Bike to Soccer – the warm-up that frees up the streets!

When you stumble across an idea whose time has come, you don’t have to talk anybody into it, it just makes instant sense. That’s how Bike to Soccer came to be: a brilliant initiative by the North Shore United Football Club and Bike Devonport, with the help of Auckland Transport, Bike Barn Takapuna, and a bunch of lovely sponsors.

Bike Devonport member Chris Werry had the initial brainwave.

“I started biking to soccer a few years ago because I hated the car park chaos so much, and it’s a nice way to start the day and warm up a bit for the game. Once I started biking to soccer, I realised it just 5 minutes from my house by Cheltenham Beach. I drew some circles on a map and realised that it’s less than 10 minutes bike ride to the ground for almost everyone in the club. Plus the ground is right on the Devonport Green Route and there are lots of other shared paths and quiet streets nearby.”

Chris gave the project a quiet nudge last year, by adding a few bike racks – but he saw the potential for a proper, rolled-out campaign this year. All he needed was a willing volunteer to coordinate things. Along came new Bike Devo member Davor Popadich, whose 5 year old son plays soccer – although Davor protests: “I didn’t really do that much. It was like kerosene – I just lit the match and boom!”

If you’ve ever tried to drive down Lake Rd on a weekend, you’ll get why the plan immediately caught on. Car after car – most of them locals, many dropping kids off to sports events – inch along in traffic only to wind up in a crowded car park or spilling out into the street. It’s a teeth-gritting grind, repeated in neighbourhoods all over Auckland every Saturday.

By contrast, Bike to Soccer promises to free up the streets and put roses in your cheeks. A much more enjoyable start and end to the day, and – almost as a side effect – it gets a bunch of cars off the road, too.

The programme runs for four consecutive Saturday mornings in May, with some tempting bribes incentives to help spread the word: free coffees for the adults from the onsite cafe (a gold coin donation goes towards a new bike rack), a bouncy castle for the kids, a raffle for a bike and helmet (over $700 value) supplied by Bike Barn, and a tent offering free basic bike maintenance, Bike to Soccer maps and general bike information, manned by AT’s Zane Bray.

The plan is, same again next Saturday; then on May 16th same again plus a working bee to construct the bike stand paid for by all those “free” coffees. The last Saturday, May 23rd, is the Big Day Out, with a big soccer game at 12.30 vs Forest Hill, and the drawing of the bike raffle.

So, how many showed up on their bikes on the first day of Bike to Soccer? Chris took a photo at 8 a.m. of the early arrivals…

Bike to soccer! Pic by Chris Werry
Bike to soccer! The early crowd. Pic by Chris Werry

… and by 9 a.m. the bike stands were overflowing!

Look at all the bikes! Pic by Zane Bray
Look at all the bikes! Pic by Zane Bray

Chris reported later: “We ended up having over 120 bikes at soccer this morning. That’s at least 40 cars off Lake Rd!”

More and more bikes! Pic by Zane Bray
More and more bikes! Pic by Zane Bray, who notes that what this pic doesn’t show is another 10-15 bikes parked up against the club building.

Here’s the magical thing: Bike to Soccer is solving a problem for the football club – car parking – but also helping build community, promote the club’s new cafe, and encourage families to linger and watch the senior games. Says Chris, something about arriving and leaving on a bike makes the morning feel more sociable, more interactive and flexible. “Contrast this with jumping into your car, where you are immediately in your own world and the inclination is to move on to the next thing as quickly as possible.”

Already, we’re seeing other ‘burbs and clubs pop up on Twitter and Facebook to say “This is great! We could do with something like it in our neighbourhood…” Pt Chev, Te Atatu, North Shore Netball, hands up who else?

Here’s what you’ll need to make it really take off, in Zane’s words:

  • A bunch of CAN DO individuals able to work together to make this happen and to ‘drive’ it – in this case, Chris, Davor and Bike Devonport
  • A club that is keen to make it happen (in this case Bill Lissington and Sean. I can’t say enough good stuff about Bill. He was on the phone to me every second day making sure we were organised, securing sponsorship, organising logistics and emailing the ENTIRE club to promote the event)
  • Suitable paths and roads around the club so people can get there safely
  • It helps to have a community that is already cycling and just needs encouragement to remember to do it
  • And someone to support if needed with things like bike maintenance advice (AT’s Walking & Cycling team is a small team working innumerable extra hours to try and make positive changes – but can supply maps, and advise on what else would help)

If that sounds like something you’re up for – go for it. Contact Chris and Davor at Bike Devonport or Zane at Cycling’s the Go for any extra advice about organising a bike-to-sports programme in your part of town.

And congrats to Bike Devonport, the North Shore United Football Club for getting this show on the road, and AT and Bike Barn for swinging in behind. Looking forward to seeing it light up all over Auckland!

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