Hard data is hard to come by but talk to anyone with close links to cycling and they'll tell you there are more bikes on Whanganui's streets and shared pathways.

The Whanganui Bicycle Users Group (BUG) advocates for cycling in Whanganui. It is committed to building a strong cycling community while increasing cycle awareness and safety. The group has about 250 subscribers and 200 Facebook followers.

The group's co-ordinator, Lyneke Onderwater, has been a bicycle commuter most of her life and can often be seen zipping around the city on her bike.

Onderwater says there are noticeably more people using bikes in Whanganui.

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"It's very heartening to see so many more bikes on the road," she said.

"I feel some adult classes may be necessary. Some people don't want to admit they can't ride a bike."

Onderwater believes the new shared pathways are playing a part in getting people out on bikes but says they are "kind of limited" at present.

"It's only a start. We need a complete network.

"St Hill St is great for schools and it's really busy with schoolkids but it's not very close to shops.

"It's a catch-22. Retailers believe, erroneously, that a shared pathway would reduce their income through reduced parking but in reality it causes more people to call in. The pathways get put on roads where there isn't much in the way of retail because otherwise there would be objections by retailers."

To some extent, shared pathways put cyclists from one conflict situation on the roads into another, Onderwater said.

Sometimes other pathway users do not hear bike riders ring their bell or warn that they are about to pass because they are using headphones or deep in conversation.

Whanganui Bicycle Users Group co-ordinator Lyneke Onderwater advocates for cycling awareness and safety.
Whanganui Bicycle Users Group co-ordinator Lyneke Onderwater advocates for cycling awareness and safety.

While Onderwater rides an ordinary pushbike and says she's not yet ready for an e-bike, she has tried one and thinks "they're a great thing".

"Anyone we can get out of a car is a bonus," she said.

"Some people call them 'cheaters' but they aren't. We shouldn't criticise people on e-bikes. Using the bike gives people a much further range than an ordinary bike."

Onderwater said she had used an e-bike in Wellington while visiting Wellington and admits she would not have ridden as much there if she hadn't had the additional power to get up the hills.

A key focus for Whanganui BUG is Bikewise Month, held every February, with planning ongoing throughout the year to organise activities.

Riders get a free pancake breakfast at Cornmarket Reserve during Bikewise Month.
Riders get a free pancake breakfast at Cornmarket Reserve during Bikewise Month.

At present the group is also seeking funding for its activities and supporting the Bikes Welcome scheme for bike-friendly businesses, Onderwater said.

Whanganui BUG has made a submission to Whanganui District Council's draft annual plan asking for clearer indications of where bikes are allowed.

"I know people have been abused for riding on the footpath when it's actually a shared pathway," Onderwater said.

The group is also asking that parking be removed where there are on-road bike lanes or that there is a wider gap between car parks and the cycle lanes. This is to avoid cyclists being hit by opening car doors.

They would also like street and destination markers along the riverbank shared pathway to give users better information about where they are on the pathway. Onderwater says the markers could be art projects.

The submission asks for bollards and posts on the shared pathway to be painted white or have reflective markings because they are dangerous for cyclists in the dark. It also asks that contractors be reminded that roadwork signs should not be placed in cycle lanes.

"More important ... is an effort to change people's attitudes towards people on bikes," the submission says.

"There has been some improvement, no doubt due to the increase in the number of people riding, but there are still people who pass too close, don't give way when they should or yell abuse. Anti-bike sentiment was also expressed by a high-profile councillor and, though his facts were largely incorrect, he is encouraging these kind of sentiments by doing so. With New Zealanders being known for their aggressive behaviour on our roads, these ideas are potentially lethal."

Although there was plenty of room for improvement, Onderwater said she thought Whanganui was doing well, compared with some other towns, in providing facilities for bike riders.

Cyclists' views

We caught up with a few riders on the City to North Mole shared pathway to hear their thoughts on the facilities.

Bronwyn (left) and Nick Hackett came from Auckland to ride the shared pathways.
Bronwyn (left) and Nick Hackett came from Auckland to ride the shared pathways.

Auckland couple Bronwyn and Nick Hackett came to Whanganui during the school holidays to check out the shared pathways.

"We went on the Ohakune Old Coach Rd and then we specifically came to Whanganui to do this," Nick said.

Bronwyn says although they are regular bike riders, "we're only dawdlers".

"We ride on trails, we're not serious mountain bikers," she said.

"It's really nice not to have to worry about traffic. You see more things through the back door. We look out for interesting places to go. I bike to work but it's only about 10 minutes."

Nick, who rides every weekend, says there are bikes "everywhere" in Auckland and far more electric bikes.

"We have a lot of friends of similar age who commute to work on electric bikes."

Green Bikes volunteer Robert Coull uses a bike as his main form of transport.
Green Bikes volunteer Robert Coull uses a bike as his main form of transport.

Robert Coull is a volunteer at Whanganui Green Bikes and uses his bike as his main form of transport.

"I have about a dozen bikes sitting around in various states," he said

"Today I'm on a Trek. It's a genuine Green Bikes bike – originally bought from CycleSport in Whanganui and recycled at Green Bikes.

"I'm definitely not into e-bikes. If I was, I'd want one that recharges when you go down a hill.

"I do a bit of recreational riding but mostly it's for transport. I live in Aramoho and I've got easy access to the cycleway into town. It's my most frequent route."

Bike sales up

Retailers at Whanganui's specialist bike shops also report an increase in the number of people getting out on bikes.

Michaella Laird with some of the Bike Shed's popular models of e-bikes.
Michaella Laird with some of the Bike Shed's popular models of e-bikes.

Michaella Laird, sales and service representative at The Bike Shed, said there has been a noticeable increase in interest in cycling since the development of Whanganui's shared pathways.

Hybrid bikes were popular and the shop sold a lot more mountain bikes than road-specific bikes.

"People get a bit road-shy with narrow country roads," Laird said.

"E-bikes have become quite a big thing. It has opened up another avenue for people with injuries and things like that. It's a whole new market. Hybrid city e-bikes with wider tyres are the most popular here. They're good on the concrete pathways and shellrock.

"There's definitely a lot of interest, especially in the e-bike scene. That's getting bigger."

Children who previously did not have a bike have come to the shop after completing a skills programme at school, she said.

"There are more options for them now - suspension, bigger wheels, rather than a one-speed BMX."

Laird said New Plymouth and Hawke's Bay were successful cycle-friendly areas.

"I think the more we put into cycleways and making cycling-friendly cities and towns, the better. I hope they implement it more in other cities."

Velo Ronny's owner Cath Cheatley with some of the store's e-bikes.
Velo Ronny's owner Cath Cheatley with some of the store's e-bikes.

Cath Cheatley, of Velo Ronny's Bicycle Store, said the cycling industry was "getting bigger and bigger".

"There are no real trends but we've noticed families are going out and riding together now that there are the shared pathways and trails," Cheatley said.

"Mum and dad are getting bikes to ride with the kids. Often they haven't ridden for a long time and are getting entry level mountain bikes."

E-mountain bikes were popular with people who wanted to ride tracks like the Timber Trail and Redwoods in Rotorua.

"With the e-bike movement, a lot of people who wouldn't normally ride are getting back on bikes. People that haven't ridden for a long time come in to try out an e-bike. They're nervous and don't want to try it out in front of you. Then they come back months later and they love cycling and want to upgrade their bike so they can ride trails like the Timber Trail.

"An e-bike is a big investment but it means people can go for longer and see so much more. We give people honest advice about what sort of bike they should get for their needs because it's a big investment."

Cheatley warned that cheap imported e-bikes bought online often had problems that New Zealand bike shops could not fix, such as the battery dying after a month.

Velo Ronny's was selling a lot more bike racks as people transported their bikes on cars and motorhomes to ride trails and explore other parts of New Zealand. Sales of baby seats for bikes were also increasing.

The children's bike range at Velo Ronny's.
The children's bike range at Velo Ronny's.

The New Zealand tradition of kids getting new bikes when they went to intermediate or secondary school was still happening and more children were biking to school, Cheatley said.

The Springvale Community Bike Park has got more kids out riding bikes. Balance bikes were popular and kids who had used them could usually graduate to a pedalled bike without the need for training wheels.

Frankie Bullock tries out the Community Bike Park junior track on a balance bike.
Frankie Bullock tries out the Community Bike Park junior track on a balance bike.

"Once the bridge goes across [the Whanganui River between Upokongaro and Papaiti], people will realise how cool that ride is going to be," Cheatley said.

"We have such a cool landscape and you see walkers, runners and cyclists out using the shared pathways all the time."

eBikes Wanganui sells e-bikes and e-scooters and hires out e-bikes. The business is a division of Rockgas Wanganui, based in Putiki Drive. We contacted the company for comment but had not had a response by publication time.