In January, right after the flooding, our chief biking officer Fiáin d’Leafy and their partner Cappuccino moved house by bike! Listen to them talk about their experience with Jesse Mulligan on RNZ here and read the article in the Spinoff here.
It was a dreary Sunday. The sky was overcast. In the distance, cars on the motorway sounded like waves. Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland was officially in a state of emergency, and had been since a freak downpour on Friday the 27th of January caused massive flooding and widespread damage.
The only sign of the flooding here at this particular house in Morningside was a swampy lawn and wet concrete. A bird sang amidst squeaks, rattles and the occasional stoked exclamation. The array of musical sounds was coming from more than 10 bicycles – cargo bikes, bikes with bike trailers, pannier bags and baskets – which were being stacked with shelves, desks, beds, and boxes. It was moving day, and, inspired by these legends in Pōneke Wellington, Fiáin d’Leafy was determined to do it all by bike.
“Luckily we know a lot of people with bikes!” smiles d’Leafy, Chief Biking Officer for non-profit advocacy group Bike Auckland. They had been looking forward to this move with their friends but postponed it to Sunday morning due to safety concerns. “I told them to only come if they felt safe enough to. Safety is most important.”
D’Leafy says that they decided to become car-free late last year, after their partner Cappuccino (who has ADD) crashed the car. They decided it wasn’t safe for Cappuccino to keep driving – “they’re too distracted!” – and d’Leafy is a highly anxious driver, preferring to use other modes of transport. “The car was pretty old, it was costing us too much in repairs, and we generally do most of our trips by bike and public transport anyway. We got a bike trailer which, coupled with the E-bike, means I can do much more by bike. I’ve been getting potting mix by bike, picking up boxes for moving house – it has really given me the freedom to do what I need to do and not feel like I need to have a car. Having an e-bike also means I can travel much further than I would on an acoustic bike.”
[Some argue whether a non-e-bike should be called a push bike, an acoustic bike, or an analogue bike – which do you prefer?]
Sam Hood was the only one on an acoustic bike for moving day, and it even had a trailer attached. He loaded it up with a single bed and tested the weight with a short test ride before piling more items on.
Although Hood was already an everyday biker, living in an apartment with no carpark sparked the idea to have a bike trailer too. He was moving to another apartment building when he realised he could do it by bike if he had the right setup. Cue hiring two e-cargo bikes from Bikes & Beyond to make the move, and purchasing a bike trailer. “I thought I might use the trailer once every three or four months but I actually use it way more frequently than that. It’s given me so much freedom.”
Moving things by bike has been cheekily dubbed “quaxing”, which the Macmillan online dictionary defines as “transporting something unusual, awkward or unlikely using public transport or a bike.”
The term came about after Dick Quax, formerly an Auckland Politician and Olympian, was adamant that nobody would transport things by bike or by train. It’s now used the world over, and frequently hashtagged online when posting pictures of shopping by bike, or carrying unusual items on a bike.
D’Leafy was confident they could move almost everything by bike – except they weren’t sure about the Queen bed. Their friends assured them they could make it happen.
The assorted bike trailers and cargo bikes were serious business, and there was a strong sense of determination emanating from their owners; in these circles, moving over-sized and bizarre objects by bike is a mark of achievement, something many take great pride in; and it helps that it’s incredibly fun.
Last year Dean Adam picked up a 15ft trampoline by bike – deconstructing it first. Day-to-day his bike is used for the school drop off and to take his daughter on adventures; sometimes travelling 50km just to find the best playground.
“When my daughter was one I took a punt on an e-cargo bike, and it changed everything for us. I loved it, but more importantly she loved it; she loved looking around while we travelled, she loved where it took us and we both loved the time we spent together riding. As a dad it changed how we spent time together.” Adam says it’s making amazing memories for them both. “We got caught in the rain a couple of weeks ago and Miss 6 could have jumped on my bike under the rain cover, but instead she preferred to race for home on her own bike, shrieking with laughter. It’s a moment of spontaneous joy I’ll remember for a long time. One moment of hundreds of amazing father-daughter moments we’ve had riding around Tāmaki Makaurau.”
D’Leafy grew up cycling in Kirikiriroa Hamilton as their main form of transport. “Mum didn’t like being a taxi” they joke, “and this forced me to learn how to get around by bike”, adding that they feel lucky to have built the confidence to cycle from a young age. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. When d’Leafy first moved to Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland they found the roads too intimidating. “It took me about 6 months to start riding my bike again. At first I would take my bike on the train to avoid busy roads. Then we moved to Morningside and it was amazing to be so close to the North Western cycleway.”
The move after that has put them on the other side of St Luke’s Road, with its dreadful busy traffic. “In some sections it’s a 6-lane road. It’s horrible to drive along, it’s horrible to cycle, it’s horrible to cross as a pedestrian: no one wins.”
St Luke’s Road and New North Road were the worst stretches of the route for their moving house adventure. Many people avoid cycling on these roads, often driving instead. The group helping d’Leafy had safety in numbers. Riding together in a group made them feel safer.
One of the assembled helpers, Michael Lawton, was riding a tall bike – which is literally two bikes welded on top of each other. This tall bike was home-made. It was towing a trailer. When it arrived the group cheered – they had been waiting for Lawton to prove their claim that they could transport the queen bed by bike. Lawton easily loaded their bike trailer with the queen mattress flat across it and strapped a heavy desk on top. Teva Chonon had already secured the queen bed base upright on its side on his bike trailer.
D’Leafy points out that we can do more by bike than most people realise, “myself included, and if it were safe enough then more people would choose to give it a go. But if it’s not safe then for most people there is no choice.”
Studies show that protected cycleways make streets safer for all people who use them – including drivers and pedestrians. This means that investing in a safe cycle network is beneficial for everyone – and will help the Council to reach their target of Vision Zero; a goal for zero road deaths or serious injuries by 2050.
“We know how to design our streets so that people don’t get hurt, so of course we should do that. To keep our tamariki, our whānau, our kaumātua safe. Isn’t that the most important thing?”
When the assembled convoy was loaded up and ready to go, they paused for a safety briefing: bunch up at red lights, wait for each other at the top of hills, make sure to stay together on St Lukes Road. D’Leafy was the leader, and Carol Green was the tail – she would stay at the back of the group and help if anyone had any problems.
The convoy set off. The first challenge was the Don Croot climb, a steep section up onto Western Springs Road. Most of the group made it up and assembled at the top. It started to lightly drizzle as they waited. Someone had a flat tyre and several people clamoured to help. Once they had reassembled the group set off again, occasionally ringing bells and whooping with glee. Onlookers cheered for them from across the road. In no time at all the convoy reached the new house with happy calls of “we made it!” Time for pizza, cake, and hot cups of tea.
“We were able to move by bike largely because we have friends with the right kinds of bikes and trailers to help us. And it was only a 2km trip. Of course this wouldn’t work for everyone. I’m super grateful to all who helped – what a fun adventure! What a cool community!”
Giving people the safety to choose to travel by bike is vital for reducing our transport emissions. Central government declared that we are in a climate emergency in 2020, and Auckland has committed to Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland’s Climate Plan. 45% of Auckland’s emissions are from transport, with 79.9% of that coming from light vehicles (mainly cars). Reducing the barriers to walking, cycling, and public transport will be powerful for reducing our region’s emissions.
“Both the Prime Minister and our Mayor acknowledged that the extreme weather we experienced early this year was caused by climate change. Waka Kotahi, Central Government, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, and Local Boards: they all have the tools they need to empower Aucklanders to get around in ways that are better for the planet. And a huge part of that is giving people a genuine choice to ride a bike.” D’Leafy says Bike Auckland is calling for action to make a safe network of accessible cycleways so that more people can have real choice in how they get around.
You, general member of the public, have an opportunity to make sure that our elected representatives will give people this choice; by considering climate, health and safety when you decide who to vote for. Click here to update your details or enroll.
“If you look at the Auckland Plan it says we should have 70% of the Auckland Cycling Network completed by now. We haven’t gotten anywhere near that. Our decision makers can make progress by following through with planned safety projects such as the New North Road and Symonds Street Upgrade, and completing the roll out of safer speeds. Setting safe 30km/hr speeds on our residential streets is one of the fastest and most affordable ways of making it safe for people to cycle for their trips – and complementing this with protected cycleways along arterials would go a long way towards completing our cycle network. It’s about creating access for everyone.”