After two years of muttering about not having enough room on the road to cycle, I got up at 5.30am one morning last month, grabbed my bike and headed out for a bunch ride with the Devonport Xpressos.
The Xpressos are a group, more than a club, of cyclists who turn up at the crack of dawn for a ride several times a week. I'd worried for a long time that my trusty touring bike which took me around Cuba, Croatia, and a number of western European countries, wasn't up to the job.
Fortunately, the Xpressos have a slow "pod" perfect for someone starting out. The 28km ride goes up Lake Road to Takapuna/Milford, twice around Lake Pupuke and back again in time for a 7am coffee at the Devonport Deli.
Unlike the fast guys, who ride at a minimum of 25k/hr, the pod that I joined rides at about 20k/hr, which is good for beginners.
What's more, the Xpressos come in all shapes and sizes - although large doesn't necessarily equate to slow.
Organiser Andrea Gilkinson started the group after losing 16kg in a year when she started cycling at the age of 45. Her husband spent much of his weekends out cycling. "I was getting more miserable, eating more and thought 'He's out having fun, while I'm at home with the kids'," says Gilkinson. You'd hardly know it now as Gilkinson pedals up to the Devonport Clock Tower at 6am several mornings a week - a smile beaming across her face.
The majority of bunch rides start early when the roads are relatively clear of traffic. Anyone who frequents the roads between 6am and 7am any morning will see bunches training all over Auckland. Most are informal, but finding a suitable one to join isn't that easy.
A good way to find one is to visit your local bike shop, says rider Dee Walsh. Many organise bunch rides. "Tri Clubs are another great place to meet people of all levels wanting to ride and not go on their own - they also tend to have organised windtrainer classes to get fitness and skills up," she adds.
"If all else fails, get down to a local cafe around 9am on a Saturday or Sunday and you are bound to be greeted by a bunch of Lycra-clad enthusiasts more than happy to help out with local rides."
The North Shore is particularly well served with early morning cycling bunches including the Pickled Pedallers, who meet on Constellation Drive, the Rangi Rockets, who ride from Rangitoto College, the Albany Roosters who ride from the top of the Albany Hill, and groups that leave from the Kiwivelo store in Takapuna.
Cycling in a bunch has advantages. It's easier to ride faster and further when you're moving at the pace of the bunch. It's also safer. The one time I went out for a ride on my own, I had three cars pull out on me without looking. Although big bunches tend to irritate car drivers, it's rare they miss seeing them.
* Avanti Plus - Waitakere Sat 8am, Sun 7.30am