This is the story of how an Island Bay mum biked to work for the first time.
I spent a year watching people riding bikes from the safety of the bus, wishing that I too was brave. I wanted to be like them, but how to stay alive on the treacherous Adelaide Road trip? Riding a bike to work was the domain of Serious Cyclists: mostly men, and mostly wearing a lot of lycra. It was not for ladies who like dressing up and who never really bonded with a 10-speed. I was resigned to just having to wait until the whole Island Bay - CBD cycleway was finished, before I made the switch to riding a bike. In the meantime, I’d violate my personal fitness/environment values every day.
At some point, though, I started watching those people on bikes more closely. I studied their every movement, hoping to figure out exactly how much room to leave around buses, and where to sit in the green box at the lights. Was it really unsafe? Most people who ride bikes to work have tales of near-death commutes, but the awesome helmet-cam videos of my commute on the Greater Wellington website really didn’t look that bad. The narrator even said she found the bus lanes safer because they were less busy. And really, when you look out the bus window, it’s not that congested most days.
I mentioned to a few people that I wanted to bike to work but felt unconfident, and there was understanding but gentle encouragement. Other local mums were riding bikes - clearly they didn’t share my fear of leaving their children motherless following an accident. One friend opts for the footpath in a really narrow bit of Adelaide Road. Another suggested leaving a hi-vis jacket open so that it flapped in the wind to increase visibility. And if I got a puncture, I could always chain my bike up at that point, and fetch it later. When the Island Bay cycleway was completed it also gave me confidence that at least the start and end of my daily round trip would be comfortable and safe.
Meanwhile, I’d been telling my children on a daily basis to “give things a go”. Time to walk the talk (or cycle it, as the case may be). I told my husband that I’d ride a bike the next morning, then chickened out when I thought about possible heavy traffic. And then, somehow, for reasons I’m still not quite sure, I did it anyway.
In the end, it wasn’t so bad. The worst bit was arriving at my building having forgotten my swipe card (ah the irony). The traffic was moderately light and it was a beautiful day. I confess to a footpath dash for about 50 metres of Adelaide Road. Big ups to the group of real cyclists who yelled out ‘hi’ as they went the other way (clearly I looked like a novice, but I really appreciated the gesture). I followed others’ advice to sit in the lane when I was going at the speed of traffic, which made me feel more confident as I knew I’d be seen and couldn’t be sideswiped. On the way home, I could leave when I was ready without waiting for a timetable. And on the home straight, you really appreciate the traffic protection benefits of the Island Bay cycleway after negotiating the CBD section.
I've continued riding a bike to work and although I’m yet to repeat the feat on a blustery, dark, rainy day, my fear is at least partially harnessed now. And if you should do one thing every day that scares you a little, then I’m set for challenges for the next couple of months!
Island Bay mum
Here's some other great links if you are thinking about commuting by bike for the first time:
Bike Auckland's 10 Tips for Women New to Bike Commuting
Wellington City Council's cycling tips and tricks
Pedal Ready - cycle skills for everyone
The official New Zealand code for cyclists
Cycling journey planner
And don't forget our tips for using the Island Bay cycleway