Ewan McDonald: Irony of the BMX World Champs

By Ewan McDonald

On my morning walk to work this week, I've had to give way to hundreds of youngsters and coaches and parents in helmets and tracksuits, pedaling along footpaths in the general direction of the Vector Arena.

On my walk home in the afternoon, I pass them going the other way. And yes, the parents and coaches are wearing helmets and tracksuits, that wasn't a grammatical error, and frequently riding bikes that are several sizes too small for them.

You probably think this is going to descend into a curmudgeonly rant from a dyspeptic old blowhard about kids riding their bikes on the pavement - or is it a sidewalk these days? - and parents, caregivers or whatever who should know better.

You'd be wrong. I smile at the spectacle. For a few reasons.

First, I think it's fantastic to see kids (the adults could be in another part of town, or at another venue) riding bikes, particularly in the rude fresh air of an Auckland middish winter. Better for them than spending the school holidays in front of a screen - stuffy multiplex or videogame -   or in a mall. Sorry, that was verging on dyspeptic old blowhard.

Second, they're among 1830 competitors in the BMX World Championships. They come from all over the world. What a fantastic opportunity for these kids to start getting out, seeing and meeting other people and visiting other cultures.

Third, the irony. Or is it tubular steelishness or carbon-fibrosity these days? The powers-that-are have sponsored a worldwide championship, with TV and internet and media coverage, based on showing off what you can do on a pushbike in Auckland.

Which is quite possibly the most bike-unfriendly city on the planet.

Trust me on this, although I can't be adamant because I haven't tried to cycle in all of them. Ulan Bator or Ougadougou may present particular challenges to would-be pedal-pushers in Mongolia or the Burkinabè of Burkina Faso.      

Auckland's difficulties begin with its geography. Those who have tried to ride bikes around this scenery know to their cost that the city is built on 3784 volcanoes.

These are mountains that go up. High. The early road-builders built roads that, often, run straight up their flanks (the volcanoes, that is) or along ridges. This compounds the pain for the cyclist because of the climatic factors: winds generally blow across ridges.

Then there is the local breed of motorist. Much has been written on their attitude towards their two-wheeled, chain-driven brethren, and I have no intention of adding to the numberless words, the sound and fury that emanates from blog and book and letter to the editor, except to note this: there is only one being that an Auckland motorist considers less worthy of his / her respect than a cyclist, and that is a scooter-rider. Again, trust me on this.

Don't have to be riding the cycle, either. A friend was wheeling her bike across a left-turn lane recently when the driver of a container truck decided the Give Way sign didn't apply to him, and nor did that irritating little traffic law about flashing an indicator to warn pedestrians of a turn. He did miss her, fortunately, just clipping the rear wheel and writing off her bike.

So, helmets off to the BMXers. Enjoy your stay. Enjoy riding your bikes around our city.

I'll be at home watching the excitement on TV and having a quiet giggle at the thought of Auckland pretending it really likes cyclists.

- The Aucklander

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