Introducing the newest member of the Bike Auckland family: the wonderful Karen Hormann

Karen Hormann, previously CFO for various technology companies, has agreed to be Bike Auckland’s new Treasurer! We couldn’t be more excited and want to introduce Karen to all of you through a quick interview. 

Karen Hormann and her e-cargo bike!
Karen Hormann and her e-cargo bike!

First of all – your love of cycling. You have an electric bike and use it for all of your shopping and transport, but a few years back you drove a car like most Aucklanders. Could you tell me about your shift from a car driver to a cyclist? 

Yes! So I finished my last CFO role at the end of 2018, because I wanted to take my daughter to live in Spain. We ended up living in Granada for 9 months. Really, people didn’t drive around in Granada, because those streets are so narrow and parking is almost impossible. Everyone walks, or bikes, or catches the bus. So we never noticed not having a car, and you get so much fitter just walking around. 

I came back to Auckland in December 2019, just in time for lockdown. Before we left for Granada I actually sold my car, and I made a vow that when I came back I wasn’t buying another one. Which in Auckland, the city of the car, that’s… some people thought that was a little bit extreme, and that I would relent – but I haven’t. 

I had a bike in the garage, so I just sort of made do with that for a while. At the end of the first lockdown I was one of the first people to break down the door of the Electric Bike Team to buy an e-bike – a really cool cargo electric bike. It’s got a longer frame and I can fit all my groceries in there. I even went to Panmure once and picked up a bookshelf, and managed to break it down and get it onto the bike. And I bought a food processor on TradeMe and then realised it needed to be picked up from Long Bay, so I biked there and back from Kingsland, which took most of a Sunday. 

I really don’t miss having a car. They say that cyclists are the happiest commuters, and not that I commute anymore, because I work from home, but every time I get out on my bike I just love it. I can bike along the Northwestern Cycleway and see everyone sitting in their cars and remember, That was me! And yay, I’m not doing it anymore. 

Fantastic. Could you tell me a little about your career, and how you found Bike Auckland?

Well, I reluctantly qualified as an accountant, thinking some time I would do something else. That’s taken much longer than I thought. But to make life interesting I started working in technology, so I had a few roles as Finance Manager or CFO in small startups. That was great, but it is a young person’s game. The trouble with the finance role is it can just keep expanding as the organisation grows, but the support doesn’t always expand with it. When I moved to Spain, I realised I very much needed a change.

When I came back from Spain 18 months ago, I hadn’t really decided what work I was going to do, and I spent most of the year trying to figure that out. Now I’ve started doing work as a business coach, and decided that I’m building the life I want, not the one I should have. I’m also volunteering at Kelmarna Gardens, and at Business Mentors New Zealand. So it’s a lot more about giving back, and being involved in things that are aligned with my values. 

I found out about Bike Auckland when I bought my e-bike. Part of Maurice and Electric Bike Team’s connection with Bike Auckland is that everyone who buys a bike from them gets an automatic membership to Bike Auckland. I really had no idea what Bike Auckland was at that stage, but an email landed in my inbox talking about the AGM (Annual General Meeting), so I thought I’d go along and find out about it. 

Barbara was speaking and there were loads of people, and even though I’m the worst networker in the world, I felt at home and was really quite excited about all the things they were doing – I wanted to get involved. Then I saw the message come through for the Treasurer role and was like, right: I want that role. I want to get involved. 

And now you are Treasurer! What inspired you to work with Bike Auckland?

Well certainly Barbara’s passion. She’s quite compelling. And I could see Bike Auckland were really involved in the infrastructure and technical side of it, as well as bringing people in at the community level with Bike Burbs. That combination where it’s both approaches is great. 

But also, the lockdown really showed how much people actually love to bike around in our city if they feel safe. So many people were out on their bikes, and you saw little kids with their parents, biking in places where normally you wouldn’t bike, because it’s too dangerous. 

I’ve lived in places like Sydney and London where, if you cycled, you were probably putting yourself at unnecessary risk. But then my daughter and I went to Copenhagen, and that quite inspired me, too, seeing a city that’s got it working. They have dedicated bike lanes, so you’re not in with the pedestrians, you’re not in with the cars – and you can see everyone cycling, from really young people to quite elderly people, on bikes, and feeling safe. Consequently, there weren’t that many cars on the road. It was really noticeable for a decent-sized city.  

And active transport, it’s exciting! It’s so liberating getting out of your car. 

What do you think some of the biggest challenges for cycling in Auckland are?

It’s got to be safety. You’re either choosing to be with pedestrians, or to be with cars, and there’s a huge responsibility with either one. Pedestrians aren’t looking out for you at all – in fact, even pedestrians when they go on the Northwestern Cycleway, lots of them are doing video calling, or they’ve got headphones in, so you have to really be aware of what people are doing. And some car drivers are great, they give you a wide berth and aren’t rushing around. But you know, our culture is rush, rush, and you get people who overtake you and then turn left in front of you. Or opening car doors, that’s always a good one. I saw someone open a car door on my daughter and just miss her. 

I think having kids is one of the most restrictive things. When you’re trying to get them from A to B, you end up having a car. You do see some people with cargo bikes with kids in the back, but if you’re not that confident yourself riding a bike that’s a difficult ask. 

What suggestions do you have for people who want to really get into cycling like you have?

It does take a lot of time to change your routines. Whether it’s commuting to work on a bike or just using it for daily things like shopping, it takes a lot of settling into that new way of doing things. It does take some commitment and perseverance in the beginning, but it’s really worth it. I’ve got friends who are now cycling to commute to work, and they just love it. 

The other thing about biking is fitness. We’re all such a sedentary lot, and we’re all sitting all the time. If you’re commuting, you don’t have to think about it – you’re getting your daily exercise just as part of life, so I think it’s an ideal way to maintain some physical wellness in a world that’s going mad, basically, wanting us to sit like robots at a desk all day. 

On a practical level, I really recommend trying an e-bike, because it just changes your experience cycling in Auckland. There are a lot of hills here, and sure, you can bike up them, but an e-bike just means you can go a lot further and you can ride more often, because you aren’t so exhausted. Because of the traffic, there are a lot of places in Auckland that you can actually get to almost quicker by bike than car.

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