My Mum was a dewy 63 when she learned to ride a bike. Growing up on Jervois Rd, her parents had thought riding too dangerous and it wasn't until last year, when a group of her friends began planning to ride the Otago Rail Trail, that she found sufficient motivation to try.
Mum surprised her adult children (and her grandchildren, who were intrigued by the idea of Nana learning to ride a bike) by booking into one of Auckland Transport's Beginner Bike Training workshops last summer. It was a success. Despite "not thinking for a moment" she'd be able to ride, by the end of the night she was off on two wheels. But before long, her new-found confidence was shaky. It looked like bikes and my Mum were just not going to work out.
Enter Julian Hulls - cycling enthusiast, director of European-style city bike hire company Nextbike, and the guide for Auckland Transport's spring series of rides along Auckland's cycleways. New Zealand-born and Scottish-raised, Julian is a gently spoken ambassador for life on two wheels - and anything but That Kind of Cycling Enthusiast.
When we meet at Waikaraka Cemetery, the first thing we notice about Julian is his get-up. He looks like he's just come from writing a novel in a Ponsonby Rd cafe. Who knew that winklepickers, jeans and a cashmere jumper were the new Lycra? Then there's his bike - all European style and retro simplicity. The Nextbike's low crossbar makes hopping on and off easy (riders can even wear skirts) and covered gears eliminate the worry about grease.
Julian is relaxed and warm as we run through a comprehensive safety briefing. He uses the "M" shape of the bike frame to help us remember the five things we should always check before riding: wheel attached, handlebars firm, red rear reflector, tread not worn, brakes working. We practise indicating - arm held out confidently for three full seconds - and recap why it's safest to ride a metre out from the kerb. Julian suggests that Mum can work her way up to indicating - scary when you have to take a hand off the handlebars - by putting a hand on her thigh as an intermediate step.
We cycle slowly under the new Mangere Bridge and on to the old bridge with its line of fisherpeople. Because Mum is terrified of any kind of incline she gets off and walks in places, but she manages to build up some confidence along the flat when Julian explains that a bit of speed creates a centrifugal force and actually makes you steadier. Raising the seat is another learning curve; it's counter-intuitive, as she likes to know her feet are close to the ground. But Julian is right - her legs have more power with each pedal and this helps create a steadying momentum.
The cycleway runs parallel to Kiwi Esplanade around to Ambury Farm Park and it's along the gentle curves of this stretch that Mum practises another key skill - focusing ahead like you do when you're driving, rather than on upcoming obstacles. This helps her to stop panicking about the narrow width of the cycleway, which we share with dog walkers and runners. She's soon comfortable with riding off the path and onto the grass when she needs to. Julian suggests that she might be surprised how enjoyable she finds riding on quiet streets. He's noticed many inexperienced riders are amazed by this after they've started on cycleways.
"It's all about making it work for you. There are no rules. I saw this amazing woman in her 80s cycling around the Wynyard Quarter recently," Julian says. "She was from Herne Bay and when I asked her how she manages the ride home she said, 'I've never found a hill I couldn't walk up."'
"You can get pretty much anywhere on a bike," he adds. "It's all about finding quiet roads, looking for walkways at the end of cul-de-sacs. The way you go in a car is usually the worst way to go by bike. It's about learning to think like a cyclist."
Need to know
Give it a go
Auckland Transport's spring cycling programme runs from Saturday October 5 until December 15. There are beginner bike sessions for adults (classes start Monday October 7), bike maintenance workshops, on-road skills sessions for beginners and new commuters, and events for families, as well as the series of guided rides. The Bike the Bridge guided training ride is Saturday October 19. The sessions are being held in various locations across Auckland at no cost. Registration essential. cyclingsthego.co.nz
The MS Bike the Bridge, Sunday, November 10
Get a taste of how fabulous the Harbour Bridge SkyPath will be with this charity fundraiser. Ride 20km to North Harbour Stadium or push on with the 50km and 115km events. Get the kids riding the Travelwise Stadium Challenge at North Harbour Stadium; there's even a super little toddlers' fun ride. The full bridge ride open only to intermediate school age and older. Entry from $55, school kids $45, primary school challenge $10. bikethebridge.co.nz