We didn’t make nearly enough of a fuss of Duncan Laidlaw when he topped the charts this February in the Auckland division of the Aoteaora Bike Challenge, for greatest distance covered by a bloke… a whopping 3002km in 28 days! Duncan’s a stalwart member of local group Bike Kaipatiki, helps out at the Roskill Bike Kitchen and various repair cafes, organizes our monthly Bike Breakfast meet-up, and is generally a very good egg. We threw a few questions his way to figure out what makes his biking brain tick. 

What got you biking in Auckland?

About 10 years ago I attended a Go By Bike Day breakfast at the Viaduct, and gave biking to work a go. I was a bit laddish, and I pushed myself so hard biking to the Birkenhead Ferry that I felt like throwing up while crossing the harbour – the only time in years of ferry travel I’ve had that sensation. An inauspicious start.

Then 5 years ago, my wife and I bought a couple of bikes for recreational trips on weekends; they got a couple of outings, but mostly took up space in the garage.

Roll forward to three years ago: the Monthly Discovery Pass was being axed to make way for the HOP card, which meant my usual bus-ferry combo would see a substantial fare increase. It was just before Christmas, and I had my first crazy bike idea of the modern era and decided I could cycle to work the following year.

To warm up, over the New Year we took the bikes to Cambridge to try out various trails, and hit new milestones of 21km in a day and 40km in a day! That January, I bought some pannier bags and started cycling to the ferry then out to work in Glendowie, and three years later, I’m still going. (I now have waterproof panniers and the original set are being used by other family members.)

Where do you ride mostly?

Most of the distance I cover is getting to and from work. We live in Birkdale on the North Shore and I work in Glendowie, so there are three main routes I take:

1)      To the Birkenhead ferry then from downtown to Glendowie: ~18kms.

2)      To the Beach Haven ferry then from Hobsonville to Glendowie: ~40kms.

3)      ‘Around the top’ via Upper Harbour Drive to Glendowie with no ferry: ~52kms.

Outside of my commute, I enjoy riding around the North Shore and using various bike paths including the Pakuranga Rotary shared path, Twin Streams, Orewa Estuary and the Devonport peninsula greenway.

What do you ride?

Normally I prefer my Giant TCX SLR 1 Cyclocross bike which is fitted with a Pannier rack, Continental Tourride 700×33 tyres, USB rechargeable lights front and rear and a Garmin computer with speed and cadence sensor.  When looking for something a little more casual I will take out the Apollo Summit which is quite a bit heavier but we have seen a lot together as it is the bike bought 5 years ago for some recreational riding.

Duncan amongst the bikes, giving the TXR a tune-up.

What other gear do you carry?

As well as what’s bolted on to the bike, I carry a pump, a couple of spare tubes for the bike I’m riding, a couple of common tube sizes for other people I might come across on the road, a patch kit, multi-tool, spare chain pin, a multi wrench in case someone needs it (last used to straighten someone else’s chain near Hauraki Corner), a first aid kit with gauze and saline solution in case of road rash, a small towel, and spare lights.

Do you bike with family members/ friends?

Duncan in his kilt at the Sunday Best Ride 2015 (chatting with Caroline, a practicing midwife who rides a 90 year old bike to work).

My commutes tend to be solitary rides and I often do them with music on (although not loud enough to drown out the surrounds).  When I’m not commuting I often look for a more social environment – like group rides and meetups like Sunrise Coffee or the Sunday Best Rides, or with family or friends.

Over New Year, for example, we visited my brother and family in Masterton, taking our bikes and tools with us.  Having tuned up the fleet, we enjoyed several days taking our nephews out for rides and going out as a group. The previous time we visited, I went out with my mother on bikes, to explore the trails she’d found to help exercise.

By the way –  I highly recommend the Wairarapa valley as a destination for some relaxation and cycling, and every time we visit I see more people out and about. Masterton, for those who haven’t visited, is mostly flat and has some excellent riverside trails and trails in Henley Park and other locations. An excellent connection from Masterton or Wellington is to get off the train on the outskirts of Greytown and then cycle in to the village along a disused siding which has now been converted superbly into a walking and cycling track.

Outside family excursions, my wife Miriam now has an e-bike, which means we can get back out on bikes together at weekends. And we’ve encouraged friends to join us on day adventures, including fabulous trips to Waiheke and the Coromandel using the ferries.

What do you love most about biking?

I love the freedom and the sense of community. Most of all, I enjoy the lack of ‘boring time’. I’m not very good at just sitting and relaxing. I always have to be doing something – so traditional transport like buses, ferries or cars tends to irritate me.

On the bike, by contrast, not only can I ignore road congestion, but there’s always something to see. And unlike being sealed away in a car, you are available to experience whatever is going on. The position you have in the saddle is a little higher to give a better view, and the speed you are doing tends to mean you don’t miss as much. Whether it’s a seal on one of the beaches, a sunset, whales in the harbour, or just having someone to ride with and chat to for a few kms, cycling is far more entertaining. And it reduces the need to exercise at my destination as well.

Why did you do the Bike Challenge this year? Would you do it again – and what was good about it?

Duncan, kitted out for Christmas – you’ll go down in history!

I’ve taken part in the Aotearoa Bike Challenge the last two years, and can’t see why I won’t be taking part next year.  Each year there have been a few challenges – doctor’s orders to avoid cycling, or being out of town for a week – but I decided this year I’d make a specific effort to be available, to put in some practice, and set an ambitious goal for myself. I didn’t get the practice time I had figured on and then suddenly it was February and it was now or never.

The good stuff is everywhere during bike month, which really helps. You see so many more people out on bikes, most with smiles on, and I loved the friendly waves and acknowledgements that were exchanged around the city.  Our network of paths and lanes makes it easier to get around without worrying about traffic. And Lightpath/Te Ara I Whiti always puts a smile on my face.

There were moments shared – into the head winds and up the hills – as well as while helping others with trouble roadside. At the beginning of the month, in the warm summer evenings I met lots of families out for rides on the Northwestern and on Grafton Gully, and every tribe was represented as I toured the city on my weekend rides.

Twice during the month I had the privilege of helping the community service their bikes – at Onepoto Domain with Bike Kaipatiki, and then at Pt Chev with the Roskill Bike Kitchen. These were excellent days. The team of workers did a great job, and it’s wonderful to hear how and where people are using their bikes, and know that we helped them ‘keep the wheels spinning.’

Did you have any not-so-good moments in your 28 days and 3002km? 

There was one ‘not-so-good-that-turned-into-good’ moment. On a late ride in to work, I lost a bag off the back of my bike somewhere along the Northwestern Cycleway. I spent hours retracing my treads, worrying I had lost my wallet and more. It turned out, someone had found the bag – he did some online sleuthing, emailed me via a contact form, and when I phoned at 9:30pm he mentioned he was working to a deadline at Unitec till 1am, so I could pop by and collect the bag. He insisted it was nothing, but I was ever so grateful to have my bag back. And the next day I managed my longest day ever, spurred on by the kindness of a stranger and my good luck.

The ‘not-so-good’ was served in small doses (thankfully). The wet weather in the middle of week three was cold, very wet and, as discovered by one person I helped along the way, dangerous if not taken seriously. There were times where my thoughts turned to heading home or calling for a lift, and there were some days where a ride was done 5km at a time – but the weather passed, and the best ride of all was the last one on February 28th.

What are your top 5 priorities for improving biking in Auckland?                

  1. Keep encouraging people to give it a go. The more people out there cycling, the safer it is for everyone, the more funding will become available, and the more normalised it will become.
  2. Keep fostering the sense of community. It starts with the nods, waves and smiles as we pass one another, and flows on through the Bike Burbs, events and challenges. Getting out on a bike is a fabulous way to meet the people in your neighbourhood.
  3. Ensure people have the skills and knowledge to get the most out of their riding experience, whether that is cycling skills on road and off, or basic maintenance tricks for smooth running while out and about.
  4. Complete the network effect with the big projects: Skypath, Seapath, continuing Quay Street – bring it on!
  5. Enhance the network effect with the small projects. There are numerous places around the cycle network where lanes disapear or intersections which need enhancement to make them cycle friendly including the NZ top 10 intersections at Ngapipi Road and the Bullock Track.

What’s your day job? And what else do you do in your spare time?

Day to day, I work as a software developer on a product called Jobtrak, produced by a firm in Glendowie called Ontrack Software. Outside work, I organize the monthly Bike Auckland Bike Breakfasts (on the first Thursday of every month) and help with Bike Kaipatiki. Locally, I’m involved with the Beach Haven Birkdale Residents Association and the Beach Haven Placemaking Group. Plus, I’m an active Scottish country dancer, and am President of Scottish Country Dancing Auckland Region.

Phew! See why we love this guy? If you have even a fraction of Duncan’s oomph and enthusiasm, and would love to be a part of making Auckland better on bikes, pop over to our Volunteer page and let us know. We’d love to have you aboard!

Duncan’s old bike, now doing new duty as a scarecrow in the garden!
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