A friend of mine has just started riding a bike around Christchurch. She is a very tentative cyclist but I’m so proud of her for getting on her new bike and giving it a go. So far her forays along bike paths have been positive ones and I hope she comes to love cycling as much as I do.
I thought this would be a great opportunity to share what I know about cycle commuting in Christchurch with her, but also with other wannabe cyclists who are thinking about trying to rack up some kilometres this month in the friendly competition that is the Aotearoa Bike Challenge. (Registering on the website is quick and easy and if you download one of the recommended apps to your phone it’ll record your cycle journeys automagically! Also there are prizes!)
Tips for newbie Christchurch cyclists
If you’ve never done it before, riding a bike can be a bit intimidating but the more you do it, and the more you learn, the more confident you’ll be. Here are some things it might help you to know:
Cyclists are friendly folk – We love encouraging new cyclists and there are numerous clubs and groups that would love nothing better than to encourage you towards freewheeling greatness. Try:
Frocks on bikes (for those that like to cycle in a leisurely fashion, usually in a frock. Frocks on bikes organises regular group rides, often around popular events)
Plan your route – If you’re nervous about busy roads and intersections plan your route so you can avoid them. And if you feel like a particular intersection or bit of road is dicey, there’s no shame in pulling over and being a pedestrian for a bit. I do it all the time!
Cycle lane etiquette – If you’re a slowpoke like me you’ll want to keep to the left of a cycle lane so it’s easier for faster cyclists to overtake you on the right. If you’re speedy calling out a cheery “coming up/overtaking on your right” as you approach is helpful for avoiding any collisions. A bell is a useful piece of kit for cyclists of all speeds as it’s great for getting the attention of pedestrians on shared pathways (or those who absentmindedly wander into a cycle lane). To me a bell always sounds more friendly than “OI!”.
Do wear a helmet – Because them’s the rules. And if you’re in an accident you’ll appreciate not being concussed (I speak from experience). And yes, it’s still the rules if you’re cycling on the footpath (but don’t cycle on the footpath unless it’s designated a shared pathway). Correct deployment of your helmet is firmly strapped on your head… not dangling off your handlebars.
Do wear whatever else you want though – There is no cycling uniform and I have successfully biked in everything from heels to jelly shoes (and even a veil once – it was Halloween). Short or floaty skirts can be problematic (especially when windy) but a snug pair of shorts underneath or the coin and a rubber band trick (or a peg) can successfully keep things “under wraps”.
Things to know about cycling infrastructure
There are a lot of cycling initiatives and changes to infrastructure happening in Christchurch and some of these can be a bit confusing or mysterious if you’ve never come across them before. Here’s what you need to know:
Sharrows – If you’ve seen road markings that incorporate a bicycle icon and a chevron shape then you’ve seen a “sharrow” (share arrow). These are used on slow or quiet streets and indicate that cyclists should bike towards the middle of the road. But do move across to the left if a motorist wants to come through.
How to make lights go – You may notice at or on the approach to an intersection a section of road that looks like the surface has been sliced into, often in the form of a box or rectangle. Underneath the road surface is a sensor that can detect bicycles and in some instances this may be the only way to trigger the lights. If you feel like you’ve been waiting an age for the lights to change, look down or around you. You may be a little too far ahead, behind or to the side to be registering as a cyclist.
Extra lights just for you – In the central city there are now some intersections that operate on a different system to work in with the new separated cycle lanes. Instead of following what the main traffic lights indicate, you’ll need to pay attention to the special lights just for cyclists (you’ll know they’re for you because they’ll have a bike symbol). Keep your eyes out for these at spots like the Tuam/Colombo intersection, and by the bus exit of the Bus Interchange.
Hook turn boxes – A hook turn is a handy option at really busy intersections where making a right hand turn in heavy traffic might not be the safest option. If you see a painted box featuring a hooked arrow and a bicycle icon at an intersection this is a good place for cyclists to perform a “hook turn” (although hook turns are allowed at most intersections). A hook turn is when you take a two step approach to a right turn. Staying to the left, a cyclist can go with traffic through a green light then stop in the hook turn box, and then go with traffic through a second green light (or even ahead of it if the road is clear), effectively making a right hand turn in two stages. The NZTA has official instructions on performing hook turns (with pictures) that explain this really well.
Go by bike day is tomorrow. Surely a person doesn’t need more inducement to hit the road, powered by their own legs, enjoying a form of transport that’s good for their fitness and their wallet… but a free coffee and a muffin at the traditional Go By Bike Day Breakfast doesn’t hurt, does it?
This year the location of the breakfast is 597 Colombo St, on a Life in Vacant Spaces lot at the St Asaph St corner and all cyclists can enjoy the aforementioned free breakfast thanks to a range of cycle-friendly sponsors.
I’ve been to several of these events in the past and it’s always a good opportunity for a bit of sly perving of bikes (and associated accessories) as the concentration of other cyclists gives you a really good view of all the different kinds of cycles and cyclists that ride around in Christchurch.
In fact, the whole month of February is a good time to be out on a bike, and not just because the weather is generally pretty good. The Aotearoa Bike Challenge encourages you to get on a bike, even if it’s only for 10 minutes and to try and rack up some mileage. It’s super easy to register, then you log all your rides, can set yourself goals to achieve – “burn off a glass of wine” for instance – and compete against your co-workers.
I am registered and it is strangely addictive. Even relatively short trips of a kilometre or two really do add up if you’re riding every day. Also, there are prizes up for grabs. And if you’re new to the whole cycling thing, they’ve got really helpful tips about riding to work, bike maintenance and other relevant topics.
Tomorrow it’s the annual celebration of commuter cycling known as Go By Bike Day when Kiwis are encouraged to ditch the car or bus and get to where they’re going by the power of pedal alone.
I’ve been a commuter cyclist on and off since I got my first bike (a gold Raleigh 20) at the age of twelve and it is a terrific way to get around the city. Nowdays I often have a passenger as my 2 year-old enjoys the view from his child-seat up front, and the opportunity it affords him to wave at everything from ducks, to dog-walkers, to diggers.
It’s not without its downsides – impatient or inattentive motorists, bad weather, potholes, helmet hair, and lanes that aren’t quite wide enough because of roadworks – all hazards and impediments. But hey, what in life is perfect? Nothing. And there are plenty of reasons why going by bike is a good idea, not just on Wednesday, but every day.
Exercise – If, like me you’re a bit averse to exercise for its own sake, commuting by bike can really help you get moving and active. Commuter cycling has its own motivation built in, “Sure I can stop if I get tired…but I’ll be late for work/school so I’d better keep going”.
Money – It’s hard to argue against the money-saving aspect. No bus fare, parking fees, petrol costs, rego or insurance required. Once you have a bike, helmet, lights, lock and some reflective-wear you’ll spend almost nothing (unless you want to treat yourself to a cookie because you burned so many calories on your way to work).
Freedom of movement – Often people equate the motor vehicle with freedom to come and go as they please. In reality you’re much freer with a bike. You never have to circle the block looking for a park on a bike. If you see something interesting on your way somewhere there’s always a convenient spot to “pull over”. Depending on what kind of bike you have, you can pick it up and carry it places. Take it into a park. On a ferry. Put it on the front of a bus. You can stop, get off, and walk pretty much any time it takes your fancy. You just can’t do that with cars.
Panniers, baskets and trailers, oh my! – It’s never been easier to lug your stuff (and kids) around by bike as there are more options available for customising your ride than ever before. Not sure if a bike trailer is for you? Then try a trailer out for free.
Environmentally friendly – With a bike you supply the fuel. Your legs (or arms – hand-cycles are a thing) propel you, not fossil fuels. You’ll never run out of petrol, (though it is possible to run out of puff).
Sense of achievement – I like knowing that I got from one place to another by the power of My Mighty Legs. Also, the first time I successfully repaired a puncture on my own was one of my proudest moments.
The cool factor – I have a very cool bike. Strangers often compliment me on it. I’d never be able to afford a car that makes people envious but a bike is a much easier (and affordable) proposition. People are also really impressed when you turn up somewhere on a bike, as if you’ve done something superhuman. In some corners it’s considered novel and somewhat daring to have travelled by bicycle. Take my advice and MILK THIS FOR ALL IT’S WORTH.