It's all Sam Trowsdale's fault. In April last year he invited me to go for a cycle ride with him down Dominion Road to check out some safety issues. He even lent me a bike.
One ride and I was hooked. Who would have thought that a year and half later I would be commuting daily by e-bike and absolutely loving it.
SO, I think it is now time to share what I have learned as a two-wheeled commuter.
1. Get yourself an electric bike
If you think the Auckland hills are too steep for your level of fitness, invest in an electric bike. I am on my second e-bike, both bought second-hand from TradeMe. Don't let Ian McKinnon Drive put you off. E-biking is economical. It is healthy for your body and your mind and it is fun and safe if you follow the rules.
2. Healthier by bike
Reducing your personal carbon footprint is a great incentive to get cycling. It is 3.3km from my home to the Town Hall. At 77c a kilometre that is about $2500 a year saved and one less car polluting the city. Councillors have the privilege of free parking but most people have to pay premium prices. If you need an incentive to bike, work out the time you spend in traffic and the cost of your petrol and parking.
The e-bike motor is there if I need it but I try to minimise its use to climbing hills. Forty minutes of cycling a day is good for my body and excellent training in mindfulness for my soul!
3. Enjoy the ride
The great thing about cycling is that it's a social event. You and your bike are part of the environment. The weather matters. You are in it, you breathe the air, you get wet from the rain and enjoy the sunshine on your face. You can say a cheery "good morning" to people along the way and chat to drivers and other cyclists if you care to. I glide past lines of idling motorists fiddling with their phones, their music and their make-up every morning. For me each cycle ride is a positive and personal time and an opportunity to be present to everything that happens.
The rain is no real barrier if you invest in some good wet weather gear. While I might not win out in the fashion stakes, I stay dry and warm.
4. It's not a race
My first electric bike had a speedometer and 12 gears. In the early days I tried to see how fast I could go and how quickly I could do the commute. (For the record that was 50kph down Ian McKinnon Drive and 15 minutes door-to-door on a green wave). My impersonation of Sarah Ulmer was short-lived however, when I skidded on New North Road last year. I had a few wee bruises but my bike needed major repair work. Sadly, it had to be retired because I couldn't find any parts for it in New Zealand.
It was a good early lesson. I don't try to break records now, just aim to reach the Auckland Town Hall within a leisurely 30 minutes. My new e-bike doesn't have a speedo and it only has three gears. My commute is now my mindfulness exercise. Cyclists share spaces with buses, trucks, cars and pedestrians so I try to cycle considerately and stay aware of what's happening up ahead.
5. Keep safe and be seen
Get yourself decently kitted out to be safe and to be seen. If you are biking at night, a fluoro jacket is almost mandatory. Also invest in a good front and back light.
6. Obey the rules
I must have cycled past the "Warning to Cyclists: Slippery Surface When Wet" signs in the council's basement car park a hundred times. If I had obeyed them on that rainy day in May this year, I would not have come off my bike on the down slope. The spill left me with a few bruises to both body and ego. Now I cycle down the green strip where I should have been all along.
7. Do not yell back at drivers
Always watch the road ahead for doors opening and cars turning. When you have a near miss, it is not helpful to go head to head with irate drivers. I tested this out earlier this year at the bottom of St Lukes Road during rush hour. A motorist turned across two lanes of cars to cut in front of me on the cycleway. I stopped just in time.
In that frozen moment when our eyes locked he yelled at me something very abusive about cyclists. I yelled back something loud and Scottish in the tradition of Braveheart. Such altercations do no-one any good. Better to write down the offending driver's registration number and report their illegal behaviour to the police.
Finally, thank you once again Sam Trowsdale for inviting me to get on my bike. Looking back over the last 18 months you have definitely helped create a fitter and more mindful councillor.
Cathy Casey is an Auckland councillor for Albert-Eden Roskill.