I'm a reformed arrogant cyclist

Last updated 12:00 18/02/2013
NOT THERE YET: The cycling culture in New Zealand has yet to reach that of Copenhagen.

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Since my school days I've cycled to my place of study or work most days.

I live in Hamilton where the traffic is sedate. One has to stay alert though. I know my route and I know the intersections where automobiles have trouble spotting cyclists. That's when I pay the most attention and spot any approaching cars carefully - making eye contact and giving a cheery thumbs up if the driver gives way and lets me carry on - or hitting the brakes if not.

I guess I could stand up for my rights as a fellow road user. After all, the road code says I'm allowed to be there and to be treated with utmost respect doesn't it? But I'm also a regular driver of a large van and long experience has taught me that cyclists are damned hard to spot in rear-view or side mirrors.

Also, some cyclists are just bloody arrogant. I was like that for a while until I realised my attitude was going to get me punched in the head or killed. So I adapted.

I treat cars, buses and trucks like giant lumbering (or occasionally charging) elephants, ridden by slightly distracted people who certainly don't want to hurt me, but who have less control over their large, heavy steeds than we like to think. I treat them with a lot of respect. 

Ninety-nine per cent of my daily commute rides are hassle-free. Drivers in Hamilton (and in Auckland) are great to cyclists in general. Only infrequently do I see altercations or expressive hand signals being exchanged. Once in a while I'll get cut off by a car or a van and heave a bit of a sigh, but then I think of the times I've missed seeing a cyclist while I've been driving, and I get over it.

Cycling to work is great. It's cool in the summer, a good warm-up in the winter, and although it really stinks when it rains this isn't common enough to knock the high points: zero petrol cost, zero parking cost, no waiting or paying for buses, I go when I want and can easily stop off to run errands.

A bit of preparation is required though. I'm lucky enough to work in a building that provides lockers and a couple of showers. I leave my work clothes in the office with a stash of shirts. So all I have to do is shower and change when I arrive. The cycle commute is pretty good exercise, although I mosey along most of the time and only step it up if I'm feeling like a bit of a workout.

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I recommend giving it a try by cycling to your place of work on a quiet weekend so you can see how you find it before going in to the deep end of busy traffic. If you find traffic lights and roundabouts too intimidating, hop off and use the pedestrian crossing. It only adds an extra minute or so.

Sometimes I read blogs by people rhapsodising about cycling in Copenhagen, complete with photos of handsome blokes in blazers and shiny shoes or lovely European women with heels and skirts astride classy-looking city bikes that clearly came from an up-market cycle shop. And I realise that we're a long way yet from having a cycling culture like that.

I keep being polite and cheerful to car, bus, and truck drivers when I'm on my bike. I lean over backwards to be respectful and thoughtful to those trapped inside a cab or a car, unable to see me as clearly as I can see them. And I teach my kids to ride their bikes safely too. 

But there's no such thing as 100 per cent safety, and I guess we accept that every time we leave our gate in the morning, whether we are driving, riding, or taking the bus or the train. Cycling just has the most positive benefits of all those other options as far as my personal experience has proved.

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