If anyone knows how a bike can change your life, it’s Teau Aiturau. He’s a big guy; but he was a much bigger guy when his doctor suggested he start some gentle training to get healthy. A bit of swimming, then Teau took to cycling, with stunning results. Teau’s doctor proposed a reward if they successfully completed the Rotorua Moonride together: he’d give Teau his own bike.
Now Teau, 39, wants to pay that gift forward via his charitable trust, Time To Thrive – To Stay Alive, which aims to equip kids with bikes (and bike skills), and everything else they need to stay healthy. “That’s why I want to work with the kids. Because they’ve got heaps of energy, I want to get them on bikes while they’re young.”
Teau grew up in Mangere, went to Nga Tapuwae College, then spent a few years driving trucks in Australia before coming home to look after his older brother who’s in a wheelchair.
He loves this place. But: “There’s a need. There’s a big need,” he says of his neighbourhood.
So, operating on an absolute shoestring, he buys up the cheapest bikes he can find (he also accepts donations of old bikes), and patches them back together. From his pop-up bike workshop in the carpark next to the Mangere Community Centre beside the green expanse of Centre Park, he hands out bikes to any child in the neighbourhood who wants to ride. For free? Of course, for free. “There’s a lot of people who want to cycle but they can’t afford a bike.”
Safety first: he provides a helmet and bike skills instruction with every bike he gives away. The bikes get shared generously between siblings, friends, neighbours; and everyone knows who to bring them to for repairs when needed. “They call me Mr T,” says Teau, with a quick smile.
Teau’s not just focussed on the need. He’s got a bigger vision. For starters, a fleet of Pasifika bike mechanics. He has a few helpers – mechanically-minded mates, like his friend Junior who’s good with cars and bikes and is between jobs – and together, they teach the children crucial repair skills.
There should be a saying: “Give a kid a bike, and they’ll ride it till they get a flat. Teach a kid to fix a bike, and they’ll ride it for life.”
On the day I visited, the children are keen to share their knowledge with me. “I like naming all the parts,” said Caleb, who’s nearly 9. “The fork, the frame, the pedals, the seat, the bike stand, the spokes…” Silia (turning 9 in August) said her favourite thing was “Fixing the tires and putting them back on. Fixing the chains, too.” Together, they explained how to fix a puncture, from go to whoah. Nilly, coming up on 13, loves tinkering on a grander scale. “I like knowing how to fix bikes, so I when I get older I can create my own bike.”
These kids are so enthusiastic, and so confident in their skills, you can see how easily they could talk the rest of their families into taking up cycling.
“Lots of families are getting into biking here,” Teau says, “And the more people that bike or walk, the more money they have in their pockets for other things.” Looking at the wide, flat streets of Mangere, and the generous footpaths and grass verges, it’s not hard to picture a thriving bike burb. “Bike Mangere”, says Teau, modelled on Bike Te Atatu.
There’s still a lot of infrastructure to sort out. Teau points out the nearest dairy, just across busy Robertson Rd from the park – but the nearest zebra crossing is over the brow of the hill. On the other side of SH20, there are flash new biking and walking paths; but they aren’t properly linked yet to the streets east of the motorway. And Centre Park itself would make a great spot for a bike track for beginner learners to practice on, and a great HQ for a bike club, to match the big new soccer stadium and the facilities for other sports clubs that meet there. But for the moment, Teau is working from the carpark, as weather permits.
He would love to be able to offer a regular after-school programme for kids, as well as a during-school programme teaching their parents how to ride and fix bikes.
He’s got some sponsors on side, after running a “runway fun day” at the airport last year: Bikewise are helping out; Natural High bike rentals lend a hand, and the Mad Butcher and Hubbards have chipped in with food sponsorship. But it’s still a challenge to get things up and running, and he’s still mostly funding things himself.
The current challenge is to find a proper place to store the bikes and work on them. He always needs tools, helmets, parts, more bikes, a first aid kit or two, printing, help filling in forms to get more official support… the list is long, because the need is great.
The demand is great, too. Not just from kids asking for bikes, but from Teau himself: challenging the kids to go further, try harder. The day before I visited, he’d taken them on a long expedition out to the airport – down George Bolt Drive, back up Puhinui Rd, for a 15km round trip (a ride Teau himself does every morning, followed by laps at the pool, all before 9 o’clock).
The kids were exhausted and exhilarated… and all warmed up for Open Streets on the weekend. It’s a long way from Mangere to town. The youngest ones stayed home, but Teau, his friends, and the big boys biked all the way to the city for the Bike Gang Challenge. And then all the way home again. Hard yards for beginning bikers — but their bike champ knows they can do it.
“Another thing I like about bikes,” Silia had told me that day in the carpark, “is I can learn to go far. And have fun.” She’s not wrong about that.
Teau runs his bike programmes out of the garage workshop at the Mangere Community House, 141 Robertson Rd, next to Centre Park, Mangere. Any assistance or donations of bikes, helmets, bike tools or gear are greatly appreciated. Contact Teau directly if you’d like to help out: 022 360 5748