Jessica Rose is the brains behind the inaugural Cycle Action Bike Gang Challenge at Open Streets on Sunday April 12. She explains how she fell in love with biking, with the aim of encouraging others who might be feeling tempted…
As a new member of Cycle Action, an administrator for the Frocks on Bikes-Auckland Facebook page, and a member of the Lady Bike Gang “Think-Tank”, I’m enthusiastic about facilitating more women riding bikes. Because let’s be honest, there is a bit of a gap in representation out there on the road.
I happily ride with mixed gender groups, but I feel like many gents have already got cycling, whereas women bump up against all sorts of questions that might get in the way. Feeling safe on the road, appearance, commuting with children, fitness levels, and bicycle maintenance, to name a few.
My story shows how the humble basket-bike can be a gateway bicycle for women to get confident on two wheels. Here’s how…
My first foray into riding as an adult was in 2011, on a $20 special from Trade Me. I hadn’t worn a flat shoe for over a decade, and my fear of ‘helmet hair’ had all of the qualities of a waking nightmare. Biking to work on the aforementioned 20-ton flat-tired special was exactly the sort of experience designed to squash my budding interest in commuter cycling.
So how did I get from there to here: owning 3 bikes, biking to work (and everywhere else) weather permitting, and planning my holidays around ticking off every cycle trail New Zealand has to offer?
I started over in 2012 with a lovely cream Schwinn from T Whites. Snazzy rather than cheap, it was a fantastic bike to regain my confidence on, plus it came with a useful basket. I started out cautious of traffic and preferring to stick to the sidewalk, as there were not a lot of cycle paths in East Auckland – although I did discover the beautiful Waikaraka cycleway. I found that I could cope with helmet hair if I focused on the admiring glances and comments of “nice bike!”
In 2013, as I got braver (and fitter), I headed out with my new cycling friends on evening rides. Cue bike number two: an Avanti track bike, razor thin and light as a feather. It was surreal learning how to ride again, in my 30’s, pedalling up and down the street outside my house, trying not to fall off while my partner anxiously looked on.
Soon I was regularly riding the 16km to work and back, using secret cycle paths behind Sylvia Park to minimise brushes with trucks and buses. I no longer fretted about helmet hair; my wardrobe remained unchanged (dresses look great whether walking or cycling); and my collection of cycle friendly Toms was growing.
2013 was also the year I watched The Human Scale and started to learn about the amazing infrastructure for cycling in places like Portland and Copenhagen, and why it’s so important to build biking into a city from the ground up.
I also did my first NZ cycle trail, the Otago Central Rail Trail over Easter, enjoying a gin after each leg (a large nod to the Lauder hotel here). And we made a move to West Auckland, to have access to better cycleways. We dropped down to one car, finding that the other was now sitting idle in the driveway.
In 2014 I campaigned with Generation Zero for cycle infrastructure, which I now understood was vital to Auckland as a successful city. I love that that cycling is great for your personal health and the wellbeing of society. It’s great bonding for families, a boon for the economy and imperative to the environment. That same year I joined Frocks on Bikes AKL, and had the honour of performing with the Velociteers.
At the end of 2014, my (now) husband and I planned a trip with friends to the Timber Trail, and realised that our holidays have been – and are going to be – about where to cycle next. So we got ourselves mountain bikes for Christmas. Bike number three for me!
Where to from here? I’m now taking an active role in advocating cycling, particularly to women; my key goal is to remove the barriers they perceive between themselves and cycling. I also want to help bring together all the separate yet overlapping interest groups so that cyclists have a stronger unified voice to our governing bodies.
I look forward to a future city with a SkyPath over the bridge, integrated cycle paths as the norm in transport planning, and more people on bikes!