In the first of our ‘me and my bike’ interviews with ordinary Aucklanders on wheels, we talk to Daniel Newcombe from Auckland Transport about his brand new bike, the benefits of e-bikes, personalising the complicated business of transport planning, and the day he nearly won “transport bingo”.

danielnewcombeTell me about your bike.

It’s a Pedego City Commuter. I ordered it through Planet Cycles on Dominion Rd, because it’s my local bike shop – if the bike needs looking after, then it’s easy to take it back.

Why this bike?

I needed to replace my old bike, a scrappy old MTB that got stolen from outside the Council building in town. I was thinking, what kind of bike do I want? I used to ride around London on an old MTB in old clothes.

But now I’m a commuter, and I want to ride in my work clothes. I don’t want to be a MAMIL – there’s no lycra in my wardrobe! I want to look like a person who happens to be on a bike.

Basically, I’m a dad on a bike.

That said, the first thing I did with this bike was swap the seat. It came with a sort of brown leather granny seat with springs. That’s just not me. I mean, I never thought I’d have a bike with leather handle grips and brown tires, either. But I’m getting to like it.

It really suits you! But why an electric bike?

I’m not hip enough to have a fixie, and hills are getting hard! Plus I cover a lot of miles for my job, and we’re a one-car family. I used to use all kinds of transit modes in London – it just comes naturally when the city is built that way – and I wanted to not succumb to using the car all the time just because I’d moved back to Auckland.

For example, in one day last week I travelled from home in Mt Eden to town, then Albany, then Papakura, then back home. It was bike, bus, walk, carpool, train, bike… if I’d caught a ferry that day, I’d have won transport bingo! The electric bike just gives me more range, and I’m not sweaty when I get where I’m going.

And I liked the style of this bike. If I was going to get an electric bike, I didn’t want one like the beach cruisers that my father-in-law rents out to tourists up north. For me, it had to look like a “real bike”.

What’s the furthest you’ve gone in one day on this bike?

53km. I know that, because the battery gives you around 50km per charge, and I ran out of battery 3km from home – halfway up Queen St. I love this bike but let me tell you, it’s a bugger to push uphill.

What’s your job?

I have a Planning degree and an Engineering degree, so I straddle both areas. I work at Auckland Transport, leading a team that does strategic investigation into bits of road all over the city, trying to flavour them with things that make them more amenable for public transport, walking and cycling. With my time in London, and my own transport choices now I’m back here, I understand what it’s like for people who bike, bus, walk, catch the train, from the ground up.

At the moment we’re pursuing a focus on the “user experience”, which means talking with people about why they make the choices they make to travel the way they do. Nobody chooses to sit in traffic for an hour every morning and evening. If we talk to them about how they wind up doing that, maybe we can offer them some different choices – and better choices. There are all sorts of changes you can make to influence people’s travel behaviour, whether it’s big stuff like installing a busway along the NW motorway, or making tiny fixes to improve the experience of, say, people who’ve been put off catching buses for some random reason. If we don’t ask, we won’t find out.

I’m also interested in using plain language to describe road use. Rather than saying an intersection will create vehicle delay, what happens if we ‘personalise’ it, like: “This mum and her kid would have to wait four minutes to cross the road because a truck needs to get through.” That might change the way we plan things.

How does cycling fit in to your work? 

At the moment I’m working with the cycling team a fair bit, looking at how to move from delivering “one size fits all” facilities, to targeting the user and putting paths where the people are. It’s a work in progress. Rather than just saying “We need a cycle lane on this road”, we want to know: who are our cyclists? Where are they? What do they need? There are so many different kinds of road users – my kids are 5 and 7, and they get to school via a walking school-bus, but would I put them on the road on a bike? No way, not yet. I’m pragmatic. I don’t necessarily think all kinds of cyclists will use all kinds of infrastructure all the time.

What kind of cyclist are you? 

I’m not a “cyclist”, I’m not an advocate  – I’m just a guy who rides a bike. And sometimes catches a bus, or a train, and sometimes drives a car. Which all hopefully helps me in my day job, figuring out how Auckland transport users feel, and what they might want or need.

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  • Christopher

    Great interview. I’ve known him for years now, in a professional capacity. Am bit surprised he got an ebike, thought he would stick to his road bike.

  • Goosoid

    “I’m just a guy who rides a bike” – I have a Smart Motion ebike and I would not go back to a non-electric bike now. That despite the fact I am a healthy 40 year old and a very confident cyclist.

    The fact is that even though I may be doing half the work, I cycle three times as much as almost anyone else I know. I never think I can’t go somewhere by bike because I will be sweaty or I just can’t face that one big hill.

    Basically thee ebike takes the hills out of it and makes it so you are cycling on the flat all the time. Only it also takes the head winds out of it, and for someone who has many times cycled into Chch easterlies, give me a hill any day!

  • Alicia Warren

    Nice interview Daniel. Good to have you on our side. I also have an electric-assist bike (a BionX) and it has made it feasible for me to bike New Lynn to CBD daily – 26 km return. What used to take me almost an hour now only takes 30 mins.

  • Warwick Marshall

    Central Auckland…yes I would use eBikes for the hilly sections….would be great. Efficient. If your getting 50 km out of a charge, that’s great.

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