Thursday, January 13, 2011

Biking the Brisbane Floods: Post-apocalyptic cycling

Pointing at stuff on the flooded Brisbane River

We've saved the best for first
Let's put it out there right away - this morning's ride was easily the best ride we'll ever have.  And that's what we realised at the time - I'm sure with the benefit of hindsight the magnitude of what we saw and where we rode will sink in, and it will cement it's place in history as the greatest ride in the cosmosphere.  Of course that's just us hyping it excessively - the only way this blog can go now is down the slippery slope of underwhelmed disappointment, but here goes anyway...

Where the floody hell are ya?
To the set the scene: This week Brisbane, city of 2 million people, got smashed by the worst floods in a very long time.  Lives were lost, whole suburbs were inundated, houses swept away - in short, very bad times now and ahead for the city.  The flood waters peaked this morning, and media reports were telling us that parts of the central business district were inundated, the middle of the city was a ghost town, and the river was raging, flinging down all manner of debris.  Got up at 0500, roads were dead quiet, so decided to sneak in for a look.

Sunrise over the flooded Brisbane River

Riding into the city was surreal enough to start with.  Roads were virtually empty - we were able to ride pretty much straight down the middle of the main roads without fear or being destroyed by a council bus or errand drunk bogan in a Commodore ute, a rare treat for an early morning ride.  Arriving into the city centre, police had blocked many of the roads, and the CBD was a ghost town.  Silent except for the birds, and the oddly quiet sound of the river raging away.

Deserted streets of the CBD

The chances of finding a coffee shop are slim

Gallery of Modern Art - right by the riverside

The destruction was mind-boggling.  It was all there in plain view, but it was so surreal it just didn't make any sense.  But what did make a lot of sense was in the car-free streets and riverside expressway, was that the bicycle was prevailing!  There were literally hundreds of people from all walks of life, on all types of bikes, riding around quietly looking at things, taking photos and generally being awe-struck.  We even spied the usual "hipster" on his "cool" "fixie" ride in front of a crowd to be seen, do an "epic" trackstand while he surveyed the damage, then ride off using the squarest pedal stroke I have seen in a very long time...

How to be good and stuff at pedalling

Velotown Heights
The car-free metropolis took a bit of getting used to at first, but once in the swing of things, myself, Jer and hundreds of other cyclists were enjoying some once in a lifetime forbidden delights - riding the wrong way down the empty Riverside Expressway, riding along footpaths and through red lights in the CBD, tearing up and down the ICB ramps, all the while waving at the smiling police.  I was chatting to one cop and at one point and his thoughts on all the cycling sight-seeing was "It must be awesome riding around here looking at this, you guys would be able to see so much stuff people wouldn't normally be able to see!".  He certainly was right - this morning all the empty rhetoric the council tries to promote about Brisbane being a "cycle friendly city" actually came true for a few sweet cycling hours, at a very hefty cost though mind you...

Shooting the rapids
Of course never far from this blissful morning dawdle around a deserted city was the angry, muddy, stinking bastard known as the Brisbane River.  All manner of stuff was shooting past at a great rate of knots, pontoons, boats, bins, unidentified stuff.  The awesome power of water was on full display - awesome and deeply terrifying.

Boat stuck on a ferry pontoon

Angry river

As we stood on the ICB bridge, a very busted up yacht that had clearly been underwater a lot on it's journey downstream popped into view and smacked into the new bridge to West End.

Boat smacks into bridge

The boat somehow emerged from the other side of the bridge with the mast intact.  At that point we jumped on our bikes, and rode flat out down the expressway to watch it smash into another bridge, then another, before the mast finally snapped off and the severely damaged vessel shot off downstream.

Doomed yacht

Back into society
Unfortunately all rides must come to an end, so we headed off out of the city, back to an area of the city not affected by floods.  Leaving the car-free zone was a rude awakening, insane traffic, maniac drivers, buses, no room for bikes, all the usual stuff you come to expect cycling in Brisbane, but we had forgotten about it in the few hours of poking around on the city roads doing whatever we pleased.  We were a bit like kids coming home from school camp - after days of swearing and eating chips and running around, we were very quickly forced to stop our silly behaviour and settle down once back into normal society.

Muddy, stinking reflections
Much more will unfold from the flood, emotional, financial and environmental disasters that will continue for long after the waters subside and slip away out of the headlines.  Much will be written about it so I won't dwell on it much, other than to say life in Brisbane is going to be really, really muddy, stinking and generally shithouse for a lot of people for a long time to come. For people wishing to donate to the government flood relief appeal, they can do so here.

Back at home, sitting in the dry, reflecting on the ride, it was clear we had just been on a once in a lifetime cycle, it is unlikely that bikes will ever take over the city in such a way again.  Add to that the completely surreal and numbing destruction, and the  unstoppable juggernaut of water, and it was recipe for an amazing 4 hours of riding that will never be repeated.


  1. Thought this was excellent as - video commentary would be a welcome addition!

  2. Thanks - glad you enjoyed it! There was a fair bit of video taken on the day, but it mainly involved swearing, me asking Jer stupid questions, and a lot of footage of my feet...