'It's the unexpected that gets you'

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Martin Johnston braves Tamaki Drive, where he had two close calls. Photo / Dean Purcell
Martin Johnston braves Tamaki Drive, where he had two close calls. Photo / Dean Purcell

Herald reporter and longtime cyclist Martin Johnston had some real scares as he took the long route home.

I've pedalled 16 years on Auckland streets. Daily I have to avoid impatient, road-hogging drivers.I was prepared for car doors being flung open, drivers failing to give way and even dodgy u-turns - the usual stuff of the daily cycle commute in Auckland. But it's the unexpected, the random, that gets you.

I rode home the long way from the city on Thursday: along the scenic, tragic waterfront to St Heliers, then back past St Lukes - 30km in 5pm rush-hour traffic.

I've pedalled for 16 years on jammed Auckland streets - and latterly on the lovely, carless northwestern cycleway. Daily I have to avoid impatient, road-hogging drivers.

Thursday evening and the lights are with me as I swing right into Quay St and my first narrow-lane challenge outside the Ferry Building. I keep left, to let cars pass if they wish, and also to avoid a steel lid in the road that actually forces me into the gutter.

At least there's no parking here. No doors to worry about. But later, parked buses squeeze past me.

Then through Mechanics Bay and onto Tamaki Drive. The "black spot" death zone.

Groups of parked cars now, two lanes of traffic in each direction. Traffic suddenly heavy.

I give a right hand signal at the first group. Drift to the centre of the left lane. I'm powering along, 35km/h - tail wind. The lead car hangs back. Great.

Past the parked cars, I drift left. The lead car passes. I wave thanks. Oh, it's an AA truck. Professional drivers are the most reliable - they usually see you.

Okahu Bay. Woah! A BMW on the other side of the road does a u-turn in front of me. I brake fast, stop, give him plenty of room.

Up to speed again, apprehensive as I approach the Kelly Tarlton bend.

A parked bus and van cram the corner. I have to ride wide. The lane would be too narrow for a vehicle to pass me safely. A gap and then the parking lane resumes, too close to the bend really.

This is where Jane Bishop swerved on Wednesday to avoid a parked vehicle's opening door and died under the wheel of a truck - the fifth cyclist to be killed by a motor-vehicle in a week.

I'm tense through Mission Bay. Lots of parked cars. Are there heads in them? Will children open doors? I can't make eye contact with a turning driver wearing sunglasses.

Past the shops I relax, allow myself a brief glimpse of Rangitoto. It's such a nice route.

Now grind up the hill, through St Johns and to the brink of the Green Lane roundabout over the motorway. I gulp a breath and pedal hard across the on-ramp. It is a car-scape and I'm an alien.

A four-wheel-drive squeezes past me on Balmoral Rd, forcing me to cope with a bump in the road.

And then the hated descent from Mt Eden Rd. It's so narrow I can't share the left lane, but I'm going 50km/h. A gap opens in front - and behind too because of a turning car.

Then it happens. A pedestrian, stranded in the middle of the road, sees her chance, doesn't see me or my flashing light, and darts out.

"Oi!" I bellow, and brake hard, visualising a crash. She stops, sees me, I go past.

I shake my head and silently promise to watch more carefully for random moves by pedestrians.

It's the unexpected that gets you.

- NZ Herald

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