“Wow! What a party! What have we done to deserve this?” said a guy in lycra as he pulled to a sudden stop.
“Is it someone’s birthday today? Maybe it’s mine!” said a cyclist in civvies, braking behind him.
There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but on Friday afternoon there was a free snack for homebound commuters on the Northwestern bike path – a random act of kindness dreamed up by Tom Beeston.
Standing under a bright banner that promised “FREE FUEL – for cyclists” and wearing a cheery gingham apron, Tom presided over a table of home-made goodies: carrot cake, flapjacks, date and cashew balls, and (for the gluten-free) ginger and chocolate bickies.
At this time of day, most of the bike traffic was westbound. Some riders whizzed straight past, in a hurry to get home, perhaps keen not to spoil their appetite — or their smooth lycra silhouette. But plenty paused for a quick bite and a friendly chat.
One of the first to stop was Michelle, who rode a new purple bike with a flowery basket. “This is my version of hi-viz. Drivers won’t be able to say they never saw me!” She gladly accepted a snack.
A few wondered what the catch was. “Are you really giving away free food?” Others were instantly delighted and disarmed: “How about this for a nice surprise on the way home!”
The spontaneous tea party, which was quickly picked up on Twitter and dubbed “edible activism” by Metiria Turei, was a family effort. Under an umbrella nearby sat Tom’s partner Molly, with their baby daughter Ida – who at six months has recently enjoyed her first bike ride, in a trailer. Tom’s parents Anne and Brian, visiting from the UK, lent a hand. “We helped with the shopping,” said Anne. “And the quality control,” added Brian.
Motorway traffic, which was moving unusually freely for a Friday evening, slowed ever so slightly as drivers checked out the impromptu party. Some honked and gave thumbs up, and a few called out “Got any for us?” In this case, the grass was definitely greener on the biking side of the fence.
So what inspired this pop-up picnic? Tom, who has a background in design, says he is always thinking about gentle ways “to jolt people into thinking differently.” Previous projects include a lolly-vending machine that offered two options: you could buy a small serving of lollies for 40p, or you could pay 50p to ensure that the next person got more sweets.
In other words, paying it forward – with a little extra on top. A feel-good feedback loop.
It certainly worked like that on Friday. People lingered and struck up conversations, enjoying an unexpected moment of sweet camaraderie. As one rider said, there’s plenty of company on the path these days, but “unless you’re riding alongside someone else at exactly the same speed, you don’t often find yourself in conversation like this.”
The chat turned to destinations, distances, determination. Nisarg Dey cheerfully explained, “This is my New Year’s resolution – biking to work.” Inspired by a client who was into sustainability, she’d begun to feel guilty about driving into work each day, alone in her car. So she gave up her carpark at work and now cycles from New Windsor to the University of Auckland most days, when she’s not travelling by bus. She loves her guilt-free commute.
Praveen was another recent convert – in only his third week of cycling to work from Mt Albert after not having ridden a bike for eight or nine years. “I love it! Once it was raining and I had to catch the bus. I was so sluggish that day! I just found myself wishing all day I could get back on my bike.” His workplace, Spark, is not just bike-friendly but bike-enthusiastic, with parking for 100+ cycles and shower facilities for employees, who arrive on two wheels from all over the city.
Praveen praises the cycle path, smooth and safe, as “a blessing for cyclists, whereas the main roads are so much more risky.” Safety is top of his mind because waiting for him at home is another keen new bike fiend: his two-year-old daughter Isabella. She greets her dad holding her WeeRide bike seat, which fits on the top bar of Praveen’s bike. “So after I get home from work, I ride around the block with her for another half an hour. It makes her so happy!”
Next to stop were Dipali and Lee. Dipali bikes to town from Kelston, but has lived all over Auckland and has always cycled, unfazed by hills “It’s good exercise.” She’s from Paris originally, and enthused about the Vélib bike-share programme (et maintenant pour les enfants aussi!), and other planned improvements for cyclists. Could downtown Auckland be a bit more like Paris one day? “Oh, I hope so!”
Lee, who’s more of a “fair-weather cyclist”, was on her way home to Pt Chev from her very bike-friendly workplace (safe bike parking, handy showers). The cycle path is her favourite bit of the ride to town – and, like others, she singled out Upper Queen St as the trickiest part. This was a common theme — while many workplaces are leaping to encourage cycle commuting, public streets still lag behind. Top of most people’s wishlist: safely joining the dots between where the cycle paths end and the busy roads begin.
Rewarding these everyday cyclists for “doing it anyway” despite an incomplete bike network is what motivated Tom. He knows city cycling well, having biked around London for seven years before moving to New Zealand. He’s also witnessed firsthand the way that rapid, deliberate improvements in infrastructure bring more and more riders confidently out onto the streets.
“By the time I left London five years ago, it was absolutely heaving with cyclists. But when I arrived in New Zealand, it almost felt like motorists didn’t know what a cyclist was. Now you see a lot more, and you know you’re not the only one, which is so encouraging. The number of people on bikes along this path alone has really bloomed. I just wish we’d spend more of the billions we’re spending on motorways on other modes, and offer people other ways to get around.”
Around 7pm, as the commuters slowly thinned out and Tom and his parents began packing up, a late customer appeared, bound for New Lynn (four weeks into bike commuting and loving it). He screeched to a halt with a curious grin on his face.
“What’s all this in aid of?”
“Just being nice,” smiled Tom, handing over a piece of cake.
Know of any other random acts of bike kindness? Planning one yourself? Let us know, and we’ll come and check it out!