Cyclists dodge hair-raising potholes

It's dangerous out there

Last updated 15:29 21/07/2012
Daniel Tobin

Cyclist Laurence Mote negotiates the Sumner container run each morning, with cars going over a double yellow line to pass him

Cyclist Laurence Mote negotiates the Sumner container run each morning, with cars going over a double yellow line to pass him

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The February 22 earthquake turned Christchurch's cyclists into BMX experts who had to navigate silt mounds and sink holes. Eighteen months on the daily bike ride to work is still hair-raising, and it's dangerous out there.

Once-flat roads are now littered with potholes and mounds of silt, forced up by the quakes.

Huge numbers of cars have been funnelled down narrow traffic-cone-lined roads. Motorists could swerve at any moment to avoid a pothole.

Cyclists have been forced to adapt, many taking to mountainbikes to manage the bumps.

All the cyclists who spoke toThe Press say they have stopped using road bikes, the typical choice before the earthquakes. Now, thin tyres burst in potholes.

But, despite the obvious dangers, thousands of Cantabrians still take their bikes to work.

Many feel safer knowing that they can dodge the grid- locked roads and race to their families if another large quake hits.

Brand manager Laurence Mote cycles 6km to work each day down Sumner's notorious container run.

For months, shipping containers have lined the base of the cliffs along Main Rd, to protect against falling rocks.

However, the containers have sometimes thrown cyclists into the path of impatient, speeding motorists.

Mote can regularly reach out and tap the windows of cars as they pass him. The cars often reach speeds of up to 60kmh down the restricted 30kmh stretch.

Some drivers will do anything to overtake cyclists, pulling into the oncoming traffic lane, he says.

"There will be a crash there at some stage, I just hope I'm not involved.

"The road is not wide enough for cars to pass without overtaking by crossing the double yellow line. So not only are they breaking the law; they often overtake into oncoming traffic and have to swerve back in quickly."

Mote even put a road cone over a "particularly nasty" Sumner pothole on his way home a few months ago.

"I didn't want other cyclists falling into it in the dark. I have heard stories about people falling off their bikes because of potholes."

Despite the dangers, Mote still thinks it's "safer to have a bike in Christchurch" because of the ongoing quake threat.

Mote rode to his children's school after the February earthquake. It was the quickest and easiest way to get to them.

City councillor Sue Wells took to her bike as a result of the February 22 earthquake.

"There was really no excuse [not to start cycling]," she says.

"I found a lot of awesome little side roads and off-road tracks that I could ride on. And I loved cycling the wrong way down one way streets, I felt so naughty but got a real buzz out of it."

She has taken a break during winter but "come September I will be back on my bike".

Wells quickly learnt the necessities of biking in a city resembling a BMX track.

"I have learned to change a tyre, in anger, on the way to a council meeting," she says.

"You don't want to ride a road bike, if you hit a pothole you will be toast."

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She is another who feels safer knowing she can get out of the city in an emergency.

"My kids were in town on February 22 and I had to walk in and get them, and then walk them out."Aaron Webb, a Sport Canterbury manager, travels 14km from his St Albans home to Hornby.

Webb's route is anything but straightforward. He plans his ride to avoid the major traffic thoroughfares.

"I have to take a roundabout route," he said.

"I have picked out a lot of roads to avoid. I won't go on Main South Rd, the Sockburn roundabout or Blenheim Rd."

Like a lot of Canterbury cyclists, Webb has had his share of near misses.

"I had a bus pull over and cut me off a couple of weeks ago," he says. "When I pulled up to the driver's window it was already down and the driver was very apologetic. I have never been knocked off . . . touch wood."

But Russell Ward, 71, who retired a few months ago from his role as a cycle safety instructor, has seen a lot of crashes.

He still cycles more than 60km each week with the Magpies, a club established about six years ago for older people. Now it welcomes anyone on two wheels.

He is still shocked at the number of motorists who overtake cyclists on blind corners around Christchurch.

One of his regular rides coincides with the morning rubbish collection in the Port Hills.

"Cars pass us on blind corners then see the rubbish truck coming and dive back into us to get out of its way."

Glen Koorey, a senior lecturer in Canterbury University's civil and natural engineering department, who has looked at the city's cycling habits post- earthquake, has noticed a decline in the state of cycle lanes across the city.

Cycle lanes have been narrowed because roads have been widened to adjust to new traffic flows.

On Koorey's commute, 6.5km from Somerfield to Ilam, the cycle lanes have disappeared. "The bike lanes have just gone. I think there are a few spots where the city council could have paid more attention to the little details."

"The roads were just clogged after the February and June earthquakes. You couldn't move in a car but on a bike it wasn't an issue."

- The Press

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