We always welcome your stories of the bike life in Auckland. Here, Bike Auckland member and regular rider Rik Bruce – who recently hit the news when he captured some horrific red-light running – tells the story of his everyday bike commute, why he prefers to pedal for his 60km round trip to work, and the insight and benefits he’s enjoyed.
Over the years, many negative cycling-related stories have attracted attention, a good (bad) example being last year’s misleading article about the numbers used to secure funding for cycle paths. Talkback radio hosts piled on, whipping their listeners into a froth, followed by the media columnists jumping on perceived government/council corruption and agenda pushing. Their loyal followers, suitably emboldened, took to social media to chip in their views. Kiwis do love to voice an opinion.
This story coincided with a spike in incidents I experienced around the same time: being squeezed off the road, close passes. Over the years I’ve had stuff thrown out of cars at me, been spat at, yelled at, however last year it got quite bad, culminating with an incident where an elderly chap actually pulled over after I gesticulated to register my displeasure at how close he’d passed, only to then pull out and pass me again even closer! A nice police officer visited him after I reported it, and I invested in some cameras.
Meanwhile, I carried on going about my business. Then a few weeks ago, I caught this incident on camera.
I know – yet more camera footage showing the sort of dangerous driving that many out there might view as a minor misdemeanour. Or it would seem this way, as the punishment for running a red is a fine of only around $150, or about the same as a tank of fuel for a large SUV.
Many pages could be written on where and how to improve our collective driving behaviour. Better training, stricter enforcement, changing various laws… the list is very long, and frankly I can’t be arsed freestyling some opinions and “what ifs”, because we all know roughly what the answers are. I’ll also save you time and sanity by advising the Facebook post of the 1News story attracted some predictably depressing comments. It worries me, sharing a road with these people, although I suspect many rarely venture outside, preferring the warm bosom of social media and its familiarity of hatred and outrage.
Among all the rambling nonsense, one comment did jump out though: “hardly anyone is lucky enough to be close enough to ride to work”. My opinion, backed up only by my own “anecdata” is that if you live within around 10km of where you work, you can commute by bike. Provided you’re confident enough of course, and your workplace has acceptable facilities, but you coulddo it, even if you don’t realise it.
So this is my story. I live in the wild west out towards Laingholm, and until recently I rode regularly to my workplace in Onehunga, just over 20km away. At the beginning of 2019, I made the bold decision to do what would have been unthinkable to me a few years earlier: selling the car and buying an e-bike. My car had become pointless in Auckland’s traffic, sitting or crawling along at 20km/h, being regularly passed by bicycles.
So I became a full time bike commuter, and rode almost every day. Through winter, only the worst weather prevented me from riding. It took the same amount of time as driving, regardless of the weather or traffic.
In September, I started a new job that was 50% further away, out in East Tamaki. Everyone I spoke to assumed I would buy another car. My wife’s car was available a couple of days per week, so I didn’t fancy the idea of having another car just for getting to work.
Instead, I bought another battery charger for the e-bike, so I could charge up at both ends of my commute. I decided to just start off with riding 60km each day, and see what happened. In the weeks since, I’ve taken the car a few times, and discovered the traffic out in Highbrook/East Tamaki at 4-4:30pm is appalling. The worst trip home so far took around 90 minutes. On the e-bike? My best time so far is 55 minutes getting to work, and exactly an hour getting home, but typically it’s 60 to 70 minutes each way. There are a couple of areas where having an e-bike that can cruise at around 40kph is most welcome, as it allows me to ride with the traffic, safely taking the lane.
My journey begins in the Waitakere Ranges, through Titirangi Village, down into Green Bay and the first feeling of entering suburbia. Then it’s a climb up to Blockhouse Bay where the traffic starts to get quite heavy, on through Lynfield, and then Mt Roskill, where I join the SH20 shared path.
The path is not nearly as busy as the North Western, but there are lots of walkers and runners. Across Dominion Road and Hillsborough Road, then I drop down to the Onehunga waterfront via the daunting Hendry Ave, and then across the Manukau to Mangere Bridge (looking forward to that new bridge!) and Favona.
This last section was the bit I was most worried about. So the first time riding here I was on high alert as I pushed along Favona Road as fast as I could. There’s a stretch of less than 200m between Mahunga Dr and Robertson Rd where it’s quite narrow with four lanes of traffic. Adding to the fun, on bright mornings the sun is in the eyes of following traffic, so I face two choices. Take to the pavement, or take the lane and hope I don’t get rear-ended. Here, the e-bike comes into its own: cruising speed is around 40kph, so in reality if I get my head down and lean into it, I can follow the traffic ahead of me and not hold up those behind. As the road changes from four to two lanes, there’s suddenly more space – however, having gotten up to my cruising speed, it’s quite easy to maintain it and just blast along Favona to Walmsley and Otahuhu Station.
Initially, I was riding down the pavement on Saleyards Rd to Otahuhu Station, then I’d cross over onto Station Rd and up into Otahuhu. This took ages as there are so many traffic lights (the old “stop-start bugbear“!) and it’s very busy. So I now go up Lippiatt Rd, along a little bit of pathway behind the park and up into central Otahuhu. It’s a really nice “leafy suburb” street that could be in Mt Eden or Epsom. After crossing the busy Great South Rd and going down High St and Trenwith St, it’s back onto a shared path that runs parallel to SH1, and up onto Highbrook Dr, from here it’s just zig-zagging through the industrial units to work.
Just over 30km, across a very diverse range of suburbs, twice a day, five days a week. My bike cost me $3500, and I’ve add a pannier rack and bags, and some better tyres, so maybe another $500 at most. Now, at a conservative guess I’m saving $100 per week in petrol, plus insurance, WOF and rego, and basic car maintenance costs. Add this up, and the annual running costs of a car run to the many thousands of dollars, on top of the purchase price of course.
So, back to where I started this post: talkback radio people, anti-cycling lobbyists, please tell me why I should invest thousands of dollars in a car and associated annual costs, when I can cycle reliably on roads that my rates and taxes have paid for? If you truly despise how the council and government is spending your tax and rates dollar, present us with your viable alternatives. Let’s hear your ideas about how we should solve the city’s traffic chaos. Instead of being part of the problem, try being part of the solution.