Your Mileage May Vary

Auckland’s 2017 Bike Challenge winds up today; February may be the shortest month, but it is prime cycling season in Auckland, with decent weather and long evenings. I don’t usually log my saddle-time, but I tracked my activity while taking part in the challenge. In the course of the month I made 36 trips covering 345km on my bike. If I’d traveled the same distance by car, I would have emitted 69 kg of carbon dioxide.

I can add a few more stats to that: the same amount of travel by car would have cost me a couple of hundred dollars (that’s just for petrol, plus parking in central Auckland), or a bit over a hundred by bus.

On the other side of the ledger, while the running costs of a bike are close to zero, it occasionally needs a little love from a mechanic – and I find that the rider appreciates a bonus mango lassi with his lunch.

Over the last year, I’ve moved from a fair-weather cyclist to something close to a year-round rider. My trousers fit a little more loosely than they did 12 months ago, as I am around 5kg lighter. Not a huge change, but a result that goes against the run of play for a (let’s be honest) middle aged guy who spends a lot of time at a desk. I don’t puff so much going up the hills any more, and a long walk seems a lot shorter than it used to. An e-bike may lie over the horizon, but for now I’m fully pedal-powered. 

It’s not easy to acquire a new habit that’s stuck as well as this one has, so what made it possible? The first answer is infrastructure;  my commute is mainly along Auckland’s Northwestern Cycleway, which runs along the side of the highway to town – and it is just much (much!) nicer to be riding down a tree-lined car-free path than it is to be sitting in traffic on the adjacent motorway. 

My commute –  Auckland’s Northwestern Cycleway

Clearly, I am not the only person to think so, as traffic on the Northwestern cycle path has been growing at around 15% a year over the last five years, to the point where speeding road warriors need to learn to move more slowly around pedestrians and upright cyclists. It’s still not perfect, and I face a few hundred hairy metres along Symonds Street where I can dodge buses and connect with my inner cycle courier, but it’s clearly good enough. 

The second ingredient you need for a year-round cycle commute is the “end of ride” facilities – not just  a place to lock my bike (with a decent lock, since theft is an issue in town), but a shower at work, for reasons that surely need no explanation. In fact, with an increasing number of my colleagues starting to show up on bikes there is occasionally a queue for the shower in my building, which can make the workplace feel a little like an old-school student flat in a house with a lot more bedrooms than bathrooms. 

And that is the third part of the recipe – I am not doing this on my own. Which is, of course, exactly the idea behind the Bike Challenge, since nudges from our friends and colleagues are potent tools for changing our habits.