Okay, I’m not going to lie. Today was tougher than I expected.
It all started out very auspiciously, with a sunny still morning, an invite to breakfast at the home of a friend who is a former cycle champion and now transport planner. He made me a fantastic omelette, helped check over my bike and offered me some gear, and then took along me the scenic route to Lincoln.
We saw heaps of Cantabrians on bikes! All ages. All types of bikes. Literally dozens on random country roads. They out-numbered the cars easily.
They are recreational cyclists. Many kiwis love to bicycle — according to SPARC, cycling is one of the most popular recreational sports in the country, and it’s the fastest growing.
It’s a small step from recreational cycling to cycling for transport, but there are some key things to consider. Cycling for transport requires a comfortable bike that allows you to easily carry clothes and other items you may need. Mud guards are essential so you don’t get sprayed with dirty water just after it has rained. And you probably would prefer to have infrastructure at work and the shops, and on the roads in between, that would make it easier for you to feel safe and to secure your bicycle. As to have a shower and store your things. In some European countries they do this very well, and consequently 25-30% of adults bike to work. There’s no reason in principle that we couldn’t get a lot more recreational cyclists using their bicycles for transport in NZ if we provided better infrastructure.
My friend talked me into taking the scenic route which was a bit longer, to avoid the frightening environment on SH1. He was right to do so, and I made great time to Leeston. However, leaving Leeston things went down hill (or rather, didn’t go downhill but did come to a near stand still). I wasn’t quite halfway to Ashburton, and it was already after 2pm. The wind was picking up, and I had to cycle west to get to SH1 just before the Rakaia bridge.
There is nothing quite so frustrating as cycling directly into a headwind while staring at the flat, straight path that stretches for miles in front of you. I inched along, the wind roaring in my ears, for well over 2 hours. Each bend in the road I prayed would take me out of the relentless wind. No such luck. You thought you were cycling directly into the wind before, Julie Anne, but you were mistaken. NOW you’re head on…
This could be a metaphor of my life. Inching along against powerful entrenched forces, trying to smile and pleasantly move forward with some tiny but crucial improvement to transport policy. Zen and the art of cycling against the wind.
I did make it, in the end. The last 30km on boring and truck-dominated SH1 took far less time than the 20km into the wind. And I was so overjoyed to be moving forward at something like a normal speed, I almost didn’t notice that heavy vehicles were passing me on the narrow little shoulder at a breakneck pace and were potentially life-threatening.
Tomorrow I will write about the safety/efficiency trade off that cyclists often must face in NZ. I faced it today and I will again tomorrow. I have yet to decide if I take a longer route to avoid feeling like I’m going to be sucked under an 18 wheeler carrying milk every 30 seconds.
What I can say after a nice dinner, a few after dinner snacks, and a good hour on the computer in bed, is that at this moment I am VERY glad I made the journey. This must be why I chose to travel by bike again and again, even though there are tough bits.