Bike vs car: What’s the fastest way through the city? | Continental Car Lab

It’s a face-off between pedal power and horsepower as we try to find the quickest way to cross the city

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There’s no denying the fact that Australian cities are becoming larger and our road networks are getting more congested because of it.

At the last census, 9.2 million Australians reported travelling to work everyday and a whopping 80 percent of them used their cars to get there.

In Melbourne, nearly 400,000 people travel to the city on an average weekday to conduct work, and that number is set to grow to over 500,000 by 2030.

Sydney already has over half a million people working in its city everyday and only a very small minority live there as well thanks to the prohibitive cost of inner-city real estate.

It may be for that reason then that alternative modes of transport like cycling are experiencing a resurgence in popularity as commuters try to find a quicker and greener way to get to work.

It’s that impetus that got us at the WhichCar office wondering… what would be a quicker way to cross Melbourne in the morning? 

We polled the office to get a gauge on just which method consensus thinks would be the fastest – riding a bike or battling the traffic in a car. Surprisingly most decided the bike would win out, but we decided to put the idea to the test. 

Originally the bike was to be piloted by avid cyclist and WhichCar editor Tim Robson, but scheduling conflicts deemed that the bike would be ridden by yours truly. Disclaimer: it has been some time since I’ve been on a bike, though I gave it my all in earnest!

WhichCar journalist Tony O’Kane took the wheel of the car, and although it was a quick Mini Cooper S Clubman JCW, he could only go as fast as the traffic and speed limit would allow. 

The race was set from the Melbourne Botanical Gardens to the Studley Park Boathouse in Kew, a distance of six kilometres.

The odds may seem to be stacked in Tony’s favour from the get-go, but while Tony had to stick to roads, I was allowed to cut through parkways and be smart about finding the path of least resistance.

Tony also had two brief on-foot sprints away from the start line and towards the finish line, further evening out the odds.

After a quick look at the route I was meant to take and Tony tied his running shoes, Cameraman Sean Lander shouted ‘GO!’ and away we went.

I immediately set-off at full pace, a rookie mistake I soon found as I came to find a sizeable hill after rounding a corner that I was already out of puff for.

In any case, I knew Tony would have to muck around with running to his car, get inside and manoeuvre out of his tight parking space all the while I was making sweet progress across the Yarra River and into Richmond. 

None of the interactions in which Tony spots me on camera are planned, and I was surprised that we crossed paths more than a couple times.

Tony quickly took the lead while we were both heading north on Punt Road, but he was unable to cut east as soon as I could and had to overshoot the turn-off where I could just cross the road at the lights like a law-abiding citizen.

Running through the backstreets of East Richmond was my time to shine, while Tony had to make-do with the slow-moving traffic. 

Once again Tony and I crossed paths as we were both nearing the finish line, which was surprising to me as I figured he’d either be well ahead or far behind.  

As we both descended on the Studley Park Boathouse I had the finish line in sight, just as Tony swooped in from a more approachable angle to take the flag.

You can see from the video that we were both surprised to have finished so close, but it was Tony and therefore the car that won the race over the bike and I.

Five ways cyclists and drivers can get along better

Many ‘what if’ scenarios were suggested in the aftermath, such as ‘what if we had had a practice run?’ or ‘what if the race was held closer to rush hour?’ but in the end we settled on the fact that either option could win under different circumstances.

At the end of the day, the fact that I was tired, cold and sweaty and Tony was warm and ready for a day of work led us both to decide to take the car on the way home.

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