When I was younger, I wanted to be a cyclist. Specifically, I wanted to be like those sunkissed, helmetless Europeans that you see in the movies - wearing a thin summer dress, loaves of freshly baked bread and market flowers arranged effortlessly in the front basket, grinning as I enjoy the moment and life more broadly.
This romanticised notion of what it means to be a cyclist has rapidly given way to the reality of what it’s actually like to commute by bike in Auckland. Before acquiring my trusty two-wheeled steed two weeks ago, I spoke with several riders who all had grisly stories to share about abruptly opened doors, drivers who didn’t check their blind spots, and other near-misses that happened despite being decked out from head to toe in high-vis. So I always, always wear a helmet. And for the sake of my saddle area, I now own a pair of bike shorts which are basically a thick pair of spanx with a bright pink jumbo pad built in to protect your nether regions. It’s winter right now, so who knows if I’ll appear more sunkissed come December. But these last few weeks I have consistently arrived at work sweaty (thank you, hills) and - temperature pending - a few shades paler than when I left home.
Despite the aesthetic discrepancies between this reality and my idealised cycling dream, I think I now understand why people ride bikes despite all the risks of what Emma McInnes, a founder of Women in Urbanism, describes as a “car-dominant planning system”. In an opinion piece urging for improvements in our urban infrastructure re-published by The Spinoff, McInnes wrote: “…if you ride a bike, you know about the good days, the days when you don’t nearly die... You’ll know the complete joy that comes from riding a bike. It’s the best. It really is sunshine, bird sounds, fresh air, seeing at least five people you know on your way to work, plus all the benefits of saving time, money, and the planet.”
It was hard to comprehend the different aspects and the depth of this possible joy from the driver’s seat of a car. And difficult to see what lies beyond the environmental and practical benefits of this transport alternative (on the days that I do bike I don’t have to endure the highly stressful ordeals of sitting in traffic, finding a park, and paying for parking – I’ll probably end up living an extra five years, as long as I don’t get inconveniently run over by a bus or something). Some other joys that seasoned cyclists have mentioned include: being more in tune with the changing of the seasons; having a deeper appreciation of the indoors, warm food, and hot tea; and meeting new people through the cycling community who have made big changes in their lives.
My favourite and most unexpected realisation to surface during the process of talking to others about whether or not I should invest in a bike, what kind of bike to choose, etcetera was that cyclists are some of our city’s most hopeful citizens. Because though Auckland was previously voted the best large city in the world for cycling, we’ve got a long way to go before we can call ourselves a truly bike-friendly city. Many riders will experience varying degrees of physical and emotional trauma from accidents while our urban planning catches up to the obvious need for better infrastructure that makes sustainable travel safe and easy.
But despite knowing, facing, and occasionally being hurt by these risks, many cyclists get back on their bikes and keep cycling. They emit approximately a tenth of the carbon emissions of a car. They increase the number of bikes on the road which adds pressure on the city to evolve sustainably. They’re optimists keeping that dream of Auckland one day becoming a cycling capital of the world alive.Support Villainesse