In Defense of Responsible Cyclists.

I have ridden a bicycle of one sort or another since I was 7 years old. I got my first race bike at 14 and I spent most of my adulthood in the US riding bikes as a commuter, triathlete, and occasional mountain biker (even on a tandem MTB!). I did some long road races for training, and continued all of the above when I moved to NZ in 1997. When I stopped competing in 2002 I continued commuting and riding for fun, even after my precious triathlon bike– a 2000 Cervelo P2 fitted to me–was stolen in a burglary (if anyone sees a red 26 inch wheel P2 with Ironman Hawaii stickers on it–it is mine and I want it back). All told, I have ridden well over 100,000 miles in a variety of places, on and off road, urban and rural, solo and tandem. I love bicycles, from old beaters to beach cruisers, classic Italian road bikes, dual shock MTBs and, as my foremost love, the bicycle equivalent of my partner’s mind: time trial bikes–sharp edged, aero, lively and fast, deep dished and big geared, yet immediately responsive and intuitively attuned to where I want to go and what I need to do to get there sooner rather than later (I may get in trouble for this since a bike has no soul, but for me it is an attempt at making a material comparison to a precious intangible. Competitive cyclists and tri-geeks will know what I mean).

As for the relationship between competitive rider and bike, I shall defer to the wisdom of an old Mexican mechanic who serviced my ride while I was racing in El Paso, Texas: “it is not the machine but the monkey that rides it that matters.” Competitive or not, it is the monkey who ultimately pays the price for riding on public roads. As an insentient object,  a bicycle may be broken or destroyed but not injured or killed when it crashes. For the human rider, that substantive difference does not obtain.

Anyway, I moved to an island state in SE Asia in late 2007 and took my nice commuter bike with me. In the first 14 months in country I was hit by cars twice, once by the side rear view mirror of a van passing at 50 kph and the other by the back end of a city bus that cut in front of me  in order to pull into a bus stop (when it could have waited 2 seconds to allow me to pass the bus stop entry). Although the first driver stopped to see if I was Ok after he heard the thump, the bus driver and passengers on the bus berated me for being in the road (this, while I was laying on the curb checking to see if I was injured).

But SG is not too bad. During the 10 years I lived, trained and raced in NZ I was hit five times–two sideswipes, two at roundabouts by motorists who would not cede although I had the right of way, and one T-bone when a car turned left across my bow on a steep hill during a rainstorm. In two instances I was assaulted by the drivers involved (one whom was on his way home from church), and in one case the driver attempted to flee. In four of the cases the driver was a middle aged pakeha male (the other was a chinese male), with two of the five driving panel vans. In the US I was hit once, in Florida, by a a slow moving geriatric in a Cadillac who wanted to “move me along” down the road because I was moving too slowly (at 40 kph on a Sunday morning at 7AM). I also had a gun pulled on me in Tucson (at 6:30AM!) by a redneck in a pickup truck who swerved into a bike lane to show me and my riding buddy who was boss–but then ran into a red light half a block down the road. When I rode up to confront him he kindly produced his penis-substitute.

I tell this story because once again cyclists have been killed and injured in NZ by careless motorists. Every year, it seems, the triathlon and road racing community loses someone to a car crash. Simple bike commuters die as well, every year. What ensues is discouraging: motorists angrily denouncing cyclists as road hogs, irresponsible, effete, possible gay lycra-clad wankers with too much time on on their hands and too much money invested in bikes. They rail about cyclists needing licenses and taxes in order to ride public streets, and generally stress the inconvenience of having to slow down for the oxygen and blood powered vehicles in the way between them and whatever important destination it is that cannot be impeded by the two wheeled laggards blocking the road.

Inconvenience? Let me explain some very simple physical facts. Even if rude and inconsiderate, cyclists are human beings with spouses, children, parents and others who love them, riding on a self-propelled unarmoured vehicle wearing nothing but a helmet and normal clothes (or lycra). The rider’s points of contact with the pavement are two 5 centimeter patches of 21-25 mm rubber rolling at anywhere from 70-130 rpm, at speeds that can be as low as 5 kph or high as 60kph under normal variable terrain conditions in NZ. A rider and bicycle might, if the rider and bike are big, weigh 150 kilos. The bicycle is a vehicle in the road, as is any other, but with the twist that it shares with horses (which are also vehicles in their own right), the virtue of being self-powered. Yet no one in their right mind would sideswipe or fail to yield to a horse and rider. So why do it on a bike? The very attitude of some towards cyclists–that they are lesser beings, inconvenient, in the way, tax-dodgers etc., betrays an authoritarian mindset that speaks to the darkness within the NZ psyche. After all, bicyclists are people too, and in a democracy those people have just as much right to the road as anyone driving a fossil fuel powered vehicle. They may be slower, but they are equal when it comes to sharing the road.

The root problem of the conflict between cyclists and motorists is a matter of simple physics. An automobile weighs a ton, has 4 surface contact points of over a quarter meter each, travels from 0 to 150 kph as a matter of course, and has a metal and composite-encased passenger compartment with air bags as basic safety measures between the flesh inside and the kinetic effects of hitting the road or another object at speed on the outside. A bicycle rider has none of those, and is at the mercy of elements, road surfaces, the disposition of motorists and his or her own spatial and situational awareness in order to ensure safe passage during the journey. At the end of the day, cyclist is not in complete control of his and her fate when riding on public roads. The largest part of a cyclist’s fate that is not under his or her control is the attitude and behaviour of motorists.

Of course there are irresponsible cyclists. These should be ticketed, fined, and if causing injury, prosecuting for vehicular assault depending on the gravity of their transgressions. But motorists need to understand that a touch of fenders between two cars merely results in a dent in each, whereas the touch of a fender on the rear or front wheel of a bicycle, to say nothing of a full-fledged sideswipe or frontal collision, has the very serious, even likely potential for catastrophe for the cyclist. Do motorists really want to maim or kill cyclists just because the latter are rude, inconsiderate, slow or inconvenient? As it turns out, even the behaviour of cyclists can be classified and spotted a priori.

There are the four types of cyclists usually seen in the public streets: road riders, triathletes, commuters and bike messengers (MTB folk wisely tend to stick to non-paved rural tracks where trees, rocks and precipices are the main obstacles). Triathletes ride what are known as time-trial bikes given the individual nature of the sport. These bikes have aerobars jutting off the front handlebars on which the rider can rest their elbows in order to lower his/her aerodynamic profile (since most of the gains in bicycle speed come from overcoming wind resistance). Triathletes mostly ride alone except on occasional social rides, mainly because the triathlete must learn to suffer, fuel, eliminate and otherwise cope by his or herself given the nature of the sport (this is especially true of the long-distance triathlete, although some short distance triathlons now allow drafting in packs–see below).

Road riders (known as “roadies” and identified by their curled handlebars and stylised clothing) usually ride in groups, do not use aerobars (which are dangerous in packs if one is stupid enough to try to ride on them), and lessen their wind resistance by drafting. Drafting is a practice where one rider “pulls” the others by leading out front for a short spell of time while taking the brunt of the frontal air flow, upon which the following rider moves up front and the lead falls to the back of the “train” of riders behind him/her (I should note that the drafting effect is even greater when swimming given water resistance, and is even possible while running). This allows all riders to rest and give maximum effort during their short “pulls.”

The trouble with this practice is that it produces a double line of cyclists, those going forward and those going backwards, which on narrow open public roads can lead to lane blockages even if the pack is riding at 50-60 kph.  As a result, roadies are the cause of most motorist rage, although triathletes often cop the blame from road raging cowards because they are alone rather than sheltered by a pack and hence are  easier to intimidate from a moving vehicle (a situation that is often worse for female riders). Roadies often compound the problem of group rides by spreading 3 or more abreast in order to converse or gain some space in the pack. The trouble is that the law prohibits cyclists from riding more than 2 abreast, so in going beyond  the “2 wide” rule they are illegally blocking the road. No wonder motorists get angry. Road riders in groups tend to be the the cause of most of the more egregious examples of anti-cyclist road rage, be it in the moment or later.

Commuters come in all sizes and shapes and ride all sorts of bikes, and are seen mostly in cities rather than in towns. They mostly stick to surface streets but have been known to ride footpaths and stray onto major arteries. They often share bike lanes with buses, which makes them hated by and targets of bus drivers. Many use what is known as a “California” stop at street lights and stop signs, which is a slow roll-through when cross-traffic is clear rather than a full stop (this practice spans all types of bike rider, especially those wearing “clipless” bike shoes with special soles and peddles to maximise rotational efficiency throughout the peddle stroke, which if efficient makes for cumbersome foot plants at short notice. I have been guilty of employing the California stop from time to time, given that I have fallen more than once while trying to quickly unclip out of a clipless peddle).

Bike messengers ride hybrid bikes (road frames with MTB bars and gearing), and tend to exhibit an unhealthy regard for personal safety as they play a form of bicycle parquet during the course of their errands. They often are the most accomplished bicycle handlers and often are competitors in some form of cycling when not working, but they also tend to have the loosest view of traffic regulations and the interface between street, footpath, alleyway, steps and any other potential riding surfaces. They are a major source of motorists’ ire in large urban areas.

This brief exegesis is offered so that readers who are motorists but not cyclists will understand what they are dealing with when they come upon bicycle riders in the road. Virtually all cyclists are acutely aware of how vulnerable they are and most take pains to avoid confrontations with motorists. But sometimes terrain, context or circumstance conspire to bring them together in an untoward way. The fundamental thing that a motorist needs to understand in such instances is that, no matter how rude, inconsiderate, wankerish or otherwise inconvenient that rider’s presence may be, he or she is a living, breathing person made out of flesh and blood who has a right to life as much as you do. Injuring or killing them with your metal steed in an effort to prove a point or teach them a lesson is not only stupid–it is criminal. Even if it takes a minute or two (or five) to get around a cyclist or group of riders, perspective has to be maintained: a slow delay versus a thwarted life–is that a fair or reasonable trade off? Moreover, motorists need to understand that most of the roads they transit now have cyclists on them, and that cyclists have a legal right to be there. That means that motorists need to drive as if horses with riders were on the road–caution must taken in blind spots, on curves and hill summits and the two meter legal separation distance between cyclist and motorist must be respected when overtaking.

In the case of the irresponsible, arrogant or generally tosser rider(s), better to call the cops to the scene and/or demand more stricter enforcement of cycling and road safety regulations so that the minority of those who make up the bulk of the conflict with motorists are made to understand that with the right (and freedom) to ride a bike comes the responsibility to behave according to the universal rules of vehicle conduct. Otherwise homicidal or negligent motorists will have the final word on every cyclist’s fate on any given day.

22 thoughts on “In Defense of Responsible Cyclists.

  1. I have heard a number of stories about cyclists and bad drivers of cars truck etc. As a New Zealander I apologize to you who chose to live in my country. New Zealanders’ are bad drivers and the record for respect is appalling.

    I have connections to remedy this but time is unkind to situations like this – but I will try my best.

    Thank you for choosing New Zealand as a place to live.

  2. Cheers Quentin:

    At least no one has pulled a gun on me in NZ yet. And I have found that riding alone in the Waitakeres is safer, albeit hillier, than riding on the East side of AK. Could it be that Westies are more considerate of cyclists than their upper crusty counterparts on the other side of town?

  3. I cycle to work, but only because the entire route between my house and my place of work has the happy advantage of being entirely navigable via the North-western cycleway. Generally speaking, I dislike cycling culture, because it seems to me to be either the domain of the mid-life crisis or of zealots. I have to admit that I am also image conscious, well image conscious enough to turn my signed photo of Dorothy Parker towards the wall before I don the accused cycle helmet that every morning irrevocably condemns me to fashion hell. And thank goodness Oscar Wilde is no longer with us – the unedifying in pursuit of the unattainable often springs to my mind when I see the straining lycra of middle aged men vainly searching for their lost youthful vigour on a bicycle.

    None the less, since I cycle twelve kilometres (albeit shamefully) every day I feel qualified to offer some general views on the matter. Firstly, I actually quite enjoy riding on the cycleway. It definitely helps with my fitness. Secondly, I like the way that gravity and the weather means something again. For most people, the weather means “whether or not it is going to rain”. As a cyclist, rain and wind and all that are actually important. Finally, like an ex-smoker, I am shocked now at how much people spend on petrol. I only use around $25 of petrol every month. Filling up the car the other week for a holiday away came to a scandalous $80, I can’t believe so many people actually spend this much every week. Incredible.

    But I would never ride on a public road in this country. You are relying on every driver spotting you every time and not hitting you. I just regard my life too highly to take that risk with the generally reckless attitude and poor driving skills of New Zealand motorists. I think anyone foolish enough to take to the roads on a bike, knowing the high levels of incompetence that afflict our drivers, has themselves as much as anyone to blame if they are hit. The best defence for a cyclist on New Zealand roads is to simply not be there in the first place.

  4. Hi Pablo

    Good article. Found myself nodding as I was reading.

    I live down in Dunedin where, in my opinion, some of the worst drivers in NZ live, which is saying something.

    I generally mountain bike but cycle commute to work most days and after a few close calls I have developed a working assumption that most drivers are idiots and therefore cycle accordingly.

    However this still doesn’t stop me copping some occasional abuse because I may have held up a person in a car for a couple of seconds.

  5. Sanctuary:

    I am sorry that you feel that unsafe so as to not ride on public roads. I do not think that NZ is among the worse places to ride–I did not ride while in Greece earlier this year because the Athens street scene is too chaotic for that, nor did I ride in Lisbon when living there in 2004 (for the same reasons–in neither place did I even consider riding a bicycle given what I saw-although Samos might have been wonderful on a bike). I would not ride a bike in China (although millions do), or in Indonesia (where even the police seem to have the attitude that “bigger has the right of way” and cyclists should heed the unwritten law of the asphalt jungle rather than the conventional niceties of written traffic laws). Comparatively speaking, to my mind things could be worse than in NZ.

    I think the trouble, at least for me, is that I expect more from NZ motorists. Since the country is relatively peaceful and civilised, I expected the same to be true on the road. I now know that some otherwise sensible NZ people get transformed into homicidal maniacs once they get behind the wheel of a vehicle, but even then it is a minority.

    This is not to excuse the behaviour of cycling groups that break the road laws and do in fact display arrogance and a disregard for mutual courtesy on the road. But a death sentence or permanent injury seems a high price to pay for being a jerk.

    Bob: Along with crashing, once one rides a bicycle long enough one will inevitably meet wanker motorists. it just seems that there is disproportionately more of them in NZ given the otherwise civilised nature of the place.

  6. I’m not sure that you understand New Zealand motorists, as you believe that the rational, caring person who entered the driver’s door is still present once the vehicle is travelling on public roads.

    The vehicle driver’s door is actually a portal that causes a gross personality change, whereby drivers suffer paranoid delusions and regard all external road users as potential competitors solely intent on hindering important, time-critical, journeys.

    Drivers believe that, given opportunity, other drivers could act as though they were also allowed to be on the road – which obviously shouldn’t be permitted. Each driver knows that they alone have absolute right of way at all times, and all other users are incompetent and inconsiderate.

    To many NZ drivers, transport systems are dodgem tracks. They no longer recognise that the controller of other mobile objects ( pedestrian, cyclist, car driver, SUV driver, van driver ) are fellow human beings, but consider all other traffic as controlled by uncaring, selfish aliens.

    Professional truck drivers are a common exception, as their vehicle can make tomato puree of all other vehicle occupants, and the truck is also essential for earning a wage, so truckers tend to be more responsible.

    Pedestrians and cyclists are collateral damage in the main battle with other drivers. We don’t pick on cyclists, we simply treat all other road users as evil competition trying to adversely affect our absolute right to the road.

    The reality is that because of the diversity and increasing density of traffic, most NZ roads aren’t safe for any road user, and mutual understanding / respect is essential if innocent users are to arrive at their destination intact.

    As with other situations, it only takes a few irresponsible individuals to stigmatise entire groups of road-users.

    Maybe if drivers were required to use a cycle on the road for one day a week, they would understand vulnerabilities a little more, but it could also reinforce their paranoid delusions.

  7. I havent ridden a bicycle for over twenty years (since I got a license and car)…. but I did ride one for many years going to/from primary and then secondary school, and just hacking about the neighborhood.

    In that time I learnt valuable lessons that carry over well now I’m a driver… like assuming that everyone else on the road is blind, stupid or both.

    And since that time, I like to think I’ve given cyclists the room and time they need, and only occasionally get a bit miffed at the occasional bad one..

    I say this not because I want to blow my own trumpet, but because I just cant understand how many other motorists dont have similar experiences and show similar respect.

    Many drivers I talk to do indeed seem to have something against cyclists in general. I just dont get it?
    Back when I was at school cycling to/from was very common…. there were several hundreds of cycles chained up on racks at our school every day. Maybe a quarter or third of the students?

    What happened to all these kids who grew up? Did they forget what a bike can and cant do? Did they forget what it was like to ride amongst cars? It really is strange… Where does this mass animosity towards cyclists come from?

  8. I am trying to think of a reason to blame neoliberalism, market-driven policies and the Right in general for the uncivil attitude of NZ motorists towards cyclists but alas, cannot in good conscience find one.

    But I do think that the negative attitude may have to do with the combination of larger and more passenger vehicles on the road coupled with a general increase in stress levels due to increased employment insecurity, over-stretched household budgets, growing personal debt, a coarser and more vulgar popular culture in which belief in individualism and self-realisation at all costs takes precedence over communal solidarity and collective rights, leading to an assortment of chemical dependencies used as coping methods that more often than not accentuate rather than diminish the motorist’s sense of personal entitlement and alienation from all others.

    But then, that would sound a bit like neo-liberal-bashing, so perhaps it is just my imagination and the reality is that NZ people are just murderous jerks when they get behind the wheel, and have always been (as some of you native born Kiwis appear to believe). In other words, it is a cultural thing.

    If so, how does that explain that cyclist-motorist conflicts are quite prevalent in most of the OECD as well as the late-developing world, with the exception of “cycle-friendly” societies like those of the Northern Tier, the Netherlands, Belgium and–heaven forbid–France (excluding Paris)?

    Could there be a correlation between economic insecurity, road rage and negative motorist-cyclist interaction? If so, could that be traced back to the adoption of market-driven socio-economic policies? Hmmm.

  9. Ah Hugh, you may be on to something. It is the pernicious influence of rap muzak and da gangsta culture that is the root cause of all evil, including the deaths of cyclists. U down wit dat homie?

    Trouble is, it seems that Pakeha are the majority of vehicle-on-bike-crash drivers in NZ , so perhaps it is their wanna-be inner selves that are causing the trouble.

  10. Amen to that, Bruce.

    The rash of cyclist deaths we have had in recent days is something that had to happen – in a statistical sense.

    There is a major attitude problem with motorists in this country. This applies to their behaviour to all other users of the road – other motorists, motorbikes, cyclists, trucks, buses and even pedestrians on occasion. Put simply, they refuse to recognise the lethality of a car when misused.

    Maybe the theory of the extension of the car to part of the person (as seen from the driver’s perspective) is right. If another car cuts in front, it is a personal insult. Similarly someone who is slow in front of you is in your way.

    I had a good example of this today. I was driving down a typical curvy Wellington road and the car in front wanted to parallel park. That’s a fairly slow manouevre so I stopped a little way back. Meanwhile the beat-up second hand Jap import with obligatory reversed baseball cap driver behind started getting antsy, culminating (oooh a full 5 seconds later) with said driver yelling out the window “Go round! Go round!”. No way in hell. It was on a corner with a fairly narrow road. I couldn’t see around the corner so the risk was obvious (to anyone with a brain). Sure enough, a couple of seconds later a couple of cars come whizzing round the corner – so if I had tried to go around I would have had a face full of windshield. But that doesn’t stop the hoon from getting on the horn.

    So despite a clear in-your-face example of how dangerous his behaviour can be, this guy continued to behave as if waiting 20 seconds was a slight against him.

    Actually, I’m surprised there aren’t more fatalities on our roads.

    Given the vulnerability of cyclists, the “It’s my f***ing road so get outta my way” attitude was always going to result in a disproportionate number of cyclist deaths.

    I’m very pleased, Pablo, that you recognise the problems posed by some bad cyclists. Maybe its a pushback from the way motorists treat them. Yeah well that makes it alright, dunnit?

    I don’t particularly like sharing the road with cyclists but I try to apply the bubble approach. Imagine a huge bubble around them and don’t do anything that would encroach on the bubble. The cyclist might have the attitude of a retarded redneck but I’d rather lose 20 seconds of my time than to have their death on my conscience. Is it too much to hope for that this attitude becomes the norm rather than the exception?

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  12. I came across the 2 opposites of cyclists this morning while taking the new motorbike for a quick run out to Martinborough, first up was a Roadie peloton, 2 abreast the TEC looks back sees me coming and they all pull back into single file.
    Then 5 mins down the road coming around a blind corner I come across a solo roadie who was all over the road!
    I kid you not, as I was coming up behind her on one of her bigger wobbles she touched the center line!
    She was very very lucky….. I’d only just slowed down from the 100kmph speed limit as I’d just realised the pocket holding my cell phone was unzipped and I wanted to close it. If I’d been one of the many Fontera tankers it would have been messy.
    I had to laugh at her top….it was one of the bike safety ones with the “Don’t burst my bubble” message plastered all over it.

  13. If so, how does that explain that cyclist-motorist conflicts are quite prevalent in most of the OECD as well as the late-developing world, with the exception of “cycle-friendly” societies like those of the Northern Tier, the Netherlands, Belgium and–heaven forbid–France (excluding Paris)?

    I blame technology. Once inside a modern car the driver is deliberately insulated from their environment, as manufacturers spend serious money on noise and vibration specialists to ensure that the effects of speed and environment do not intrude into the passenger compartment.

    That’s to enable the drivers and passengers to talk and listen to radio/music as though they are not moving, and to minimise driver errors arising from the natural 20 km/hour maximum speed limit design of our sensory and reaction systems.

    The consequent driver misperceptions of speed and environment ( wind, rain, tyre noise etc.), all contribute to making the driver believe their vehicle is dominant over others, and is invincible.

    Vehicles are usually our second biggest lifetime purchase, and we want them to reflect our status, power, and aspirations, as well as providing transportation.

    The problem of disrespect for other road-users would not go away, even if we all drove the same model/size of vehicle. It might be mitigated via natural selection and self-preservation instincts if every vehicle had a large steel spike protruding from the steering wheel hub pointing directly at the chest or genitals of drivers.

  14. …the reality is that NZ people are just murderous jerks when they get behind the wheel, and have always been (as some of you native born Kiwis appear to believe). In other words, it is a cultural thing.

    As a sixth generation native born New Zealander I suppose I just sort of innately grasp what makes us tick; but in this case I think we are over-analysing this and failing to grasp an essential trusim of New Zealand and New Zealand society.

    About five weeks ago my wallet fell out of my back pocket on the cycleway. When I got home, it was in my letterbox (all money intact!) with a lovely note from the chap who found it. I would expect nothing less from my fellow New Zealanders. We are a wonderfully polite and honest bunch – that wallet in my letterbox is one of the practical manifestations of all those “least corrupt country” awards we win. Yet my friend from Chile shakes her head when I tell her these stories, she calls them “only in New Zealand” stories.

    Yet at the same time, New Zealand drivers are an unsophisticated, narrow minded and insular lot, who seem incapable of grasping higher order driving skills like thoughtful anticipation and situational awareness.

    New Zealand is a desperately isolated country geographically. The nearest large foreign city is Sydney, the same distance from us as Paris is from Moscow. with only 4.3 million citizens, we are inevitably condemned to be a deeply provincial society, with the added “bonus” of the parochialism inevitable in any island race, particularly one as isolated as ours.

    Both of the apparently contradictory things – polite, honest, concerned and narrow minded, unsophisticated and insular – outlined above are in fact just two sides of the same coin, the inevitable consequences of the tyranny of our location and population size.

  15. Dave:

    Two things appear to be going on that add to the fatal equation. First, it is spring and the weather has been exceptionally good. That brings out the weekend riders and dilettantes, which adds to the volume of cyclists on the road on any given day (I saw five today on the Piha Road).

    Second, more and more people are turning to cycling for aerobic exercise because it is (seemingly) low impact when compared to running and seems easier than swimming for those who have not swum. They see riding a bike as like it was when they were kids–“I mean, how hard can it be?”– without realising that public streets are not the quiet, under-trafficked thoroughfares of their childhood. Nor is a road or hybrid bike the same thing as the BMX or youth bicycles they used to ride on footpaths and across lawns.

    The female cyclist you describe appears to be of the latter category. The basic failure to control the bike through a fixed line around a curve (the “wobbles” as you say) indicates a lack of handling ability and/or confidence. Today’s public streets are no place for such a person to re-learn the basic skills of cycling.

    I have said to friends who have decided to return to biking or wish to take it up for the first time that the best thing to do is to buy a MTB and head to the easy tracks in well-established MTB “zones” like Wellsford and Whitford forests. Either that or find a dirt track out in the country somewhere with little traffic. This allows the novice rider to practice on gravel, learn about braking, slipping, sliding and falling–err, “laying down” the bike–without being crushed under someone’s wheels. As confidence grows, the rider can progress to harder MTB tracks and then make the leap onto the road, where the skills learned on the MTB will come in handy (one of the reasons I like the commuter hybrid bike is that I can jump curbs in the event of an emergency such as a bus pinching me in before its tail end passes, which is what I tried to do in SG before the rear bumper made contact in my second unhappy encounter there).

    As things stand I believe that about 40 percent of bicycle-motor vehicle crashes are caused by cyclists, with the remainder a product of motorist inattention, negligence or rage. This is regardless of country or culture.

  16. Pablo:

    Been a mountain biker since 91 and built more than a few tracks while I lived in Auckland…. There are far better place’s around Auckland to send your friends than Wellsford and Whitford!
    Try having a look here….

    Also the Lady yesterday morning?
    Certainly dressed and rode like a beginner, but as I passed I couldn’t help but think “That’s a rather tasty Pinarello she has!”

  17. Dave:

    Thanks for the link. I mentioned the forests for illustrative purposes only, thinking of places for beginners to ride safely. In a country like NZ, there are plenty of others, to be sure.

  18. I was a commuter cyclist for years. Actually Pablo I remember you remarking on my fortitude in choosing to cycle down Symmonds Street every day to uni.

    I always rode as if everyone was actively trying to kill me. Everyday I had a close call, some closer than others. I loved cycling but it was turning me into a nervous wreck. When my daughter was born I decided that I could no longer leave my life in the hands of a bunch of psychotic anonymous nutjobs. Sadly my commuter cycling days are over.

    I miss the cycling, not the stress.

  19. before 1986, there were far fewer cars on the road in NZ. very few households had one car per adult (16 yrs or over). new cars were a luxury that few could afford and used cars were kept going for decades. then came the cheap second hand import avalanche. it really changed NZ more than most people realise. the lowered cost and higher powered cars more than doubled the number of cars on the road. NZ has the highest number of cars per capita in the world (or it did a couple of years ago).

    until the mid-80s, a lot more people used buses and bikes in AKL. the numbers are only just starting to recover after 25 years of decline.

    also, i don’t think so many 20-somethings today rode bikes much as kids compared with us 40-somethings and older. the perspective of the bike rider has become quite diluted.

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