Bikes > Cycle

How New Zealand made me feel safe riding my bicycle

The country does its best to protect active-transport users

Not even single-digit temperatures can stop the author and his wife from riding. PHOTO BY DUANE MARK QUIDET

A massive chunk of the content I’ve produced for VISOR revolves around cars. After all, that was the subject matter that I truly wanted to write about when I started here. But I have an open mind toward alternative modes of transportation as long as they’re used properly and responsibly. Because of that, I’ve written a few articles about cycling, and have recently taken it up as a hobby and a way to lose weight.

Who wouldn't be encouraged to ride with bike lanes like this? PHOTOS BY MIGGI SOLIDUM

But while bikes have piqued my interest lately, I have a confession to make. In the Philippines, I’ve never cycled beyond the confines of the gated village I lived in for absolute fear of my life. The prospect of a wayward jeepney squashing me like a pancake haunts me. So even though I owned a couple of bicycles, I’ve never mustered the courage to ride them past the security guard’s outpost.

But things changed when I moved overseas to New Zealand for work. Some of my peers turned out to be bike enthusiasts, and they encouraged me to take up cycling as a hobby. I must’ve been pressured by photos of their rides because I ended up forking out NZ$350 (P12,600) for a full-suspension mountain bike out of impulse. But I’m thankful that I did, because I discovered that I didn’t have to flirt with the Grim Reaper to ride in Aotearoa.

Christchurch has many parks and pathways that are off-limits to cars. PHOTOS BY DIANE SANTOS-SOLIDUM AND MIGGI SOLIDUM

For one, most major streets have bike lanes. They are properly wide, and the lane markings are clear. Even buses don’t faze me as their lanes are big enough for large vehicles to pass bicycles without eating into their space. Some roads even have raised concrete separators for their bike lanes, and certain intersections have pressure sensors that cyclists can use to trigger traffic lights.

Drivers in New Zealand are also required to give cyclists a wide berth when passing. According to the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, there should be a minimum gap of 1.5m when passing bikers. From what I’ve observed, almost all motorists naturally keep their distance from cyclists and delay overtaking when it is unsafe. Likewise, the NZTA also limits side-by-side riding to two so that drivers have enough space to pass.

Cycling is a good way to explore Christchurch's sights. PHOTOS BY MIGGI SOLIDUM

There is also an abundance of public parks where I can ride my bicycle without the presence of motor vehicles. I recently discovered that Google Maps has cycling routes that use these parks as shortcuts between major roads. Additionally, I can cycle in peace within Christchurch’s numerous red zones—areas of land that have been weakened by the 2011 earthquake and are no longer suitable for houses and buildings.

The author's employer supports bike commuters with these amenities. PHOTOS BY MIGGI SOLIDUM

Some companies even support employees who bike to work. My employer’s office building has a covered parking area for bikes. Furthermore, there are showers within the premises that can be used by anyone with an access pass. Smelling like a red onion in the conference room is definitely a thing of the past.

One drawback of not being physically fit is that I get tired very easily. For example, even the 12km ride from my house to the local beach on mostly flat roads is already excruciating for a body that has been shaped by San Miguel Pale Pilsen and Jollibee Chickenjoy. That’s why I take comfort in the fact that city buses have front-mount bike racks in case my thighs decide to turn to jelly from all that pedaling.

Tired cyclists can hop on city buses with their bikes. PHOTO FROM METRO CANTERBURY

When I came to New Zealand, I had no intention of owning a bicycle as transportation or as a hobby. But I saw how bike-friendly the country is, and how active mobility needn’t be hard or dangerous. The cool and dry climate is a welcome bonus since I perspire a lot, and I am seriously considering using my bicycle instead of my car for short trips.

When will authorities and motorists in the Philippines stop treating cyclists like second-class citizens? PHOTO BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

I want to give cycling another chance in Metro Manila even if it means sweating profusely in hot and humid weather. But for that to happen, the infrastructure must be massively improved, and motorists really need to learn how to share the road. Just like how New Zealand has encouraged me to ride by showing me that it isn’t dangerous, the Philippines must do the same in making commuters feel safe on bikes.

Miggi Solidum

Professionally speaking, Miggi is a software engineering dude who happens to like cars a lot. And as an automotive enthusiast, he wants a platform from which he can share his motoring thoughts with fellow petrolheads. He pens the column ‘G-Force’.