Laura Williamson pays homage to cycling

Rides bikes, writes books: Luggate writer Laura Williamson with son Liam Dennis Williamson, 11.
MARJORIE COOK

Rides bikes, writes books: Luggate writer Laura Williamson with son Liam Dennis Williamson, 11.

When Laura Williamson was laid up with a bung knee last year, she briefly turned her mind to writing cycling poems.

But she wrote a book instead.

Williamson's knee is better now, after surgery. She is back riding her collection of three treadlies and her book has been published.

The Bike And Beyond: Life on Two Wheels in Aotearoa New Zealand has been released by Bridget Williams Books, as part of its series of "short books on big subjects by New Zealand writers."

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Williamson was born in Canada and learned to ride a bike, in 1978, with her dad holding the seat.

After a peripatetic lifestyle and career as a ski instructor, she ended up in New Zealand, where she lives at Luggate with her 11-year-old son Liam Dennis Williamson and is an active member of Wanaka's cycling and arts community.

One of her jobs is to edit Spoke magazine and it was through a colleague there, Eleanor Meecham (author of Llamas & Empanadas: 5000 Kilometres by Bicycle Through South America), that she was introduced to Bridget Williams Books editors.

"The text series has been very successful at tapping into ideas that are very current and relevant, for example climate change, sexism and science . . . trying to tap into the Zeitgeist of our time," Williamson said.

Tourism businesses have caught on to cycling, the Government is now investing huge chunks of money into tracks and trails and local authorities are balancing the competing transport demands of cycle versus motor car.

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Williamson's job was to reflect on was the evolution of cycling's popularity and where it might take New Zealand in the future.

"It is a huge topic. I could have been ten times as long . . .In the end, I wanted chapters as snapshots, as different aspects of bicycles in New Zealand," she said.

Williamson is not a competitive cyclist, preferring to ride for pleasure and transport - and yes, she owns a car.

She took up mountain biking in 2005 but has been cycling as a commuter all her life.

She believes it is important for people to remember their early cycling experiences, because New Zealand doesn't really consider itself as a cycling nation in the way France does, yet does have a rich and varied culture of cycling.

Williamson has broken her subject into moments in time: there's a chapter on Oamaru's pennyfarthings, the story of Jack Bauer's breakaway ride in the 2014 Tour de France, a review of frocksters, and a chapter paying homage to clandestine guys who spent hours on shovels creating what are now popular cycle tourism assets.

"Those guys were just going out digging tracks, sometimes a bit under the radar, and they created a multimillion industry that the Government is now investing in . . . Those boys on shovels have created something beautiful for society," Williamson said.

Williamson finished writing the book at the end of 2015, fitting it in around family life, her work for Spoke Magazine and the Wanaka App [a digital news site] and poetry and spoken word events.

"It was awesome, a really rewarding process. I really enjoyed it. And hopefully it will inspire people to ride their bikes."

BOOK LAUNCH, QUIZ, MOVIE NIGHT: Monday November 21, 5pm, Ruby Cinema.

Wanaka Paper Plus is donating 20 per cent of book sales from the launch to Bikevember's fundraising goal for an accessibility ramp to the the Hawea River bridge.

The launch is followed by a screening of Le Ride, a reprise ride of the 1928 Tour de France route by Phil Keoghan and Ben Cornell, courtesy of New Zealand International Film Festival/Mad Men Entertainment.

 - Stuff

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