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I had spent most of the week telling anyone unfortunate enough to be within earshot that I had just clocked up 20,000 kilometres on my current electric bike. (It is not so impressive when you consider that is over about four years, but I chose to edit out that part of the story.) It was the first puncture in 20,000km for this particular tyre.
At the end of 2016, I made the decision to use an electric bike as my main mode of travel to and from the city and, apart from times when my bike has been off the road for maintenance or repairs, or I have been recovering from arm surgery (some of it bike-related), I have stuck with it.
I love it. Even on the windiest, wettest, coldest day.
I continue to be baffled by the vitriol about anything to do with cycling and cycleways. Just this week, this newspaper restricted comments on a story about an injured man raising concerns about loose gravel on cycleways. Presumably, experience suggested it would attract abusive responses.
Did the haters never ride bikes as children? If they did, have they forgotten the exhilaration, that heady freedom you have in childhood when you get behind the handlebars and ride away from the adults in your life? For me, that joy has never dissipated.
(Apologies to those subjected to my off-key singing of Melanie’s homage to roller-skating Brand New Key, during a trip to town on Monday. Blame RNZ for playing it at the weekend and my addled brain for retaining all the words for the last 50 years.)
Psychology lecturer Tom Stafford’s fascinating piece from a few years ago suggests motorists hate cyclists because they think they offend the moral order.
The moral order he is talking about is driving. As he says, driving is a "very moral activity — there are rules of the road, both legal and informal, and there are good and bad drivers". The whole intricate dance of the rush-hour only works because the rules are followed, by and large. But then along come cyclists, innocently doing their thing, but perceived to be breaking the rules.
Whatever the reason for the contempt, it is time people got over it. Yes, there will be times when cyclists behave badly, but they do not deserve to be threatened any more than motorists do when they stuff up.
There are also those who regard any cycling-related public spending is frivolous pandering to a few entitled gits in Lycra when we should have more car parks in George St (possibly so those buying Elizabeth Taylor-sized diamonds will not have to toddle too far weighed down by their purchases).
It would be good to think high fuel prices might be the catalyst for some more urgent thinking about reducing the use of fossil fuels for daily travel. Temporarily reducing bus fares and fuel tax are measures which might be popular for the purse, but they will not change anything long term.
High fuel prices provide the opportunity to nudge more people towards regular cycling, not just for recreation, but to replace much daily car use.
It is difficult to understand why there are discounts for electric cars but no subsidy for bicycles or e-bikes, apart from an e-bike subsidy scheme for public servants. Cycling advocates are pushing for a general incentive scheme offering a rebate on bicycles and e-bikes and equipment. It would be easy to make a case for the health benefits of short daily cycling commutes which would save money in the long run.
Transport Minister Michael Wood may be out of touch on this. He considers the cost of e-bikes is not much of a barrier to buyers, compared with electric vehicles, and points out there has been a "huge uptake" of e-bikes. But does he know whether most purchasing these bikes are buying them for commuting/shopping trips or recreational cycling? I suspect it’s the latter. Also, any family struggling from pay day to pay day will not have spare money for bicycles of any description.
Cycling must be seen to be safe, of course, and that will require, shock, horror, further spending on cycleways.
Widespread provision of safe, suitable, and dry bike parking provision is needed too. Most racks I encounter are poorly designed and not under cover.
Heck, maybe we could go all out and install something snazzy in George St.
Forgive me, my nostrils may have got too close to the vulcanising rubber solution during my tube repair.
- Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.