecting a cycling friendly route is a close second.

Do you have any favourite bike routes in Perth?
The river loop never gets old. It's just so beautiful. Perth's lack of hills makes
a ride out to Kalamunda exciting.

Where do you go to get your gear?
I think striking a balance between buying online and supporting your local bike shop is important. Shops are where all the knowledge and passion is; that will never get replaced by a website.


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