Two wheels spin a tale

I've never thought of Brisbane as a beautiful city, but cycling along the boardwalk of the riverfront, looking across to the city and the ferries gliding up the river, I think it may be just that.

The sun's not keen on joining us today, but still the buildings glint beyond the ribbon of water that divides the burgeoning city, while the people seem to move to a beat that says they have a good life here and they know it.

Driving through Brisbane is about as much fun as going to the dentist, but by bike it is accessible and friendly, a whole different experience. Pedestrians step out of the way without complaint and motorists are unfailingly patient and polite; don't these people know that cyclists are meant to be abused and run off the road?

It is this relaxed approach, combined with a network of well-maintained bike paths, that makes Brisbane perfect for cycle tours.

As we pedal along at an easy pace, husband and wife Steve and Fiona point out famous and not so famous sights, and pass on some of the history of Brisbane, including its transition from a big country town to a cosmopolitan city.

The World Expo of 1988 was a big factor in the city's coming of age and everywhere we go there are legacies of the international event, from the intricately carved Nepalese pagoda tucked away among the gardens of the South Bank precinct to various sculptures placed around the city.

What I love about this tour, apart from the simple pleasure of tootling along on a bike, is the constant supply of sights and information I wouldn't have found myself, from the statue suspended above our heads on a South Bank cafe strip to the monitor showing the energy being generated by one of the many pedestrian bridges that cross the river.

The bridge generates power from both solar panels and the movement of people walking across, and a screen underneath shows the current output.

Steve and Fiona also point out community herb gardens, Jessica Watson's around-the-world yacht at rest at the Maritime Museum, and an impressive collection of outdoor artworks that would surely be defaced in many cities.

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At the Queensland University of Technology, which sits above the City Botanic Gardens and has an atmosphere that makes you want to go back to uni, Steve watches the bikes while Fiona leads the way into a new building.

Inside is "the Cube", a floor-to-ceiling cube of digital panels that interact when you touch them.

With just a finger, you can make objects turn, stack or balance, and call up facts and information boxes.

One side of the cube is dedicated to showing the various floods that have inundated Brisbane, but most impressive of all is a huge underwater scene where you can place your hand on sea creatures to find out what they are, and make "bubbles" and "waves" by pressing on the screen.

It really is outstanding and I suspect most visitors to Brisbane would never know it was there.

Steve and Fiona offer a choice of river and city tours but their flexible approach allows some mixing and matching and today we are doing a bit of both. We started in the city's lively South Bank precinct, where a 1.5-kilometre bougainvillea trellis winds its way through the parklands in a blaze of purple blooms, and an artificial beach offers inner-city swimming and sunbathing, complete with lifesavers on duty.

We pedal past the cliffs of Kangaroo Point, where rock climbers are clawing their way up a seemingly impossible rock face, then up onto the distinctive Story Bridge, to cross the river into the business district itself.

I am then surprised to find myself cycling along Eagle Street Pier, which is home to many of Brisbane's best restaurants and where it is apparently legal to ride a bike among the strolling pedestrians.

We arrive just as the lunch hour is kicking in and office workers are dividing into those who use their lunch hour to run or walk and those who prefer to sit at a waterfront table and soak up the view over a glass of wine.

I am even more surprised to find we are continuing into the very heart of the central business district, in the middle of a working day.

There are not many cities I would like to cycle through, but cars give us plenty of space and I discover it isn't the stressful venture I anticipated.

A benefit of cycling through the city is that you see the buildings above the canopies you normally walk beneath and have time to look at things that whiz by when you drive.

Brisbane is made up of an eclectic mix of old, new, elegant and not so elegant buildings, generously interspersed with city squares and other green spaces. To really appreciate it, you just need to get on your bike.

Trip notes

Getting there

Virgin Australia has regular flights to Brisbane from Sydney. 13 67 89, virginaustralia.com.

Staying there

Hotels in the South Bank precinct include the Mantra South Bank Brisbane 1300 987 604, mantra.com.au and Rydges South Bank Brisbane (07) 3364 0800, rydges.com.

Cycling while there

Brisbane Bicycle Tours, South Bank. Two-hour tours from $50 a person and four-hour tours from $75 a person. 0417 462 875, brisbanebicycletours.com.au.

More information

queenslandholidays.com.au.

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