My first 5,000 km on an electric bike

The Cube’s odometer ticked over 5,000km on the morning of Canberra’s first lockdown in more than 400 days. Thursday 12 August, 2021. I yelled out with excitement, and stopped for a selfie in front of a wattle tree exploding with fresh yellow blossoms. That afternoon, I headed back with my clothes and lunchbox and office-issued laptop shoved into pannier bags, and readied for working from home for the first time since July 2020.

That moment my Cube clocked up 5,000km

I want to try documenting how happy those 5,000km on my Cube Town Hybrid – my main form of transportation in all seasons and weather – have made my days and nights. Days or nights commuting to and from work. Days and nights cruising to the cinema or a restaurant. Days and nights getting groceries, or something from the Bunnings hardware store.

It’s not true to say that every ride has been enjoyable. There have been some mornings when it’s below zero and foggy that I’ve not wanted to go outside. Nights coming back and a storm hits, hail lashes my face, and my glasses are useless. But each time I’ve finished the trip, I’m glad I did it, and left my car at home. 

Yes, I own a big car, a Mitsubishi Outlander Plugin Hybrid electric station wagon, and some days I drive it to work. But driving in the city is not fun, especially commuting. I hate giving money in exchange for a parking space – even in Canberra where parking is far cheaper than Sydney or other big cities. I prefer converting that currency into a cup of coffee, or dark chocolate, or cake. It costs me nothing to park at work, or anywhere else, and less than a cup of coffee to recharge it. I usually turn on the charger before I go to sleep, and forget about it, just like with my mobile phone.

I bought the electric bike in April 2019 as a reward to myself for changing jobs, swapping The Australian National University campus in central Canberra for the commercial district in Deakin (behind Australia’s Parliament House). That job in Deakin was 15km one way on the bike and took about 40 minutes. [It takes 20 minutes to drive if I get a good run].

I’d ridden my Giant mountain bike several times to the new office, but as I live on a hill, the journey each day started and ended with a long hill climb. I’d get to work and need a shower, and get home and need both a shower and a 10-minute rest before recovering the energy to prepare our household’s meals.

Because an e-bike eats hills, I don’t need to rest when I reach my destination. I shower at work, change into the clothes I carry each Monday on my cargo bike, and get on with my day. 

Electric motor noise matters. I’d spent a few weekends testing a dozen bikes from stores in north and south Canberra. Prices ranged from $1,600 for a Shogun to more than $4,000 for a Trek. Some of the bikes sounded like sewing machines. I don’t want to hear the motor. Biking is meant to be pleasurable. The whirring irritated me, especially one particular Merida. The Cube has a Bosch mid-drive motor, and while I can hear it in first or second gear, it’s otherwise very quiet.

Benefits of my e-bike

I’m upright. Not hunched over the ways a mountain bike or racing bike forces you to be. My back is straight. My clothes and other items are in my pannier bags, and air flows around my body.

No need to swing my leg over like on said mountain bike. The Cube has a step-through frame. Some bike shops call them a “European frame.” Whatever. The design is practical for whatever I’m wearing, including a suit. 

I can see flowers and trees and hear birds every day. I can get swooped by magpies in spring, and chased by overly protective Pacific black ducks near the ponds at the Aranda snow gums section of the Canberra nature park. I can see kangaroos lazing on the grass, or grazing in the evening, and share those magical moments on Twitter. I am reminded each trip of what I’m connected to, and what needs to be protected and defended. 

My head is clearer on my bike than when I am traffic. I can think about things I need to do at work, but more often I find myself singing along to whatever’s entered my head. Or I listen to bird song, or just enjoy being outside and having my own time and space before other demands return.

Just because it’s an electric bike, it doesn’t mean there’s no exercise involved. Most e-bikes are pedal-assisted, so if you don’t pedal, there’s no boost. I still puff and pant up hills, especially in winter, as you can here in this video of what was part of my daily 15km/40-minute commute.

Clothing, accessories and equipment

I ride every day, even when it’s raining and below zero. The Finns and Danes ride in actual snow. Canberra rarely experiences snow, so I can’t use that as an excuse.

I usually wear track pants and a few layers in winter, and shorts and T-shirt in summer. I get changed at work. Luckily, my last three workplaces have had showers. If yours doesn’t and you aren’t self-employed, is the boss in an position to provide it? 

In autumn/winter, I wear a high-visibility polyester jacket with reflect strips on the chest and arms because my city’s idea of cycling infrastructure is paint. The most dangerous part of my commute is the 4km between my unit and the C5 bicycle path, so I also use a GoPro mounted on my helmet in case my family needs to prove to police that it was the driver’s fault.

I have two weather-proof pannier backs bought second hand on Gum Tree. In wet weather, I use this Rover rain cape from Cleverhood, a company about which I learned from the consistently excellent podcast, The War on Cars, which I support on Patreon. I recently got these cycling overpants from Decathlon and they’re excellent as they cover my shoes. Before that, I was wearing polyester hiking pants, also from Decathlon.

Getting my Cleverhood With Rainbows look the day a double rainbow appeared over Black Mountain, Canberra, and caused several cyclists and at least half a dozen motorists to stop on Bindubi St and soak up the moment.

I’ve learned the hard way the importance of having spare underwear and a second pair of dry socks at work.

Gloves. Fingerless ones for the warmer months, and thick polyester ones for the colder months. Sometimes earmuffs.

Removable flashing lights front and back, USB rechargeable. One stuck with clear tape into the the back of my night time helmet. A $40 day time helmet with a flat surface for the mount for the GoPro. 

Two bike locks. Patch repair kit. Spare tubes. A small pump. Allen keys. 

All of the above usually live in my pannier bags. On shorter trips I can of course not carry both pannier bags, but sometimes I’ve been caught out, and it’s a drag.


The battery design of the Cube is annoying. The battery attaches to the back of the frame supporting the seat. The battery latch never catches on the first try, and unless you pull it to check, the battery can fall off. It happened once during a lunch time trip into the city. 

The bike is heavy. It weighs at least 25kg. I’ve felt every gram when the battery has run out while I’m climbing Redfern St in Cook. Twice. I’ve since learned that I get far more range keeping the motor in eco mode, the lowest setting, and using tour for hills. I rarely use the sport mode or turbo, the highest setting. 


Can you replace your car commute with a bike? Probably. Most commutes in Australia are under 30km a day. See if a bike suits you, and reduce or negate your expenses like annual registration, insurance and vehicle servicing. 

Canberra’s lockdown will end soon. My commuting will resume. I’m eager for the morning sun on my face, and the sound of currawongs, magpies, and cockatoos in my ears.

Belconnen, 30 August 2021.

Homesickness, 2005-style

Thailand’s former king, viewed from my former balcony, Wittayu Complex, Bangkok.


October 30, 2005

Hello there

Thanks for your concerns about my well being in Thailand’s restive southernmost provinces. I’m heading to Hong Kong on November 22 for a three-day course on how to survive conflict zones. AFP has run several courses before for people volunteering for Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ll likely put my hand up late next year for Kabul, but I’m not interested in Baghdad.

The insurance company has asked AFP to ensure their journalists can handle themselves when things turn ugly, such as police start shooting on a crowd. I’ve learned recently from Newsweek’s Joe Cochrane to smear toothpaste below your eyes when the cops are shooting tear gas around.

I’ll squish a tube in my back pocket when next I head south.

Thoughts on a silent night

Before my pool a bed of light –

Can it be frost upon the ground!

Eyes raised, I see the moon so bright;

Head bent, in homesickness I’m drowned

Li Bai (701-762)

From Songs of the immortals: an anthology of classical Chinese poetry.

(Penguin, 1994)

I am running on fumes. And the tank’s nearly empty.

In four nights’ time, I’ll be stuffed inside an Emirates flight to Sydney.

I’m about to have my first trip home to Australia in more than a year.

Eighteen days’ break – the first time I’ve seen most of my family in 18 months.

And as often happens when I’m nauseous with homesickness, I imagine Australia and my home town to be more rich and vivid – and with journalism job vacancies — than when I grew up there.

And so now I dislike being away, and thinking that none of this is worth it because much has changed to my family and friends since I last saw them.

And now I frown at thinking I’m missing out on my young niece and nephew growing up and discovering the world.

So I consider packing up all my books and music and notepads and moving back to Australia – a regular mood I usually pass through easily.

Except this time it seems far more difficult a hill to trudge up than the others.

This time it’s the toughest because it’s taken so long to get home to Ballina, in New South Wales state.

Before the Bangkok job was offered, I’d head back every April, after covering the Hong Kong rugby sevens for the Standard newspaper.

Once a year was inadequate, but all I could get in a city that does not offer four weeks’ annual leave, the way Australia does today, but may not in a year.

Then, when the Thailand job was mine, they said they needed me urgently, so I kept quiet about wanting to go home.

It didn’t seem sensible to mention my mother was arriving in Hong Kong, and I wanted to be there to see her and her friend.

So I left Hong Kong on the Sunday. Mum arrived that Friday. She couldn’t change her flight at the last minute for Bangkok.

This is my first holiday proper – aside from long weekends – in a year, when I spent a big break in West Africa and Ireland/London.

Day one is breakfast in Sydney before being met by a beautiful girl, Kaos, who’s also timed her trip back with mine.

My wonderful father meets us at the Gold Coast airport for day two, and on to Gabba cricket ground in Brisbane to see Australia play West Indies in the first test. I hope we can argue about John Howard in the car…

The weekend’s with my sister Charm, and the gorgeous Bree and Caelum, including a trip to watch Bree at the local pony club.

Finally, Sunday night in Ballina and my mother’s company, to regale her and dad with my adventures. And then bore them with talk of moving back and trying to live somewhere quiet…

A trip to Broken Hill in western New South Wales, or Mitchell in western Queensland — to get some red dirt under my skin — have been scrapped in favour of seeing more of the land around Ballina and Kaos’ Kountry near Coffs Harbour.

Tired of telling people no, I’m not from Sydney, I now say I’m from Bunjalung country, northern New South Wales. Although I don’t speak a word of Bunjalung, nor know any Bunjalung Aboriginal people any more.

I spent most of my first 19 years growing up there, but hardly explored the southern parts of it. I never once visited Bunjalung national park, and perhaps once briefly saw a bit of Broadwater national park. It’s time I saw both, or Broadwater at the least (if only to help dent my uncle Doug’s likely certain observation that few people visit the park, despite them claiming national parks are vital).

Sentimentality took root in me early. I can still recall the day my cousins and I found an echidna (a spiny ant eater, native to Australia) while playing in the grounds of Lennox Head primary school in the mid 1980s) and picked it up.

And the Aboriginal corroboree ring in the scrub across the road from their house in Stewart Street.

I want to see if the ring is still there, or is now a housing estate, like many of the places we used to play in.

My cousins used to know how to sing the “heads, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes” song in an Aboriginal language, which may have been Bunjalung.

They learned it at Lennox Head school, with its white and green uniform.

It sounded like: “Bo wollygin jindoo ginner, jindoo ginner.”

I wonder how much they remember?

Finally, after catching up with as many friends in Brisbane and Sydney want to meet me, I’m going to Orange to see Nan.

When I spoke with her in August – and asked about what she remembers of the war in the Pacific and Hiroshima ending in 1945 – it made me realize people my age and from a white, middle-class background have nothing to complain about.

Nan married my late grandfather during the war. About two days later, Pa was posted to far north Queensland to serve in the Royal Australian Air Force. They didn’t see each for 18 months, until after the war ended.

They lived off letters.

My generation, me especially, devours cheap international telephone calls with cards or on the Internet, e-mail, discount air fares and fast mail services, and still we moan about being separated from those we love.

So hearing that from Nan on a Sunday afternoon has made me pull my head in, despite all you’ve read above.

I’ll be taking notes, and grabbing some hair samples to help make a specimen of how people should be built.

After people like my Nan and Pa, well, they broke the mould.