This is a Guest Post from Sara Templeton. Sara is the Councillor for the Heathcote ward in Christchurch.

Eighteen months ago I was one of the many ‘interested but concerned’ when it came to cycling. I live in Christchurch; flat, dry and a cycling capital of old. I had biked in the past, but hadn’t been a regular cyclist since university. A middle-aged mum, I was also juggling part time work with organising a family of five.

While most research points to safety concerns as the key reason that people don’t hop on a bike, for me it was different. I knew that cycling was a safe way to commute, statistically speaking, but I was unfit, overweight and the thought of puffing my way to a meeting and arriving hot and sweaty put me off completely.

However, it was exciting to see the Council starting to roll out the Major Cycleways programme, I wanted to lower my carbon footprint and needed to get some exercise in my day. So I did my research and bought an ebike.

St Asaph Street cycleway in the central Christchurch

I haven’t looked back.

Now working full time in the central city I bike most days and love it. It’s not as easy as it could be though and I currently use sections of on-road cycle lanes as there aren’t any of the major cycle routes built in the south east of the city where I live yet. When it’s built, I’ll use the Heathcote Expressway, which will take me from home to work and take me off the road where I’ve had two very near misses recently.

I have to be a bit more organised, but I bike in my work clothes, just adding layers for the weather and have two sets of lights for winter nights. Since I started my new job in town a year ago I have driven in on average only once a week, generally if unwell or if I have a meeting on further afield.

My original intention had been to use the motor on the way to work and turn it off on the way home, but I’ve ended up using the motor fulltime. However, I was surprised to find that my fitness has still increased and in May this year I started running for the first time. I found that I had enough base fitness that my first run was nearly 3km without stopping and I now regularly run 5-7 km and am training for the Summer Starter 10km run later this month.

My Smartmotion eCity has also been my ‘gateway bike’ and I am now about to purchase a lovely vintage style non-electric bike for weekend rides with the kids and days that I’m not in a hurry. There are also many casual rides with groups like Frocks on Bikes in the city and I’ll be heading along to some of them over summer. The increase in the numbers of people on bikes in the city has been noticeable and and I’m enjoying the smiles and short chats with others as we commute to and from work.

With the new cycleways underway and a push for better public transport in Christchurch I’m hoping that my children will never feel the need to actually own a car and that we will soon have a city that’s as accessible by bike and bus as it has been for cars.

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  1. Great story, Sara. Well done at bringing more exercise into your life. Your cycleways look really nice, with door buffer zones. Do you find the two-way cycleway (like in the bottom picture) work in the winter when the arrangement puts the shine of headlights into your eyes? I find that quite blinding and dangerous – just wondering if there are usually parked cars providing a barrier to this problem or if there’s some other reason why it might not be a problem. (Maybe it’s the combination of blinding headlights with high traffic volumes and speeds that creates the problem up here).

    1. Hi Heidi. Our cycleways vary a lot depending on the nature of the street, volume of traffic and local feedback. I’ve not cycled on a bi-directional one in the dark yet, as I don’t have one on my normal route, so can’t comment at this stage, sorry! I’ve just clocked 3600km in nearly two years though and ran the Summer Starter (10km) with no problems last weekend 🙂

    2. Personally my bigger gripe is from other oncoming cyclists; many of them fail to point their bright lights down (or wear those annoying head-mounted lamps). As for the pictured street in question, it’s not likely to be a big problem because it’s relatively quiet (in fact, serious consideration was given to just making it a neighbourhood greenway, except for the one hour of chaos a day at the adjacent high school)

  2. Good on you Sara. I was born and raised in Chch and I still remember the hordes of kids cycling (helmet less) to school every day. Almost no one was driven to work and we used to have so much fun getting around by ourselves. It really was like Stranger Things.

    Unfortunately, the proud cycle culture that Chch had (it was the second biggest cycle city in the world for much of its history) declined with cheap Japanese imports and the helmet law.

    As you say, it is an ideal city for cycling and I am sure the separated cycle paths will lead to a huge growth in cycling there.

  3. I suspect that transport is undergoing a ‘hidden’ revolution involving e-bikes. Without much publicity, and no state incentives, ebikes numbers are rising very quickly.

    Some city, somewhere, hopefully in NZ, is going to properly embrace this and make biking a major component of the morning commute. Green paths, gardens, coffee houses, replacing grey tarmac as the morning experience for commuters.

    1. Over the course of this winter it seemed like there was a new e-bike in the cage at work almost every week. Going by bike definitely seems to be growing in Wellington with all sorts of different people getting amongst it. Now if we could just get any decent infrastructure here!

      1. I reckon the capital needs about 3km of cycle infrastructure in a couple of key spots that would create a network and unleash some of the potential already there. Petone – Ngauranga and Thorndon Quay thru the cbd to the basin basically.

  4. as an Aucklander who has biked recently in Christchurch on a few occasions, I’ve been impressed with some of the high quality infrastructure, although signage could be improved in places

    1. Agree regarding the signage, although fortunately they’re now starting to roll out route signage along the completed Major Cycleways

  5. What is the total investment from Christchurch City Council in cycling infrastructure and how many cyclists utilise this infrastructure per day?

    1. Ultimately Christchurch City will be contributing about $60 million for the Major Cycleways (out of $165m total cost). At moment there are about 50,000 cycle trips a day in Chch, although that is expected to grow considerably (already is – Uni-Cycle route counts already meet modelled estimates for 2031), let’s say about 18-20 million trips a year. At the moment about 50 percent of Chch residents have cycled in the past year, with about 25 percent typically biking in any given week.

      1. I bike to work every single day as well as bike further afield on bigger rides. I really question your 50% of people in the last year and 25% each week. The greater majority of people travel by car. Maybe 5% of people cycle each week.

        1. The data comes from Council’s annual Residents’ Survey and has been remarkably consistent for many years; see Note that it’s the proportion of people who have cycled, not the proportion of trips; many people (like me) use a mix of walk, bike, bus, drive – and some only make 1-2 bike trips a week or year. BTW, Census data tells us that about 8% of Chch commuters travel by bike.

  6. We pay to much for our ebike I was recently in the states and went to shop there most under $1000 if the price cam down more would cycle

    1. Totally agree we pay too much. They’re also much cheaper in Japan than NZ, where an e-bike from a quality, reputable brand will cost much less than a no-brand e-bike here. With luck popularity and competition will bring down prices here.

  7. That is wonderful Sara. Good on you. It’s great to see more women getting into (or back into!) cycling, especially in Christchurch where the suffragettes used to cycle everywhere in the 19thC.

    I’m a middle-aged Mum too and I’ve been cycling around Wellington at least a few times a week for three years or so and it’s a great way to travel and keep fit all at the same time. I know quite a few more Mums (and their kids!) would love to join me, but are currently not going there because of the lack of safe cycleways in our city.

    Despite that though, I have noticed more and more women on bikes here lately – many in their work clothes and on e-bikes. I suspect other commenters on this blog are right and the e-bike revolution is happening. Great. Perhaps that will add to the pressure on the Wellington Council to actually get on and complete the network that they’ve started and will overcome some of the bikelash happening here.

  8. Much of the cycling in Christchurch is recreational, not commuting. I live out at the beach, close to the forest, and that sees a steady stream of recreators all through the week, and a deluge at weekends. I also moto-scoot to north of the CBD three days a week, and cross a couple of the cycleways in the course of that. Few commuters at that time of day. Anecdote, not data. But I’d be wary about the surveys, as there is a considerable self-selection bias inherent in ’em….

    1. That’s why we have actual surveys to overcome the anecdotal perceptions. For a start, fewer than 1/3 of cycling trips in Chch are recreational (MoT Household Travel Survey), most are for utility purposes to work, school, shops, etc (obviously on the weekend there is a larger number of recreational trips, and seeing as you live near a MTB park you’d expect to see plenty there too). And there’s very little self-selection bias in a professional market research phone survey of all Chch residents covering a wide variety of city topics.

    2. On Strickland St, Matai St and the northern rail path there’s a constant stream of cyclists at rush hour – coincidentally where there has been longstanding provision for cycling.

  9. I find surveys hard to answer as often they don’t have an option for how I use my bike. I’m going to the shop to buy a bottle of milk is not recreational or commuter or even to get fitter. 🙁
    I also avoid peak travel times to make my ride less stressful for me.

  10. Great story – thanks Sarah. I think more and more people in Christchurch are slowly waking up to the benefits and convenience of cycling in ChCh. At my work we have a large bike shed for the cyclists to keep their bikes in and its full most days and getting fuller. I have been riding to work a couple of times a week – a 30km round trip – something I didn’t consider a year or so ago because of the distance. It’s good for my fitness, saves petrol and cycling down the peaceful tree-lined railway cycle lane, away from the traffic, through the back of Riccarton, is a nice way to start the day.
    My workplace participates in the Aotearoa Bike Challenge every year and it’s a good way to get people interested in cycling

  11. Fantastic story Sara, keep fighting the good fight to get more high-quality cycle infrastructure in Christchurch!

    I have very fond memories of biking the city in the year I lived there (pre quakes) – I remember being unsure about taking my bike south but then using it so much I only put petrol in my car every two months.
    And (even with the then lack of any cycle priority on Riccarton Road) it was quicker to bike from Avonhead to the hospital (or drinks at the Pegasus Arms…) than to drive.

    Christchurch has so much going for it to be one of the world’s great cycle cities, please Sara and GlenK keep up the fight so the infra can suit the natural environment!

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