After dark at Motat on the last day of May, they came – people on bikes, the bike-curious, and two teams of top comedians, all ready for the inaugural big bike debate. The crowd mingled and warmed up over drinks and nibbles in the high-concept Idea Collective Hall, with what some readers might recognize as the framework of the old tactile dome repurposed as the bar for the evening. As MC Wallace Chapman said admiringly, the joint was really working an 80s night club vibe.

The crowd starts to gather, in Motat’s Idea Collective Hall

Then it was time to take our seats at tables for the main event. Wallace expertly primed the crowd, greeting us with ‘Give it up for bikes!’ (cheers) and ‘Give it up for Maseratis’ (awkward silence). He delighted us with true tales of bicycle adventures from his Nelson childhood on crazy bikes with rugby-ball shaped wheels, before unleashing the debaters. Words flew and occasionally turned the air blue, as they took turns delivering truth bombs (and the odd f-bomb), in a bid to convince the room of whether Auckland looks better on a bike.

Wallace Chapman, MC-ing proceedings from the seat of Livi’s bike Susan.

Michele A’Court opened for the affirmative with a classical debating split, describing herself as the handlebars gently guiding her team in the right direction, with her teammates Livi Reihana and Tom Sainsbury as the two perfectly balanced wheels, all three of them bearing ‘a basket, a kete, if you will, of insight and data and dreams’. She had no trouble at all convincing us that, among other things, bicycles are ‘powered by human joy (and occasionally an eco-friendly electric motor for the hard bits)’, whereas cars are more often than not a ‘hotbox of frustration and loneliness,’ and we’d all be a bit happier if we got out of them more often.

The affirmative Yeah team: Michele A’Court, Livi Reihana, Tom Sainsbury.

Jeremy Elwood introduced his team as, respectively, ‘the randomly opened door, the cattle stop in the middle of a semi-rural road, and the red light camera that has not been switched on’. He then taunted us with a lovingly detailed description of his journey from the airport the previous day: driving through the Waterview Tunnel (‘because I’m allowed to’) and over the Harbour Bridge (‘which I have every right to do’) and filling his boot with groceries (‘because I can’) before arriving at his home on the North Shore (‘for cyclists, a mythical place on the other side of the water, which you can only get to via ferry, which drops you… at the bottom of a hill.’)

The negative Nah team: Jeremy Elwood, Justine Smith, and Hamish Parkinson.

Second affirmative Livi Reihana took the stage with her gorgeous bicycle, Susan, which she’d brought all the way from Huntly for the evening – thus winning the prize for the most multi-modal debater, as well as best speaker! Livi pointed out that she can fit three bottles of sauv in Susan’s basket and what else do you need? And nobody who was there will forget her, ah, buzzy high-tech suggestion for encouraging more people onto bike seats. Suffice to say, we’d be riding from Takanini to the CBD and back.

‘Three bottles of sauv’: Livi Reihana advertising Susan’s shopping charms.

Justine Smith shared hilarious tales of sake-enhanced bicycle adventures in Japan (note to self: never, ever put a watermelon down your trousers), which in many ways was actually an accidental pitch for the fun of life on wheels. In similar but opposite vein, Tom Sainsbury praised lycra shorts for their ‘practical eroticism -slash- truth in advertising’, before indulging in some questionable truth-bombs and truly terrible puns. Closing for the negative, Hamish Parkinson had us in fear for his mortal soul, so convincing was his channeling of a frothing, broken-hearted car-lover, assuring us the soundproof cabin of your Audi is the best place to cry.

Wrapping things up, Jeremy pointed out that if God had wanted us to ride bikes, he wouldn’t have given us two buttocks. Then Michele delivered a lyrical and hilariously Auckland-specific riff on ‘I have a dream’ that will be ringing in our ears for years to come. With the winner decided by audience acclaim, nobody was surprised the affirmative team walked off with the crown – full credit to the negative, too, for fighting their corner with vigour and good humour.

Michele A’Court has a dream – that one day, on the slopes of Piha, the children of drivers and bicyclists will sit down together… let freedom (and bicycle bells) ring!

And then it was time for Toto’ pizza, delicious dessert, and more mingling before riding off into the night. We only wish we’d had space for more of you. So much of our work takes place in small rooms, and so often we just see each other in passing, as we slip silently and efficiently through the city. What made the evening so special was the chance to take off our helmets, let our hair down, hang out together, and have a laugh at ourselves.

Thanks to Motat for the marvellous venue!

Our massive thanks above all to our brilliant entertainers, MC Wallace Chapman; the winning Yeah team of Michele A’Court, Livi Reihana of The Fan Brigade, Tom Sainsbury – Comedian and Snapchat Dude; and the fearless Nahs, Jeremy Elwood, Justine Smith, and Hamish Parkinson – Hungry Peach Boy. And a huge thanks to the talented Laughton Kora for marvellous musical atmosphere.

Laughton Kora added brilliant sonic atmosphere before and after the debate.

Thank you especially to the sponsors and supporters who made the evening possible: Auckland Transport Cycling, the NZ Transport Agency – Auckland & Northland Sandfield Information Systems Aurecon Greater Auckland.

Thanks, too, to our generous food and beverage sponsors Yealands Family Wines, Hakanoa Handmade Ginger Beer, Toto Pizza, Brothers Beer; plus Plantlab.nz who supplied the terrariums, MOTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology) for the amazing location, and Big Street Bikers and Bike Barn for donating bikes as prizes.

Our limited edition T-shirts flew off the shelves. (Still a few more – watch for them at future events)

A shout-out to honoured guests: councillors Chris Darby and Richard Hills, local board stalwarts Pippa Coom, Lindsay Waugh, and Julie Fairey, and Roskill MP Michael Wood, for joining us at the end of a very long and important day.

To our tireless Bike Auckland volunteers who ran the show, we couldn’t have done it without you.

And to everyone who came along for a moment of joy and laughter – thank you for joining the fun! We’re on a roll! Check out the Facebook album over here, and hopefully we’ll see you next year for more!

A ribald and riotous evening all round.
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