There’s been a marked increase in people cycling during the Covid-19 alert levels. Matai O’Connor spoke with some of Gisborne’s cycling community about why people should cycle . . .
More Gisborne residents have picked up their bikes, pumped up the tyres and cycled around the region throughout all Covid-19 Alert Levels.
Covid-19 caused New Zealand to go into lockdown during March and April, meaning people had to find new ways to get their daily dose of exercise as gyms were closed.
Here in Gisborne it is possible to hop on your bike and ride all around the city. There is the Oneroa Cycle and Walkway along the beachfront and the cycle and walkways along the banks of the Turanganui and Taruheru riverbanks. You can also walk and cycle all the way from Wainui to the CBD.
There are mountain bike trails like the ones at Whataupoko Reserve and on Mander Road.
A lot of people might complain about the shortage of walk and cycleways in the district but thousands of people use them throughout the year.
There are cycleway upgrades under way around the region with the latest work starting this week on the extension to the Oneroa Cycle and Walkway. It is a 3m-wide concrete strip that connects the path from where it ends opposite the Olympic Pool Complex to the Awapuni Stadium.
In this “new normal” we are experiencing, more people might decide to pick up cycling as their main transport mode.
Local bike shops have been busy with customers wanting bikes and repairs.
Bikeys' manager Vicki Tate said the Level 4 lockdown gave people the chance to get back on a bike and spend more time enjoying the outdoors, something many may not have done for awhile.
“It has been exciting to see so many families out riding together, along with a thriving mountain biking community using the trails at Whataupoko Reserve and the boom in the e-bike movement,” she said.
“Our workshop is pumping out repairs at full capacity and business is similar to Christmas Eve levels.”
They are enjoying seeing customers back in their store at Alert Level 2.
Trustee on the Gisborne Cycle and Walkway Trust, Gillian Ward, said she had noticed more people cycling since Covid-19 Alert Levels 3 and 4.
“We had some lovely weather during the lockdown and with fewer cars on the roads, cycling has been really pleasurable, as well as an attractive way to escape from home for short, safe ventures,” she said.
“I think Covid-19 has seen people stay at home and spend their time like never before. The enforced ‘staycation' saw people with time on their hands heading to the garage to dust down their steeds, pump up the tyres and take to the streets with their kids for their daily PE sessions.
“Families played together, walking, scooting and cycling our walk and cycleways.
“Now is the time for our iwi, Council and leaders to really knock heads together and find solutions.
“The ‘build it and they will come' mantra is real,” Ms Ward said.
“Two years ago we had a small mountain bike community and tracks but no trails.
“Today we have great trails and a movement of young, and not so young, with new bikes cruising (or flying) the Whataupoko Reserve tracks.”
Gisborne is a perfect place to access with a bicycle because it is mostly flat, compact, has wide roads, a mild climate and not much rain, Ms Ward said.
“Cycling is a very economical way to get to where you need to go.
“There are well-recognised health benefits to be gained from cycling. It is a low-impact activity which suits many older people.
“It does not need to be intense aerobic ‘exercise' — people can exercise at their own comfort level.
“Cycling (and other active transport) should absolutely be part of the ‘new normal' we are in.
“We need to move towards living a lower- energy lifestyle, with less dependence on fossil fuels,” Ms Ward said.
“Many local trips can be done without using a car. Electric cars, while not dependent on fossil fuels, use a large amount of energy and resources in their manufacture, whereas bicycles are resource-efficient,” she said.
In a normal week, Gillian cycles every day, to work, to the supermarket, to meetings and activities. She has two bikes — one for commuting and carrying the supermarket shopping and one for recreation.
“In the past, my commuting bike has been set up with one or two child seats.”
Gisborne Mountain Bike Club member Conrad Smith, who has been a part of the Gisborne biking community for years, said lots of families had been cycling the trails in Whataupoko Reserve since lockdown.
“With the lockdown, families started cycling and moved towards trails as a place to explore their fitness and enjoyment of mountain biking.”
The club looks after the Whataupoko Reserve and Mander Road trails.
All sorts of people have been using the Whataupoko Reserve trails, aged from four years all the way to the mid-70s.
In the first week of Covid-19 Alert Level 3, over 2000 people were recorded as using the Whataupoko Reserve trail. Trust Tairawhiti funded an Eco-Counter to record the numbers on the trail.
“Older riders are purchasing e-bikes which enable them to get up hills and enjoy themselves without over-stressing their bodies,” Mr Smith said.
The Gisborne Mountain Bike Club has been in operation since 2003/4 in various formats and has about 250 members.
Mr Smith said the overall purpose of the club was to promote mountain biking in the East Coast region and establish mountain biking areas for locals and visitors to use.
“The club also supports local riders by providing training for groups of beginners interested in the sport.”
People like mountain biking for many reasons, he said.
“Fresh air, riding with friends and family, and using apps like STRAVA to view your ride and monitor how you are going are enjoyable.
“There's a huge range of places to ride including Motu Trails and Wairoa.
“Further afield are Napier, Whakatane, Taupo, Rotorua and Tauranga.
“There are many benefits of biking — it's low-stress on the body, you can choose the intensity you want, it gets you outside in the fresh air and back to nature and it can be very social when riding with friends.
“Biking suits active relaxers. You can take your phone to get pictures along the way, and share these on social media with everyone.
“Mountain biking also gives you ‘mindfulness', the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment.
“We are actively working with Trust Tairawhiti, Gisborne District Council, Tairawhiti Cycle and Walkway Trust and Motu Trails Charitable Trust to promote mountain biking and cycling in our region,” Mr Smith said.
Future cycleways and trails are being planned at Tolaga Bay, the extension of the boardwalk to Pacific Street and to the Waipaoa River mouth, linking, in time, to Manutuke via the stopbanks.
The proposed development of the Taruheru River cycle and walkway will be an extension of the existing riverbank shared path that currently ends at Bright Street.
The shared path will be developed in stages from Bright Street to Campion Road, and has been extended from Bright to Grey Street in the interim.
The proposed route is 4.5km long consisting of 2.5km of concrete path and 2km of timber boardwalk with adjoining connections.
It follows the right bank of the Taruheru River from Bright Street to Stanley Road; crosses the river on the Stanley Road footbridge; then follows the left bank of the river ending at the Campion Road footbridge.
The path will travel through the Botanical Gardens, Atkinson Street Reserve and Nelson Park, with connections to neighbourhood reserves, sports clubs and schools.
“The Tairawhiti region would never have realised the awesome trail network that is being established at Whataupoko Reserve without the wonderful support from the Gisborne District Council, funding from Trust Tairawhiti, Eastern and Central Community Trust, New Zealand Community Trust and the many businesses that have funded the trail signage through Trail Partners,” Mr Smith said.
Katrina Duncan, owner and operator of Gisborne Cycle Tours which offer bike rental and tours, said Gisborne had the terrain, the climate and people to become a “cycling mecca”.
“The community can also be a leader in transport model-shift in New Zealand,” said Ms Duncan.
“Cycling can transform cities, link communities and provide unlimited health and wellbeing benefits.
“We believe cycling will be the transport mode of the future and will also be important for tourism recreational activities.
“We hope that our local and national leaders will also help to take cycling in our region to the next level by increasing the availability of safe and attractive cycling infrastructure.
“Gisborne people loved cycling when there were fewer cars on the streets during the lockdown.”
Ms Duncan has ideas about how cycling could be a part of the “new normal”.
“Closing the CBD to traffic would create a ‘slow' zone with low speeds, people cycling and walking, and more cycle parks and seats provided outside cafes and shops.
“It has been found overseas that this kind of environment is great for local businesses. We want to encourage residents to shop locally, especially as the local economy gets back on its feet,” she said.