Cycling safely in Auckland

“You cycle? In Auckland?! Are you mad?!!!” Appears to be the standard response if I mention that I generally (weather dependent) cycle the 10km to work in the CBD.

Cycling is statistically as safe as walking, though based on the same distance travelled, and I tend to save walking 20km a day to doing the Great Walks.

Much of it comes down to your appetite for risk, which for me has demonstratively changed over the past few years. When I moved to Auckland five years ago I lived without a car for a year and cycled everywhere. Everyday I did basically the reverse of my current commute (from the CBD out toward Ellerslie / Onehunga) and would go through Parnell and Newmarket.

When I started commuting by bike again last year there was no way I would take this route. It is an assault course of buses, car doors, traffic lights and pedestrians. Clearly the reinforcing messages from the media and people spoken to has changed my risk appetite.

I’ve even switched from my road bike to mountain bike (with more road appropriate tyres) as despite it being slower and harder work the disc brakes allow me to actually stop rather than skid at speed toward obstacles.

Cycling is a great way of travelling around Auckland though and perfect for unwinding at the end of a day at work. At half an hour each way my commute takes about the same time as driving or getting the bus, and is a consistent half an hour regardless of traffic, while also being great exercise. Last year I cycled pretty much every day between January and May and got rained on less than half a dozen times.

Here’s a few things I’ve learnt about cycling safely around Auckland (I’ve not had an accident yet…)

Route planning
Before starting to commute again I spent some time on Google Maps working out the best route, considering distance, gradient, number of traffic lights and safety. My final route is about 2km longer than the most direct but is considerably safer, slightly flatter, and has far fewer sets of traffic lights. I also looked at Blackspots, which shows on a map reported road accidents (which can be filtered for cyclists), great for identifying and avoiding known dodgy spots.

Turning right
Is dangerous whether driving or cycling. I tend to use pedestrian crossings to help, for example I’ll cycle 50m away from where I want to go to use the crossing to help me cross Gilles Ave during the morning school run.

Be seen
It’s amazing how even during perfect daylight drivers and pedestrians just don’t see cyclists. You may look a little like a Christmas tree but give them no excuse not to see you. Hi-vis clothing, and bright front, rear and helmet lights (set to flashing mode) are a must. In particular I find using your front light during the day useful to make drivers aware of your presence before they pull out, and always try and make eye contact with drivers looking to pull into the road ahead.

See others
Best thing I ever bought for my bike – a handlebar mirror so I can see behind me without twisting my neck around. Don’t know how I’d survive without it.

Bike servicing
Much like your car you’ll want your bike to be reliable. Using it for commuting soon clocks up the km, I did over 1,000km last summer alone. Therefore makes sense to take it in for regular services, or do it yourself if you’re confident you know what you’re doing (which I clearly am not!).

Assume the worst
Much like defensive driving its best to assume that the worst will happen and make sure that you have a way of avoiding it if it happens. For example turning right at roundabouts I assume that cars will go straight, so I give myself time and space to react if that happens. Where there clearly isn’t space for a car and a bike to safely share the road abreast cycle more in the middle of the road to give yourself options if a car door opens or a pedestrian walks out. Be assertive and clearly show your intentions. Do not be hesitant!

Author: jontycrane

4 thoughts on “Cycling safely in Auckland

  1. Good advice about defensive riding. I assume that all car drivers are either blind, stupid or homicidal or a combination of all three.
    I think Auckland maybe suffers because Kiwis are used to driving rural roads with low traffic vilume so they just aren’t used to the urban congestion of Auckland (which is mild compared to cities in Europe like London or Paris where I do most of my driving/riding).
    Does Auckland have any cycle lanes like they have in Holland?

  2. I think it’s true to say that driving brings the best out of no one. I certainly don’t like the driving version of myself. Probably why I do it so little!

    Auckland is improving but I think it says something that if they get a huge amount of additional transport funding (which central government is currently blocking) then they’ll be able by 2025 to complete 40% of the planned cycle network in Auckland. So a way to go then!

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