“I don’t think of myself as an advocate. I just want to ride my bike,” says Canadian transplant, Bayswater resident and Bubs on Bikes inventor Jena Niquidet Western. “If you’re walking or cycling round, you tend to say hi to people. Being on a bike makes me feel connected to my community, and that makes me happy.” And that’s exactly what makes her such a great bike advocate.
Her transformation into a regular city cyclist was gradual. In Vancouver, she worked in the film industry. “I didn’t start out thinking, ‘I want to bike to work every day’. I just wanted to wear a pretty dress and go get ice cream with my friends and sit on the sea wall and hang out on the weekend in summertime. And I wanted to do it on a bike. It was five years and two bikes later before I was biking every weekend.”
Jena’s first bike was a $50 granny bike. She was a fair weather cyclist – “Vancouver weather is crappy from November to March” – which is how the bike came to get left behind in a storage locker when she moved house one winter. She just plain forgot about it.
But that was okay, because next she bought her beloved Dahon folding bike, with a basket on the front “for my fat old chihuaua, who didn’t feel like walking any more.” The new bike took her even further. “You just start realising the freedom – you start zipping around, then you realise you can go longer and longer distances. In the beginning it was just that I hated to get in the car on the weekend, so I’d do errands on the bike, go out for groceries, go to dinner with friends, and soon I was biking all the time.”
The folding bike (but not, alas, Pika the chihuahua, rest her doggy soul) came with Jena to Auckland when she moved here with her Kiwi husband Ben in 2010. She’d been promised “bike lanes everywhere”, but the reality of getting around her new city on two wheels was a little hairier. Still, she persevered, exploring further afield via the ferries, and getting the hang of Auckland traffic.
One day she was in a bike shop, and somebody mentioned Cycle Action. She got in touch, was quickly coopted onto the committee, and threw herself into organising events.
The arrival of her daughter Elle three and a half years ago offered a new challenge: getting around on two wheels with a little passenger. Even for someone as motivated as Jena, finding the right child-seat was a mission. This set her thinking about how much harder it must be for people who aren’t plugged into bike circles. “We have great programmes for kids who are learning to cycle, but where’s the support for new parents, especially that lost generation that might not have grown up seeing babies on bikes? Plus, the gear has moved on, so there’s a whole lot more to know about.”
“So often, friends would hear about me riding around with Ellie and say, ‘oh, that sounds like so much fun, we’d love to try it, but…'” Her brainwave: “A try-my-bike day for parents. Because I could see that people needed a little bit of help.”
So Bubs on Bikes was born. The first Bubs on Bikes day at Onepoto Domain was a huge success, and the next one is at Roberta Reserve on Sunday 22 March. There are activities and advice for wee beginner cyclists, and parents can try out the many ways to add a kid to a bike – front seat, back seat, trailer, Dutch-style cargo bikes (now available in electric versions!).
Everyone’s welcome, from those who want to bike as a family but don’t know where to start, to those already doing it and keen to share the knowledge. “We’re always looking for other families who want to get involved – whether it just be an email with their top tips for riding with kids, or advice on anything from gear to routes to ride, or if they want to come out to an event, or host one in their area.”
Future plans include a Mama meet-up around Mother’s Day, a local version of the San Francisco Bike Coalition’s Family Biking Guide, and a guide to family-friendly local bike rides.
As a member of Bike Devonport (inspired by the fabulous Bike Te Atatu), Jena is keen to encourage other neighbourhoods to embrace the freedom you get when your other car is a bicycle. Not to mention the importance of safe streets for all.
“I really would like to see Auckland become more people-centric – traffic yielding to vulnerable users, slower speeds in residential areas, and more crosswalks – every time I see someone young or old huddled in a pedestrian refuge, I cringe,” she says. “Our streets are the arteries of our communities, and they are our streets.”
I do believe cycling can make our communities and Auckland a dynamic and amazing place to live. And since we have made the commitment to raising our kids here I have a vested interest in making that happen. Little things count.
There’s a new baby in the family now – Arlo, aged 7 months – so Jena “We live right on the reserve in Bayswater, and every day I see more and more parents out riding with their kids, being active, walking. This morning I saw a mum pushing a bike and trailer up the last little bit of the hill to kindy in Belmont, with two little girls cuddled up together in the trailer. It’s such a fun way to travel.”
With just the one car, the family has recently acquired a cargo bike for extra versatility. It’s a nameless TradeMe find for $600; the bike bit is in good condition, but the cargo part needs an upgrade. Jena and Ben are working on a “bike-hack” to suit Arlo, attaching the seat from a Phil and Ted buggy to a shiny new box. (See here for a similar project)
“Ben’s down to one bike now, but I have three,” Jena says, smiling. The beloved Dahon folding bike, which boasts a green iBert kid-seat, is her day-to-day bike. There’s the work-in-progress cargo bike.
And bike #3 is her pride and joy: a vintage Phillips bike that Ben had restored – fresh chrome and all – for a very special occasion. “I rode to our wedding on that bike. It’s Something Blue.” (That’s not just its description, that’s its name!).
She reckons she’s not an advocate, but she sure is persuasive. Romantic, practical, fun, fearless, summery, wintery, Vancouver, Auckland, three bikes, one kid and now two – Jena Niquidet Western is a bike champ for all seasons.
Fancy a Bubs on Bikes event in your neighbourhood? Keen to get involved with family biking? Have a great family ride to share? Contact Jena.
Bubs on Bikes Family Bike Day is this Sunday 22 March, 10.30 – 2, at Roberta Reserve in Pt England.