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The Great Student Race – Uni of Canberra to the City

By Hannah Burggraaff, Tom Kazias and Miles Thompson

University of Canberra students face a problem to that of many students around the world. What is the best way to get around town? More specifically, to and from the pub. To find out, NowUC conducted an experiment. Hannah Burggraaff, Tom Kazias and Miles Thompson were thrown out into the field – Hannah on her push bike, Tom on public transport, and Miles in his beaten-up, old Toyota Corolla – for a race.

The trio would leave their tutorial room on the ground floor of Building 9 at the University of Canberra at 4:44pm on a Friday afternoon. They would race across Canberra and meet in the city centre, the hub of Canberra’s bars and nightlife, at King O’Malley’s – one of the city’s key nightspots. The last one there would pay for the drinks.

The clock ticked over to 4:44pm and the team set off.

TK: I sprinted out of room 9A1 doing my best Usain Bolt impression, heading for the bus stop on College Street. On reflection, I should’ve dressed in more appropriate clothes than my green overcoat and heavy brown boots, but I had to make do.

As the run was all uphill it would be fair to say it was a bit of a struggle, despite the short distance. It says a lot about my lack of fitness, I suppose, making me even more relieved I wasn’t riding my bike to the city.

Instead, I was to catch the 4:48pm bus to the city, one of ACTION’s Blue Rapid 300 routes, which would get me to the bar at 5:08pm. It was nice not having to stress about when I would arrive, knowing that my trip was entirely in the hands of the ACT Government’s public transport system.

However, my relaxing, stress-free, predictable trip suffered a huge setback when I got to the top of the hill.

I missed the first bus.

Now I was behind the eight-ball, completely demoralised.

HB: I too had some early troubles, having fiddled with my bike and switched my phone to shuffle mode to play some beats while I cycle.

Having done a reconnaissance run to King O’Malleys in 30 minutes the day before, despite getting lost with Google maps, I was confident I had a shot at beating the boys.

I hopped on and cycled fast, game on!

MT: Unlike Tom and HannahI was in no such rush. My high average speed in the car made me confident I would be the first to arrive in the city, even if I did have to negotiate a traffic light or 17.

Besides, anything more than a gentle jog would’ve put unnecessary strain on my new trendy shoes, and stained the lining of my jacket with sweat. Happy to leave any excessive perspiration to Hannah Meares on her bike, I strolled the 150 metres to the car I would be driving.

My 1998 Toyota Corolla sedan was the perfect vehicle for a uni student. Basic, compact, economical, safe and reliable, it took no more than two minutes to arrive at thanks to my convenient carpark.

As I turned left onto College Street to begin my 8.1 kilometre drive, I snuck a look at the bus stop and smirked to myself. Tom was still there. He looked cold, lonely and a little bit like Forrest Gump. I chuckled.

TK: The bus finally arrived at 4.50pm, not delaying me by much, but I was the underdog even before my hold-up. As a result, I didn’t exude the same confidence as Miles and Hannah, who both thought they had a good chance of being first because they could run their own race. I had to run the same race as all of the other people on this bus whether I liked it or not.

I was stoked to be underway, and got a pleasant surprise to find that a concession ticket cost me $2.30. I thought that was really cheap – and great news for university students.

Now all I had to do was sit in peace until the bus arrived in Civic.

I got my iPod out and decided to listen to Number 1 Dads – A band that is quite mellow. Their music is very soothing and relaxing, helping me to keep my cool on the bus and completely zone out from the pressures of the race.

HB: I’d had to come up with my own strategy, but thanks to my practice runs I’d learnt that crossing at traffic lights was going to be a hindrance. Regardless of what the little green man said it was safe to do, I sliced through intersections headed towards the key part of my plan.

A series of paths weaves its way behind the Calvary Hospital, parallel to Belconnen Way. Being all downhill, this was my express ticket to the city with the only hazards being dodging other pedestrians and cyclists, and stacking the bike on the corners.

However, just before I turned left towards the bike path that tracks behind CIT, Miles drove past – the embodiment of smugness.  

MT: And with that, I was in the lead. What could possibly go wrong now?

As I managed to catch the lights on Belconnen Way, I started to relax a little. Having the luxury of my own set of speakers, an iPod, and being able to sing, I couldn’t resist a sneaky Ed Sheeran tune.

Unlike Tom on his packed public transport I could sing, eat as I pleased and even put my feet on the seats.

Even though I was travelling at my top speed for the afternoon , I was still scanning my mirrors for a 300 bus in one of Barry Drive’s endless bus lanes, or a flicker of blonde hair swooping down the hill on one of Canberra’s hundreds of cycle paths.

But nothing materialised.

I distinctly remember thinking “How could I possibly be this far ahead?”

TK: Interestingly, everyone on the bus seemed to being doing the same thing. They were just planted on their seats, listening to music. In that respect, my use of portable music let me fit in with the social requirements of the trip quite well.

There was a young woman on my left that caught my attention several times with her glamorous looks. I asked her if this bus was heading to civic. She politely nodded.

As conversation with my fellow passengers was apparently unwelcome, I turned my attention out of the window to watch the rush hour traffic starting to build. Interestingly, cyclists were out in force on every road, bike path, and waiting at every intersection.

I thought to myself, “I’d much rather be on this bus than out in the cold working my butt off… Like Hannah is.”

I grew in confidence seeing how many cyclists I was passing, even though I couldn’t find our fellow racer among them.

Surely she had no chance of beating me?

HB: With my legs protesting and starting to regret volunteering to be the cyclist, I emerged into a suburban area and have to cycle on a path that backs onto disclosed driveways.

I spend this leg of the journey having déjà vu moments about having an accident with a car. Perhaps my practice trip yesterday wasn’t the best choice, but I couldn’t afford to let trepidation hold me back. I had to put the boys in their place.

However, the illusion of my determination is shattered as my iPod brings me back to earth with a resounding reality check. The cruel music gods began plaguing me… with the Spice Girls.

Even with Nineties pop ringing in my ears I am in no position to change it for fear of axing myself while doing so. Instead, I concentrate on roaring down the last hill before I hit the city. So I suck it up and endure the squeaky tones of Victoria, Mel B and friends.

TK: With Hannah nowhere to be seen, I grew in confidence a little. This swelled beyond what I had thought possible when my forecast of having no chance of beating Miles evaporated.

I didn’t expect the bus to take a slightly alternative route through Civic, but it did. Instead of taking the main roads through the city like Barry Drive and Northbourne Avenue, it weaved along bus lanes through the newer, Eastern complex of the ANU along Marcus Clarke Street.

Despite having much narrower roads, the bus lanes allowed the Blue Rapid to make steady progress through the city. Even with stops for passengers and traffic lights, the less congested sections of the route made the trip far more relaxing than the alternatives.

HB: As I enter into the city and approach a traffic light the inevitable happens.

I crash.

Not seriously, but it wasn’t subtle either. The entire traffic light audience witnessed my embarrassing moment. In an effort to flee the scene of my cycling failure, I pedaled faster, but this caused more problems than it solved. While trying to escape from the sniggering audience, I almost had a second accident – I just missed being hit by a car on a designated pedestrian crossing.

Clearly the road rules hadn’t applied to him.

MT: I however, had respected the traffic laws as I stopped at the lights at ANU. This was where things were going to get tough for the car and I. There were still another seven sets of lights to negotiate, and I had to wait here for quite some time – at least a full minute. But still nothing in my mirrors concerned me.

I set off again towards the lights at Kingsley Street and I became nervous for the first time. Here I lost sight of the bus lane, with the public transport routes taking a right turn through the ANU’s backstreets.

While I could draw some comfort from the fact that I knew where Tom’s bus would inevitably end up in East Row, I had no idea what sort of route the Tour de Hannah would take.

My nerves were building. Having taken 13 minutes to get to the city centre, I had taken half that long again to cover my final kilometre. This hadn’t been helped by the bus that had almost cleaned me up on Northbourne Avenue.

I now had a decision to make that could drastically alter the outcome of our experiment. I could gamble on parking where I had intended in the congested East London Circuit Carpark? Or extend my run, and cost myself more time in exchange for a guaranteed parking spot in the Canberra Centre?

TK: I had a choice to make of my own, and it too was being dictated by my nerves.

As I started getting closer to the Civic bus interchange I was second guessing as to whether I should get off a stop early in Alinga Street, or just stay on the bus in case it went too far from the pub.

Northbourne Avenue was still in the way and I thought perhaps it might be easier to negotiate on foot.

But I had run earlier this afternoon, and that was hard work.

When Alinga Street arrived a lot of the crowd jumped off the bus to join the throng of Canberra’s rush hour. With the calmness of Number 1 Dads’ album still playing in my ears, I stayed in my seat, bound for East Row.

MT: I took the gamble and swung right off London Circuit, into the “Mooseheads Carpark” as Canberra students know it… only to be greeted by an empty spot in the first row I entered.


I killed the ignition and jumped out of the car, leaving it unlocked. I raced to the pay parking machine and fed in $2.20, agonising over whether to add that last 20 cents for the extra five minutes. I erred on the side of caution before I bolted back to the car, dropped the ticket on the dashboard and headed towards the finish line some 250 metres away.

HB: I strategically manoeuvred myself around the Friday evening public servants and cycled across the final set of traffic lights on Alinga Street. With only a few hundred metres to go and Kingos in sight, I upped the tempo towards the finish line and cycled way too fast for the crowded area.

TK: As I finally arrived at my bus stop I had my head down. I was scrambling with my phone to start filming my dash to the finish.

I looked up to see how far I had to go to the stop and got the shock of my life. There, walking, not jogging, was Miles.

Immediately I got to my feet, and headed towards the door before the bus had even stopped.

Miles hadn’t seen me, his pace still constant.

He had no idea I had just gotten off that bus.

I sprinted.

MT: Tom!

Before I could do anything about it, he was off, just like he had been at the exit of building 9. I abandoned any thoughts I had about sweating in my jacket, and set off after him.

He had about two steps head start on me, and as we rounded the corner into Garema Place, King O’Malley’s – and our finish line, came into view.

King O'Malley's Bar in Civic - Our finsihing line.
King O’Malley’s Bar in Civic – Our finishing line. Photo: Miles Thompson

Knowing nothing about how our fitness levels compared I had to try and back myself to beat him over that last 50 metres.

We were running step for step.

He couldn’t see how far behind I was.

I just couldn’t reel him in.

I kept pushing!

We tore under the terrace, drawing all kinds of strange stares from onlookers.

10 metres, and Tom was fading!

I reached out to push open the door…

Just as Tom squeezed in ahead of me onto the bar’s timber floorboards.

The bus had beaten the car.

Puffing and panting, I was stunned.

“How did you do that!?” I exclaimed.

“Wow! What a win!” was all he could muster in response.

As we caught our breath in the main bar, we made eye contact as we shared a realisation.

“Is Hannah here?!?!”

Quickly, we split up and searched the bar’s numerous rooms, half expecting to see a sweaty, but smug cyclist lounging in a booth sipping a half empty pint.

I searched the back, and Tom did the front. A minute later, we reconvened in the bar.

“No sign,” I said.

“She’s not here,” Tom replied.

“Beer?” I asked.

“Yes please,” was the winner’s reply.

TK: Who would have thought the bus would have been the quickest?!

A Blue Rapid 300 Bus pulls into East Row, just like the one Tom rode on.
A Blue Rapid 300 Bus pulls into East Row, just like the one Tom rode on. Photo: Miles Thompson

Imagine if I had caught that first bus that I had missed by minutes. I would’ve won easily!!!

Even as it stood, what a win.

HB: I pulled up with my heart racing and waited for about four minutes out the front of the bar. Plenty of Canberra’s Friday Night drinks crowd all looked at me quite strangely as I caught my breath.

Thinking I had beaten the boys I decided to chain my bike up and strolled into Kingos… only to find defeat smiling at me and offering me a drink.

MT: So my slow reactions and poor commitment to sprint training had meant that not only was the bus cheaper and better for the environment than the car – it was faster as well.

However, some things had happened exactly as we’d predicted.

HB: Yes, the cycle is slightly longer but it is great exercise and you can pre-burn some of the calories you plan to put on in the evening.

However, disadvantages, apart from lack of speed, include the consistent threat of being hit by cars, and you will be soaked, as I found when I went to put on my jacket as we left.

“Ewww! My jacket is drenched from sweat!!!”

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