With cycling receiving an atypical amount of mainstream press the past fortnight courtesy of two high-profile politicians, Anthony Tan discusses its merits.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

A week ago, it was NSW Labor Premier
Kristina Keneally, demonstrating her prowess on the bike en route to
work, albeit accompanied by a stocky police officer.

Sunday, it
was Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott.

Shortly before 9 p.m.,
when most of us were in front of the box, slouched on the couch and
perhaps thinking about getting up at the crack of dawn for a morning
bike ride before work, 'Sluggo Abbott' crossed the finish line at the
Port Macquarie Ironman.

It took the man who appears as
comfortable in his budgie smugglers as he is when suited up in his
parliamentary couture 13 hours, 57 minutes and one second to complete
the 3.8 kilometre swim, 180km cycle leg and 42km run – which columnist
and radio personality Mike Carlton described as a "curious, simian
shuffle".

Speaking to journalist Laurie Oakes off-air, Queensland
Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce likened Abbott to a "gutted rabbit"
when he got out of the water.

Nice imagery, Barnaby.

I,
admittedly, was impressed by the 52-year-old's feat, whose diet for the
day consisted of Uncle Toby's chocolate-chip muesli bars, Bakers Delight
hot cross buns, four smoked salmon and avocado sandwiches, water, and
sports drink.

Six hours earlier, among a field of 1,500, race
winner Patrick Vernay of New Caledonia completed the same course.

The
cut-off time was midnight Sunday, so technically, Mr Abbott had another
three hours up his sleeve, er, I mean sluggos.

No doubt, though,
he'll need those hours plus more to recover before another week in
Canberra, where Prime Minister Rudd is his daily sparring partner.

After
last week's joust at the National Press Club, where he turned up to a
debate about health without a bee's bum of a policy, Abbott, who won two
blues in boxing while at Oxford, probably wishes his encounters were
physical rather than verbal.

But while talk continues of whether
his weekend was well spent, my question is this: do politicians on bikes
set a good example for the wider cycling community, and therefore
importantly push the need for more urban cycle networks – or does
general dislike and cynicism for pollies exacerbate motorists' already
excessive levels of road rage?

There's definitely a level of
narcissism to Abbott's penchant for photo opportunities when he's
wearing Speedos or in Lycra. "Feigned indignation and lack of anything
substantial to put forward suggest he is all smuggle and no budgie,"
cleverly wrote a Herald reader last Thursday.

Yet, you
have to admit, in a sporting-mad nation that ironically suffers one of
the highest obesity rates in the western world (according to statistics
from the Department of Health, around seven million of us are classified
as overweight or obese), Tony Abbott is leading by example.

And
so is Kristina Keneally.

In addition to the City of Sydney's $76
million, four-year project to build a network of bike paths (onya Clover
Moore), the premier announced the NSW State government would spend $158
million over 10 years on further cycle-related projects aimed at
encouraging more people to ride to work.

Her detractors say that
figure is inadequate to meet the government's goal of a six-fold
increase in cycling trip numbers by 2016.

Said Greens MP Lee
Rhiannon: "Kristina Keneally's love affair with bike riding stops at
allocating sufficient funding to build world-class bike infrastructure
for Sydney and meet the growing enthusiasm for cycling."

While
she may have a minder who can literally stop traffic, at least Ms
Keneally recognises women in particular are discouraged from riding to
work because of the inherent risks.

Bike paths provide a win-win
solution to Sydney's – and increasingly, other Australian cities'
–traffic problems.

Particularly in Mr Abbott's case, it might not
be pretty, but at least they're out there.