Day 2 — The windy Canterbury Plains

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.

Next Post: Day 3 — The straight and narrow path (to Timaru)

9 Comments Posted

  1. To be fair, it was built before world war two, so pedestrian/cyclist safety probably wasnt much of a concern back then. Still, thats no excuse to not clip a walkway on now. Come on NZTA!

  2. @Malcolm

    Well it took the deaths of children on the motorway bridge in Wanganui before they added on a clipon cycleway/walkway. It wasn’t originally ment for cyclist to use, but they used it anyway.

    Another example of building roads for motorised vehicals only, and not thinking about the fact that cyclists may want to use it. They used it, as it was quicker than going all the way round to the next bridge.

    Of course the short motorway, it was for, in Wanganui, is now no longer a motorway.

  3. May be the answer to the Rakaia is to add a clip-on cycle/pedestrian lane to the adjacent railway bridge, which is metal rather than concrete.


  4. What was the Rakaia Bridge like to cycle over? I imagine its horrible. Narrow and very long, with cars doing 100kph over it. That is a bridge that needs a walkway clipped on asap!

  5. Those headwinds are another thing you can blame on increased dairy farming. The giant centre-pivot irrigators need large areas without obstructions, so any trees in their way are cut right back or removed entirely, so a number of wind breaks have disappeared – along with more of our top soil!


  6. Yep, it’s a terrible trade-off. I cycle tour a lot, and SH1 (or 2 for that matter) are absolute last resort options for me. The West Coast route would have been much nicer of course (!) but from Christchurch to Gore I’d have headed inland to Rakaia Gorge, Mt Hutt, Methven, then South to Fairlie, Tekapo and through the Lindis Pass, then switch from SH8 to SH6, and Bob’s your uncle. Of course, I’d probably have arrived too late too. The route I’ve described is always going to be a nicer way to go, albeit a bit longer. But people riding bikes are entitled to have either route feel and be safe.

  7. Lots of food for thought here.
    Let’s have a national discussion about this:
    – why are we squandering our transport budget on roads to nowhere that lock us into oil dependence?
    – why are the health implications of transport decisions disregarded?
    – why can we afford $11 billion on monster roads but can’t pay for a decent cycling path from Lower Hutt to Wellington?
    Ahh, those headwinds. Riding into a headwind can play tricks on your mind. If it gets too hard, hop on a bus or shuttle and set yourself a shorter daily ride. There’s some great roads south of Chch, but SH1 ain’t one of them.

  8. When the wind’s blowing straight into your face, it’s best to hunker down and whatever you do, cycle with your mouth closed.
    The forecast for the next few days is good, for Southland that is! The sooner you get here, the better.

  9. “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.”

    That is one of the main reasons I have never biked from one town/city to another. The amount of room available for cyclists to use, on the side of the road, is so narrow, it’s frightening to think the cars/trucks passing you will give you only centimetres of space between you and them. When they built these highways, they didn’t think people would want to use them for cycling, so they didn’t design them for this purpose in mind. If I was designing these roads, I would design them to have as much room on the side, as possible, for uses such as cycling. That’s just me though.

    Towns and cities are not much better. Sure there are cycle lanes on some streets, but there are still plenty of places where to be a cyclist, you either have to be brave or mad. I choose to find alternative routes where ever possible rather than go through these places, but I shouldn’t have to. Most of these places I am referring to would not be half as bad if there was less traffic to contend with.

Comments are closed.