How much should we spend to get cycling up to 5 per cent of trips?

Melbourne’s weather is poor. It rains often. The city is huge – 100 km from edge to edge – and vast swathes of it are covered in the kind of densely packed contour lines that make cyclists legs tremble.

In winter, Melbourne’s cycling community shrinks by over a third.


On days like today I suspect the number of cyclists is far smaller.


In short, Melbourne will never be the sort of city where 50 per cent of trips are possible by bike. Cycling (and walking) will never ever do the “heavy lifting” in our transport mix. That role will always be split between public transport and private motorised transport.

At the moment, the mode share split between these three is:

Source: 2011 census

And the trends are these:

Cycling is growing fast, more than doubling in eight years.:

Source: VicRoads

Public transport growth has been its highest in sixty years, with train travel accounting for most of the increase:

Source: PTV

And vehicle kilometres have surged on freeways, while not increasing on arterial roads.

Source: VicRoads

Expenditure on specific infrastructure looks like this:

Nationwide, spending on cycling is $112.8 million. Spending on roads is over 100 times more, at $18 billion.

Source: BITRE

The data is tough to aggregate, but one estimate is that roads get four times the investment of public transport.

All the modes are growing. How do we decide what the data means? And why not let the market decide what modes live or die?

The answer to the second question is that transport is going to be a centrally planned space until we can charge users per kilometre.

Public roads built to accommodate cars push the whole investment process into the world of “second-best.” If subsidising roads is a given, subsidising public transport can be efficient. Subsidising public transport makes policy makers wonder if there are other, cheaper ways to move people around, like bikes.

So if we’re going to be centrally planning our transport mix, we must ask: do we like the current 78/17/5 mix?

I’d argue we should not. I’d argue we should be aiming to grow the share of modes that have fewer negative externalities and greater returns to scale.

I’d hazard a guess that for Melbourne, 10 per cent share evenly split between walking and bike, 30 per cent for public transport, and 60 per cent for cars would be optimal.

Does that mean we should start spending 10 per cent of infrastructure funding on active modes, 30 per cent on public transport and 60 per cent on cars?

Only if we want to move very very slowly.


Infrastructure lasts a long time. That means the stock of existing infrastructure is the single biggest determinant of infrastructure in five years time. Marginal changes in expenditure rates affect outcomes only very gently. If we want to effect change, we need to tip the scales massively in favour of the modes we want to grow, in the short term.

That means that announcements like $650,000 for changes to a cycling bridge in Melbourne’s west should not be cause for widespread congratulation.

In the short term, we could probably usefully spend 60 per cent of the transport infrastructure budget on public transport and 15 per cent on active modes. If we did that for a few years, we would move swiftly towards the outcomes we want, before returning to a “maintenance” split, where expenditure is based on usage.

Spending even $500 million a year on bicycle infrastructure might seem like a lot when the recent budget has been around $30 million. But when you look at what passes for “bicycle infrastructure” and imagine replacing it with global quality bicycle infrastructure, it would be a drop in the ocean.

“Bike boxes” were the sine qua non of Melbourne bicycle infrastructure innovation just a few years ago.

I don’t imagine gold-plated bicycle infrastructure should go everywhere. Far from it. Cycling infrastructure should be optimised in the areas where cycling can thrive, likely to be areas that already see some bicycle traffic. Fixing missing links, creating Copenhagen lanes on major on-road routes, plus widening and lighting off-street bicycle paths would be the top three priorities.

If we want to increase the share of some modes, we need to be bold about throwing money at them, and not be afraid to acknowledge that such a move comes at the expense of other modes.

If the Contador positive proves anything it is this…

I don’t intend to get into all the details. But it seems as though something was in Contador’s blood that should not have been.

However, I do plan to hypothesis the source of the positive test, because many in the cycling media seem to be unable to make this connection. But first, here is a grab bag of quotes from Contador’s defenders:

(1) The amount was so small that it could not possibly have a benefit.

(2) Taking such a drug at such a late stage in the race could not possibly have a benefit.

(3) The drug was not present in any other samples during the race. This must be an anomaly.

(4) Why would I take a drug that is so easily detected?

I believe that Contador did not take the drug during the race. But he almost certainly popped a couple of blood bags into his arm on one or two occasions.

That is the most likely source of these trace amounts.

As a bit of history, when Floyd Landis was charged with doping testosterone in the 2006 Tour de France. His defenders made these exact claims. Testosterone is the sort of drug you take in training to boost muscle growth, you don’t take it midway through a race. I have since read that Landis, although admitting to doping throughout his career, still claims to have no idea what caused his testosterone positive during the 2006 race.

Since the positive test is irrefutable, because Landis’ sample contained what is undoubtedly synthetic testosterone. Landis is right to ask “where did it come from?”, the impolite response is “Blood doping, fool!”

Blood doping with your own blood is virtually undetectable. It is probably the safest way to dope these days. But you must be organised, because you need to build up a stockpile of blood for your use in the future. I am sure that people who are smart and have good advice, ensure that there blood bags are nice and clean. But, if a few of your bags go sour, you might need to grab some from an older batch, when perhaps you were not as careful.

Contador has ridden for a number of teams where blood doping was commonplace (Liberty Seguros, Discovery, Astana). I am willing to accept that the contaminated meat theory might be true, but I think contaminated blood bags is far more likely.

Putting the word out for a Lance Armstrong YouTube montage

As you may be aware, Lance Armstrong lost almost 12 minutes to his general classification adversaries on Sunday’s mountainous Le Tour stage. Dreams of an eighth overall victory have evaporated. Continue reading Putting the word out for a Lance Armstrong YouTube montage

Crashes are cycling’s yellow card

Wouldn’t it be great if soccer matches were decided only by skill and ability? But dives and handballs are inevitable when 22 dudes are making split-second decisions with the single objective of maximising their team’s chance of winning. Continue reading Crashes are cycling’s yellow card

Cycling, not so dopey?

Ivan Basso won Sunday’s Giro d’Italia stage which finished with a climb up the hugely steep Monte Zoncolan.

Monte Zoncolon profile

Basso’s time for the 10.1 kilometer climb was 1 minute and 45 seconds slower than the previous occasion it was climbed in the Giro. The winner of that stage (in 2007) was Gilberto Simoni from Saunier Duval, a team with a history of doping its riders up to the eyeballs.

Sounds like an improvement to me.

The hardest thing you can do on a bike

Shàngshān róngyì xiàshān nán.

This is a Chinese proverb that means “going uphill is easy, going downhill is hard”. To all the cyclists out there that like to coast the downhills, this will probably come as a surprise. Racing flat-out down a technical descent is the hardest thing you can do on a bike.
Continue reading The hardest thing you can do on a bike

Cadel Winner! And Salute Style Update

Cadel working on his victory salute
Cadel Evans wins stage seven of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

TTTE EXCLUSIVE: Cadel Evans wins filthy stage seven of the Giro and improves salute!

He is still persevering with the pointing, but at least both hands are in the air at the same time!

My Foolproof Diet Trick – WWBD?

As you may be aware, my fellow locomotive engineer has recently admitted to driving the morning express to Fattytown.

Since excessive weight gain is not conducive to the raison d’etre of this blog, which of course is to get girls, I feel compelled to lend a hand by offering my foolproof (or fool-something) diet trick.


This is Bjarne Riis. He won Le Tour in 1996. As you can see by the photo, he was seriously skinny in those days. If you ride 50,000km each year, you can eat whatever you please.

He was also seriously full of red blood cells.

Can you spell E-R-Y-T-H-R-O-P-O-I-E-T-I-N?

Post retirement from professional racing, Bjarne started managing a cycling team. He spent most days hanging around with people who eat a lot.

“Bjarne, would you like another pastry?”

“Don’t mind if I do!”

Bjarne stacked on a few kilograms.

In the photo on the right, a concerned Frank Schleck looks on as Bjarne behaves like a jolly fat man. Continue reading My Foolproof Diet Trick – WWBD?

Whoop! Whoop! Go Cadel, but can you work on your salute?

Cadel Evans wins the Fleche Wallonne in the World Champion’s jersey! (Head to minute 9 for the finish).

I am very happy that he is continuing the transition from whiner to attacker! And even sometimes WINNER!

But, can he improve his victory salute? Continue reading Whoop! Whoop! Go Cadel, but can you work on your salute?

“And now no-one does not believe that Armstrong will not win this year’s Tour de France” – Thomas’ tribute to professional cycling and Phil Liggett

I am really looking forward to the professional cycling season kick off Continue reading “And now no-one does not believe that Armstrong will not win this year’s Tour de France” – Thomas’ tribute to professional cycling and Phil Liggett

Does this man hate cyclists? The inaugural Thomasthethinkengine interview.

The debate regarding cyclists’ rights and responsibilities continues. On the one hand the ‘vehicularists’ believe cyclists should behave (and be treated) like cars – on the other hand – (the inexplicably named) ‘facilitators’ believe cyclists should take advantage of their unique attributes and since ultimately it is their own safety at stake, they should feel free to bend the rules at their discretion. You can read more about these various views here.

Today this debate will take a new direction, by considering the input of another road user. In order to protect his identity, we will call him Gerald. Continue reading Does this man hate cyclists? The inaugural Thomasthethinkengine interview.

Campaign: Ride like you walk!

I ride a lot.  When I ride for fun,  I wear sports clothes, avoid the city, and go fast.

I also ride to get to places, and when I do, I wear the clothes I want to wear at my destination.  Sometimes this means I’m riding in jeans, sometimes I’m wearing a suit, sometimes boardshorts and thongs (i.e. flip-flops).

And when I’m riding in my suit, people go past me.   I want to tell them it’s not a race, I’m not playing your game, I’m not even trying.  But they looks so smug.

Continue reading Campaign: Ride like you walk!

Riders’ rights and responsibilities – have your say.

There’s a fight going on between the ‘vehicularists’ and the ‘facilitators’.

These are not like the crips and the bloods,

or even the sharks and the jets.

Continue reading Riders’ rights and responsibilities – have your say.

NFL, AFL, cycling and helmets.

Malcolm Gladwell has written an article in the New Yorker that makes me think about cycling. The article is about American Football (NFL) players suffering brain injuries. They have a heap of head-on collisions that cause major damage to their brains. In both training and games, they regularly suffer impacts equivalent to decelerations of around 100 G-force.

NFL players report a rate of dementia 5 times that of the rest of the population. Continue reading NFL, AFL, cycling and helmets.

Berkeley – A good place to cycle

Bicycle boulevard

Rather than cram bicycle lanes onto main thoroughfares and roads that are a little too narrow, the Berkeley Council has taken another approach. Continue reading Berkeley – A good place to cycle

Keeping a lid on it?

I like my head the way it is. So I like to wear my bicycle helmet – it makes my head feel safe. But I did a quick google and the statistics say the helmet does Jack. Mandatory helmet laws might even be dangerous. WTF?!

broken helmet Continue reading Keeping a lid on it?

With great power comes great responsibility

Riding a bike in the city is like being a superhero. Faster than a speeding bullet, the cyclist runs red lights, pops up on the pavement, goes on the wrong side of the road, rides between the tram tracks and scoots past cars in the gutter. We have total freedom and maximum convenience. With our moral righteousness, high speeds and vigilante contempt for the strictures of society, our 21-speeds feel like the batmobile. Continue reading With great power comes great responsibility