Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

On yer bike for family fun (+WIN)

Ride a bike and find some amazing places. Be it on a road bike, mountain bike or BMX bike, there are plenty of adventures to be had on two wheels, writes Rachel Grunwell.

Cycling is a great weekend activity. Photo / Thinkstock
Cycling is a great weekend activity. Photo / Thinkstock

Auckland is magic for cycling - for all ages. Riders can head to urban parks, cycleways, forests, along the waterfront or drive rurally on cycle trails in which the Government has invested $50-million.

So says Richard Leggat, the chairman of BikeNZ, the national sporting organisation for cycling.

For kids, he recommends One Tree Hill for its great pathways away from traffic, Ambury Farm in Mangere Bridge, a real working farm with animals or the waterfront on Tamaki Drive, from Mechanics Bay to St Heliers.

"Just be mindful of when you are riding. In the early afternoon, for instance, a lot of people might be walking," he says.

Leggat says some people worry about cycling around Auckland but he reckons it's not dangerous for confident and skilled cyclists.

Barbara Cuthbert from Cycle Action Auckland, which represents cyclists, says kids will also love the Orewa Estuary cycleway, a 7.5km loop. It has a good surface, easy gradients and suits all styles of bikes.

"It's great for families, and an added bonus is the beach just across the road for a swim to freshen up afterwards," she says.

If you're after more of a challenge with an off-road focus, and have use of a bike with wide tyres, Cuthbert recommends tackling the 20km of trails at Sanders Reserve, Paremoremo.

A children's track is within view of the carpark and a broad gravel loop has some challenging hills but "it isn't technically difficult", she says. "If you fancy a bit more of a challenge, take the optional single-track excursions off the main trail. These narrower and more demanding tracks require more skill."

Cuthbert says once riders have mastered Sanders Reserve and want their next "fix" in mountain biking, they should head northwest to Woodhill mountain bike park, which boasts more than 100km of forest trails catering for everyone from beginners to experts.

"Pack a lunch and spend the day a million miles from the bustle of Auckland, gulping in the pine-scented air. But you're never too far from creature comforts - the carpark has a shop, toilets and great coffee," she raves.

She recommends using a mountain bike "for comfort and safety". The park provides bikes to hire for those who don't own one.

Cycle Action Auckland's website has reviews on trail rides and some cycle routes, plus information on day rides and new cycle projects.

Road biking is done a lot in bunches run by local cycle shops and so cyclists keen on trying it out should drop by one and ask.

Living found good information for off-road cycleways on the Auckland Transport website.

This website has maps and information on cycleways in areas such as Devonport and Takapuna, Orewa, Mt Roskill, Onehunga and Henderson.

It also lists mountain bike trails in places like Arch Hill, Woodhill, Waiheke, Whitford, Totara Park, Puhinui, Hunua, Sanders Reserve and Riverhead.

Meanwhile, the national network of cycle trails - there are 23 Great Rides - can all be found via www.nzcycletrail.com. Cuthbert's "pick" is the Pureora Timber Trail, between Lake Taupo and Te Kuiti - "the North Island's answer to the hugely popular Central Otago Rail Trail.

"It's a bit more challenging but provides all the drama, romance, superb cycling, big country landscapes, rich heritage and warm memorable personalities at a wide range of great hospitality places," she says.

She recommends timbertrailaccommodation.co.nz for advice on accommodation, shuttles, support services such as bike hire and where to get a packed lunch and great dinner at the end of the day's ride.

If you're after a rail trail ride that's close to Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton, then try the Hauraki Rail Trail, It is 82km of easy riding, boasts the longest tunnel at 1.1km and showcases farmland, streams and the gorgeous Karangahake Gorge.

Kids can do a part of this in a day, or allow for three days to do the lot. For more info, visit haurakirailtrail.co.nz.

For BMX riding, 2012 Olympic silver medallist Sarah Walker loves the BMX tracks in Cambridge, Rotorua and North Harbour, Auckland. But her website sarahwalker96.com lists many more.

The website has a New Zealand map on which you can click on a part of the country that's close to you and find details on each track and contact information.

Anyone who wants to try BMX riding can generally turn up to a BMX track and pay a gate fee of about $3 and try it, she says. If you like it, you can join a club for about $100 a year. Most clubs usually hire out gear, too, for about $5.

Walker meanwhile wants more children to learn to cycle, or simply just get more exercise.

In December last year she became an ambassador for Move 60, a partnership between Coca-Cola NZ, the Foundation for Youth Development and Bike NZ, which hopes to motivate more Kiwi kids to "move" for 60 minutes a day by 2020.

Through the programme, about 400 Avanti bikes will be given out to kids by the end of this year and Walker will teach them safety tips and skills.

Walker's advice to anyone beginning to ride is to accept they will fall off at some stage - but that's okay.

Lastly, she wants to tell parents to take a deep breath "and even hold it for a while" and let their kids ride and "make mistakes".

She wants kids to be be kids and experience the thrill of being on a bike.

And it's never too late to start. She knows a 73-year-old Papakura man who rides a BMX bike "and so there's no excuse," she says.


Some safety tips

• Wear a helmet. Always. It can save your life. Sarah Walker says only a couple of things are worse than someone not wearing a helmet: Riders who wear a helmet but don't buckle it up "because they can't be bothered", and riders who cycle with a helmet hanging from their handlebars. "They might think they are cool but anyone driving past them will think they're idiots," she says. Walker recommends a full-face helmet for BMX riding, plus gloves, padded cycle pants, and clothes that cover your skin - so you have some protection if you fall off.

• On the road, remember to use hand signals in advance to show your intentions to traffic.

• For mountain bike tracks, perhaps go slow or walk it before you go hard out on it. That way you will know when to roll over a hill or if you can jump it.

• On cycleways, keep to the left, slow when passing pedestrians and warn by using a bell or calling out that you are approaching about 30m before getting beside them.

• Walker's final tip for staying safe is don't ever say "just one more go" when you're tired "because that's when accidents happen". And she reckons BMX riders should lightly drop new gear and helmets in the mud. "That way it's had a crash and so doesn't need a real one."


WIN

Living has 10 copies of Jonathan Kennett's popular The New Zealand Cycle Trails, worth $45 each, to give away. Published by Random House, this handy book is an essential guide to our country's 23 great rides. To enter, visit winwithheraldonsunday.co.nz and enter the key word Cycle, along with your contact details. Entries close 11.59pm on Wednesday, March 5.

- Herald on Sunday

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