“I chose cycling because it’s a great way to exercise and it’s good for physical and mental health”: Mayor Byrne talks about why she loves cycling

Mayor of The Hills Shire, Dr Michelle Byrne took up cycling in 2018 to improve her health and get fit after being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. She also wanted to see the great bike paths in the Hills Shire firsthand and enjoy immersing herself in nature. This is what she had to say on cycling in the Hills:

Q: When and why did you start riding a bike?

A: I rode a bike up until my teen years, then other things got in the way. I started riding again in 2018 which was a gap of over 20 years.

I chose cycling because it’s a great way to exercise and it’s good for physical and mental health. When I had my first children (twin girls) I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. It initially disappeared after I gave birth, but unfortunately, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes when my twins were 18 months old. I started having had nightmares about not living long enough to see my children grow up which gave me the push to look after myself and lose weight. It was a real wake-up call. Like so many women, and as a working mum, I tend to put everyone else first, with my own health coming last.

In 2018, I lost 25 kg and reversed my Type 2 Diabetes. It’s such a nasty disease and can cause serious long-term complications like heart attack, stroke, blindness, gangrene, and many people are walking around unaware they have Type 2 Diabetes.  I now eat a low carb, high protein diet and exercise to maintain my health with walking and riding. I believe in all things in moderation and allow myself occasional treats. I still like to enjoy life. When I had another baby in 2019, I was once again diagnosed with gestational diabetes, but this time I was ready for it and it abated after my daughter was born. To this day I remain diabetes-free thanks to lifestyle changes.

The second reason I started riding was that I wanted to understand our cycleway network – find the missing links and talk to others about our paths. The best way to learn about our cycleway network is to actually go and ride them yourself, rather than just looking at them on a map. I wanted to understand firsthand how important they are to our residents and how we can make them even better in the future.

Q: What sort of bike riding do you do?

A: I ride for fitness and exercise. It’s not very practical to commute in my role as Mayor but I like to encourage others.

I love to get out on the bush trails like Fred Caterson Reserve and ride along the creekline and through the bush as well. When I ride, I tend to forget that I’m in one of Sydney’s fastest-growing LGAs. I just enjoy the bush and the freedom of riding.

I also ride on quieter roads to get to the bike paths.

Q: What sort of bike do you ride?

A: I ride a mountain bike because I can take it on a variety of terrain including bumpy bush trails. When I got my bike, I had to learn to use the gears because it’s much more sophisticated than my childhood bikes.

It was great to see more people riding during the COVID-19 pandemic, although I do believe this led to a shortage of bikes.

Q: Where do you like to ride?

A: My preference is to ride on the cycleways that are close to where I live. My favourite place to ride at the moment is through Fred Caterson Reserve, around Caddie’s Creek Reserve as well as around the Norwest Lake and up to Bella Vista Farm. We recently completed Greenway Bridge over Memorial Avenue and once we have filled in a couple of missing links we will be able to ride from Bella Vista Farm all the way out to Rouse Hill.

I also use the cycleways that are close to Council. There are quite a few Council staff who also ride, and it’s great to interact with all types of cyclists.

Q: How often do you ride? Who do you ride with? Are your children or other family members keen riders?

A: I try to get out as often as I can, which is usually once a week. I also like to ride with my kids on the weekend. My twins are 5 years old and they are very fast on their bikes. We particularly like Crestwood Reserve where there’s a learn to ride track which is great for kids. It teaches them about bike safety with stop signs and little roundabouts. It’s great to see my children leading a healthy lifestyle and burning off energy.

Most of the time I ride with my family or with colleagues from Council. I generally don’t ride alone, however when I do, I always meet other cyclists along the way.

Recently I rode with a large community-based cycling group called Bike North on a two-hour ride, covering various parts of the Hills Shire. They were keen to show me issues with missing links and signage on some of our paths, and it was an opportunity for me to see them firsthand. I plan to ride with them again in the future, although I need to improve my fitness to keep up with them!

I’m also keen to get some of my fellow Councillors on bikes and organise some regular rides. I think it’s important for us to see in person a subject that our residents often ask us about.

Q: Why do you ride a bike?

A: I just love the freedom riding a bike brings. I love the wind rushing past my face and interacting with nature. I particularly love riding downhill fast.

Being out in nature, I can really switch off and zone out and enjoy the surroundings and natural beauty. There is so much beautiful bushland in the Hills Shire. It’s not called the ‘Garden Shire’ for nothing.

I also love riding because you can travel large distances in a short period of time. With walking or running it takes time to cover ground, so I prefer cycling. You can see lots of different things in a very short period of time. It Is also an excellent form of exercise and I much prefer it to walking or running.

Q: What makes the Hills Shire a great place to ride a bike?

A: We have an extensive cycle network that caters for all levels of experience.  There is so much natural beauty along the way and there are some really pretty tracks that showcase the Hills as a great place to live, work and play.

One of our priorities as a Council is to get people out of their cars and choosing active transport in order to reduce traffic on our roads. As a result, we are working on connections with public transport. We are also working on improving our cycleway networks for those who choose to ride for leisure rather than as part of their commute to work. One of my aims as Mayor is to encourage our residents to pursue an active and healthy lifestyle and cycling is one of the many ways residents can do that.

Q: How do you think we encourage more people to ride bikes for fitness, leisure, transport, and commuting?

A: We need more infrastructure in place that allows easy and convenient connections with public transport.

We also need to encourage and teach people to ride. If you have 20 or 30 years of not going near a bike, then you need to develop your confidence. You never forget how to ride a bike but you do need to develop skills such as changing gears.

We also need cycleways that suit different levels of cyclist experience and we need to ensure that these cycleways are as safe as possible, especially when it involves riding along the road and not on a dedicated off-road cycleway.

Q: Do you think we need to educate drivers about bike riding?

A: We need to educate both drivers and cyclists about safe road use and interacting with each other. Roads can be dangerous. I’ve seen many near misses involving cyclists.

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