One of the great benefits of modern e-bikes is their capacity to keep older people riding, helping them stay active and connected.
But despite their rapidly advancing technology, their improved power assistance and the greater distances they can cover, few people would seriously consider riding an e-bike from one side of Australia to another.
But that’s exactly what septuagenarian – soon to become octogenarian – John Stace has set out to do.
With his 80th birthday looming next year, John liked the sound of an 80-80-80 challenge: 80km per day (or slightly more), for 80 days to traverse the continent before his milestone birthday.
“The vision statement I was giving to people is I was going for a bike ride to see my grandkids … in Sydney more than 4,000km away,” he joked.
He set off from Perth in September, driven by his personal challenge and a broader ambition to help bring better streets for everyone to cycle, walk and live.
As a sideline of his adventure, the retired WA doctor has been raising funds and awareness of the Better Streets campaign, which is gearing up for an official Australian launch at the inaugural Micromobility Conference & Expo in Sydney on 25th and 26th November.
“As a cyclist, I’m incredibly aware of how vulnerable I am on the road and how extremely important it is to provide safe streets for people to cycle.”
John’s daughter Sara is a co-founder of Better Streets in Australia, which she describes as an umbrella organisation of urban planners, traffic authorities and other professionals to help individuals and other groups pursue campaigns for streetscapes that are more conducive to cycling, walking and generally healthier communities.
Based on Better Streets in the UK, the Australian initiative will provide tools and the backing of likeminded people to help community activists approach their local Members, councillors or other decisions makers to push for safer and more inviting streets and neighbourhoods.
John will also be part of the conference, after becoming somewhat of a micromobility champion with his trans-Australian journey.
“As a cyclist, I’m incredibly aware of how vulnerable I am on the road and how extremely important it is to provide safe streets for people to cycle,” he said.
“And that’s with my many years’ experience as a rider.”
“There are fewer people injured on our roads compared to 30 or 40 years ago, because we now have safer cars. But the only improvement for cyclists is we’re required to wear helmets. Which is why we need safer streets.”
He said the idea of doing the Perth to Sydney ride was something that had been “rattling around in my mind for a number of years”.
“The rhythmical theme of 80km for 80 days before I’m 80 just seemed to tie it all together,” he added.
John had initially been planning to do it on a non-electric bike.
“When my kids heard about it, they said you’ve been a good dad and they bought me a very nice electric bike which has big batteries and a number of other features that make it easier to achieve that goal,” he said.
“When I was 12, I was riding my bike to deliver telegrams for the Beecroft post office in Sydney. But during my middle years, I only rode a little.
“I started riding again more significantly when I retired nine years ago and joined a group called Over 55 Cycle Club.”
John said after he’d suffered an aneurysm in his aorta – the main artery from his heart – the e-bike kept alive his trans-Australian dream and taste for adventure.
“Old people are often cast aside with ‘just sit there grandpa, it’s a rocking chair for you”. But if we’re going to stay active and in good health, it’s vital for us to keep moving and to keep having adventures,” according to John who, not content with the challenge of traversing the continent, has also been bush camping each night after a day on the bike.
“I’m lucky enough to still be able to experience those adventures on a bicycle.”
Averaging around 95km per day for 29 days of riding, John had reached Adelaide when flooding throughout much of regional NSW stopped his journey in its tracks last month.
“That much water isn’t good for a bike, so I made the decision to postpone the rest of the ride until NSW dries out a bit,” he said.
John flew on to Sydney for the conference and his highly anticipated time with his grandchildren.
He will resume the ride in autumn or spring next year, depending on whether la nina continues to bring excessive wet conditions to southeastern Australia.
Sara said Better Streets, which will have a stand at the Micromobility Expo, has been created to provide a platform for active groups and individuals throughout Australia to understand how to present their arguments –whether it’s to their local council, school or state government for example.
“People wanting to make a difference in their street or neighbourhood, to make it safer to get their kids to school or simply to make it easier to walk around, often have no idea what to do to push for change,” she said.
“Better Streets is providing basic guidelines and tools created by our members, which include architects and urban designers, transport planners and data specialists.
“We’ve also got people from IT backgrounds, retirees, people from medical professions and a range of academics.”
Sara said Better Streets will also present a united front comprising a variety of organisations, to dispel a common perception that people who push for improved cycling and walking infrastructure are only representative of small, special interest groups.
“When a particular group, like a cycling group or someone interested in walking, approaches something like this they come across as a special interest group that only represents the fringes or margins of society, whereas what we’re showing is a very large proportion of people support this, coming from a lot of different perspectives,” she said.
“As a parent, for example, I ride a cargo bike and drop my kids at school, so the first good thing I’ve done is save the economy on health costs. The second things it’s done is I haven’t taken up car parking spaces at school or added to traffic congestion.
“Then after that, I continue on to work on the bike, and I’d like to have a separated cycleway to ride along. You’re doing a lot of good for society but you also want to have the infrastructure that makes is safe.
“Better streets is bringing all those key issues together, as well as lower traffic speed limits and more pedestrian crossings, because they’re all related.”
Sara said Better Streets members will be on hand at the expo stall to provide further information about the organisation, while looking to boost subscriptions to the Better Streets website.