Bliss: two wheels and just a bit of hard work

Biking near Arrowtown in autumn

I have just undergone a major revolution in my view of the world. This is not about politics or religion or other important things such as food or clothes. It is about recreation. I have started to look upon biking as fun.

For some 60 years I have walked and I have biked. But when given a choice for relaxation I preferred walking. Walking along a track in the bush or on the tussock landscapes of this country is one of the great pleasures of life. It invites good conversation with mates and inspires creative thoughts.

In comparison, biking always seemed like hard, hard work. I biked purely because I wanted to get somewhere. Growing up in Christchurch, I would battle against those infernal easterlies as I biked to school or to sports games carrying huge bags of gear. I would arrive sweaty and grumpy.

More recently, I have biked to work, but only because it was cheaper and quicker than any other form of transport. And in Wellington the fierce westerlies and hills are minor challenges compared with the dangers of speeding cars who believe that cyclists have no place on the roads of the city. Every day I take my life in my hands.

As a walker, I used to mutter oaths against mountain bikers who came tearing down tracks at dangerous speeds forcing us trampers into the bushes and turning the tracks into muddy quagmire.  When I tried mountain biking myself I found it, quite frankly, scary. Biking as ‘fun’? – you must be joking.

This summer things changed. First we headed down to Geraldine intending to tramp in the Southern Alps.  We organised our packs, bought our supplies, and then waited for a clearing in the weather. It never came.  Looking into the high country we saw continual westerlies blowing up a storm. The rivers were high and a turgid grey. Call me a wuss, but we simply did not fancy days of getting drenched.

So what to do? Camp fever took hold. I yearned for exercise to strip off some of that Christmas flab. There was sunshine on the plains. Perhaps a bike ride was an option? It was a relatively new bike – good suspension, 30 gears. The first day I headed down a side road out of Geraldine. It was sealed but deserted, not a car in sight. There was a steady west wind blowing behind and before long I was racing along at about 40 kilometres per hour. The country was lush with patches of bush. I began to realise I was having fun. For the next few days, usually accompanied by Susan, to whom I had confided my new enthusiasm, we explored the hinterland – up into the foothills of the Alps for a break and a swim, down to a nice wine bar at the Ōpihi River.

Then this weekend we headed to Arrowtown.  Now we had a real choice – a walk into the magnificent hills behind Arrowtown, or hire a bike to explore the new bicycle tracks of the area? I had discovered that, as part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail, the Queenstown trail had just been opened (in September last year). This 110-kilometre-long trail goes along the river banks and over private land to link Queenstown with Gibbston and Arrowtown. A huge investment has gone into the trail, and riding it is a wonderful experience. On Saturday we followed first the Arrow River, then the Kawarau, before heading back alongside Lake Hayes with breathtaking views. We returned tired but thrilled.

The next day we had to choose again. Would the call of a walk in the woods be too strong; or would we put up with our aching bums and once more hire a bike and do another piece of the Queenstown cycle trail? It was no contest – the bike won out and this time we headed across beautiful country beside lines of wild roses, alongside the Shotover River and then another piece of the Kawarau before heading back cross-country. Boy it was fun.

What explains this revolution in attitudes?

  • The provision of cycle trails away from the traffic is one thing.
  • Good bikes with brakes that work, comfy seats and excellent gears, also helps.
  • You can cover so much more beautiful country on bike than on foot, and around Queenstown there is an awful lot of fine country to see.
  • And, I have to admit, as you get older the rhythmic movement of the bike is actually less strain on the body than pounding up a track on foot.

To be fair, the revolution is not total. There are times when biking uphill against a head wind still seems like very hard work indeed; and there is always the danger of hurtling headlong over the handlebars when the tyres get stuck in a rut. But, for the first time in my life, I have begun to think about biking as a real recreational option. So, next time you are looking for fun, try one of this country’s new cycle trails and join the revolution.

4 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Ben || January 16th, 2013

    I too love cycling as a recreation. I’ve been on several cycle touring holidays over the years, both in NZ and overseas, and the thing I love about it is the way it feeds the senses. Whereas in a car you can see the places you are passing through, on a bike you can also feel the wind, heat, or rain on the skin; smell the grasses or other scents in the air, and hear a small bird in a paddock or the passage of a river. As with tramping, there also the satisfaction of completing a day’s cycling and feeling one’s body has had a good work out, justifying a hearty tea.

    I’m pleased the NZ Cycle Trail is coming to fruition and look forward to checking out the tracks in Central Otago sometime soonish. With more people cycling, NZ will hopefully become more friendly toward cyclists.

  2. Comment made by Karen Ross || January 23rd, 2013

    I read all of your words with interest Jock. I have just embarked on a love affair with cycling and head South to the same region late February so I read your posts with interest.

    For me for now, nothing beats its. Even in Wellington.

  3. Comment made by Tim Lee || January 25th, 2013

    Thanks for your article, i’ve always wanted to bike to work to save on gas and get some exercise in. I live in Auckland though and cycling on or congested roads terrifies me.

    I never even considered trail biking, but i think i will now give it a go. Hopefully i can work up the courage to start cycling to work afterwards.

  4. Comment made by David Grant || February 11th, 2013

    Just cycled from Mt Cook Station to Oamaru. Bliss

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