A T-shirt and a blast from the past: the Auckland Bicycle Association

Dec 07, 2018
A T-shirt and a blast from the past: the Auckland Bicycle Association


Out of the blue came a photo, and a request. Theo Brandt had discovered a snap from the early 1980s of himself wearing a bike advocacy T-shirt. Theo’s question: if he could find a way to replicate this rad design, would we be able to help him get a fresh version printed up? Little did we know, this would lead us to connecting old friends and highlighting the hard work of a previous generation of cycling advocates.

Theo, his mum, and a sweet car, plus the vintage ABA T-shirt that started it all off.

Because it turns out, when it comes to making Auckland better on a bike, truly we stand on the T-shirt shoulders of giants. Long before Bike Auckland, and before Cycle Action Auckland became Bike Auckland… was the Auckland Bicycle Association.

We were keen. Theo found a designer friend, Michael de Young, who recreated the logo – and we added the T-shirt to our online shop just in case anyone else wished to grab a piece of history and honour the ABA’s awesome legacy. (NB orders for guaranteed delivery before Christmas Day have now closed – shipping will resume on 10 January.)

Available in a range of mint colours, including original sunny gold, and a very retro aqua and tan. As with everything in the shop, a small portion of each purchase goes towards supporting our nonprofit work on your behalf for a bike-friendly city.

Keen to join the dots, we also set to finding out more about the origin of the shirt, and what happened to the ABA. Fortunately, former president Keith Salmon is still out there, and shared this potted history:

  • From the early 80s to the early 1990s, the ABA represented Aucklanders on bikes: making submissions and representations on public policy, and leading the charge for safer cycling and better bike infrastructure.
  • The Auckland Bicycle Association was initiated by Ron McGann after ACTA (founded in 1949) did not wish to become involved in cycle advocacy. 
  • After the establishment of the Auckland Regional Authority’s Bicycle Planning Committee, the ABA proposed the Geelong Bike Plan as a model – which advocated the 3 E’s: Education, Enforcement and Engineering. However, the ARA decided to develop its own plan rather than adopt the Geelong one. 
  • The bicycle plan developed by the ARA brought various threads together.  The approach acknowledged the interest in separate cycleways but was also influenced by the philosophy developed by John Forester in “Effective Cycling” which advocated cyclist skills and education and the disbenefits of poorly maintained separate cycle lanes. E.g. a proposed separate cycleway advocated by Brian Lythe for the new St Lukes Road was, based on this prevailing philosophy, replaced by an “on the road” approach with wider lanes. (In hindsight, one might say that the separate cycleway would have been preferable – provided sweeping had been adopted). [Editor’s note: we now have protected cycleways on St Lukes Road, and they do indeed need sweeping!]

The ABA also published a regular magazine, “On Your Bike”, with delightful illustrations by artist Don Hatcher. At least one issue sits in the ephemera collection of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Any more out there in garages and on shelves, we wonder…? 

On Your Bike magazine, March-April, 1980. From the Auckland Museum collection.

… and, as luck would have it, Don also designed the ABA logo as seen on Theo’s T-shirt. As well as phenomenal cartoons, like this ageless example from a 1980 issue of Craccum magazine. Remind you of anyone lately??

Don Hatcher cartoon, as published in Craccum magazine, 1980.

Keith put us in touch with Don, who now lives in Adelaide, where he moved in 1983 to take up a lecturing spot in Visual Communications at the University of South Australia. He’s since retired, but reports he is still very much involved with illustration and cycling cartoons for various publications. Don was delighted to hear the story and see the logo revived:

Heavens! All that nostalgia and some good memories of earlier times. You’re perfectly welcome to revive the old logo of course and any cartoons that (unfortunately) may still be relevant. Very good to see that the enthusiasm hasn’t diminished and the fight carries on in the old home country!

So our elves got to work immediately and set Don up with a reprinted ABA T-shirt of his own. He then very kindly sent through more of his cycling cartoons for us all to enjoy as a Christmas gift: a delightful bit of “festive nonsense”, and a classic response to the SMIDSY (“Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You”).

A seasonal cartoon by the great Don Hatcher, 2018.
Classic cartoon by Don Hatcher.

Theo, who kick-started the conversation and is looking forward to wearing his revived ABA T-shirt this summer, says “It’s been a great catalyst to renewed memories and history for all!” We agree wholeheartedly. It’s wonderful that a photo of a long-lost T-shirt has helped join the historical dots, giving us a fresh reminder of the longevity, dedication, and creativity of the movement, and how the torch has been passed from advocates to advocates over the decades.

And perhaps another three or four decades from now, those who inherit the movement from today’s advocates will look back with pride across almost a full century at the work pursued by volunteers and visionaries towards a more bike-friendly Auckland. We’d like to think we’re getting there faster every day… as our own Max Robitzsch likes to say, “the road is long, but full of hope.”

Ahoy ABA alumni – we know you’re out there! We’d love to hear more of your stories (e.g. Audrey, former secretary, has commented here on the origins of the Tamaki Drive shared path, Auckland’s first bikeway). Please share your memories in the comments below…

Another classic cartoon from Don Hatcher – familiar stuff, decades on!

Further reading on the Auckland Bicycle Association

You can find out a bit more about ABA in this issue of Craccum magazine from 1980, which includes a pull-out supplement all about cycling in Auckland (and the rad cartoon by Don). These words by Keith Salmon could have been written today:

Cycling is basically a cheap, enjoyable and healthy way of getting about. Yet despite the economic, environmental and social benefits of cycling, it remains a poor relation in the transport system. The Auckland Bicycle Association was formed by cyclists from a variety of backgrounds who wanted to see cycling receive the encouragement and support it merits as a means of transport and as a form of re­creation.

In reaction to the cycling boom, govern­ ment departments and local bodies are already making decisions that affect us as cyclists. The Bicycle Association aims to ensure that the real needs of cyclists are understood and responded to.

The Auckland Bicycle Association depends on the voluntary efforts of its members. If you care about cycling, we’d like you to join with us; your support and ideas would be most welcome.

And this Craccum issue from 1982 mentions a petition for access to the motorway reserve, leading to would become the NW cycleway from Te Atatu to Pt Chevalier. It also includes a survey of people on bikes and what they need. Note the suggestion for what would become the Grafton Gully Cycleway and the recent Ian McKinnon Drive path! Let’s hope today’s visions are realised faster than three or four decades from now…

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Bike Auckland is the non-profit organisation working to improve things for people on bikes. We’re a people-powered movement for a better region. We speak up for you – and the more of us there are, the stronger our voice!

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