The Auckland frock bike

At the cycle friendly awards in 2010 Frocks on Bikes Auckland won not only the award for Best Cycling Promotion for Cycle Style 2010 but also an Avanti bike. Thanks to Avanti plus in Waitakere the  bike was tricked up with the essential assessories including a basket, bell and mud guards.  The Urban Bicycle Company donated beautiful Basil panniers to complete a perfect Frock bike.

Julie Fairey, member of the Puketapapa Local Board, shares her experience of becoming a frocker.

Julie and mayor

I’m quite sure she (or he) has had many names.  I call her Bertie, for no good reason that I can fathom.  She is the Frocks on Bikes Auckland Bike, and for the last six months or so I’ve pretended that she is mine.

Bertie didn’t get a name right up front.  To start with she was an it, just a bicycle, to me a reasonably mystical machine that I was a little bit scared of.  I fell off a lot, by which I mean I could tell I was about to fall off or that the bike was about to topple so I jumped.  Some bruises, some scratches, but no real injuries except that one time I bashed my ankle up a bit.  It was really after that, when I couldn’t cycle for a couple of weeks as the gash on my palm healed, that I realised I missed riding, I missed the bike and that bike was a she and she was Bertie.

How this started was that I was inspired, mostly by Richard Barter (Chair of the Puketapapa Local Board) and Pippa Coom.  It just looked like an easier way of life, an easier way to be; to cycle from A to B.  But I needed a bike, one that I could use to get around my local area, carry a fair bit of stuff, and not be too heavy because I’d likely need to push a fair bit up the hills.  Pippa offered me a lender bike to try it out and now I am hooked.

I knew how to ride a bicycle but had never been a regular cyclist, even as a child.  I have had brief flirtations with bicycles for a day or two in Hoi An and Munich.  It all looked fine on the flat, but I live almost at the top of a hill, in a quite hilly suburb (Mt Roskill) and my fitness and strength are poor.  Having Bertie to borrow gave me a chance to see if I could make it work, make it part of my life.

It took a while once I picked up the bike (in the boot of the stationwagon of course) to actually get on it, because first I had to brave rescuing my helmet from the part of the garage nearest the big spider webs and then wash any cobwebbyness off it.  After about two weeks I screwed up my courage and did it.  This was the first thing that was easier than I expected.

Then I sorted out a little route to cycle near my house, and that was the second thing that was easier than I expected.  I was quite exhilarated that what had seemed to me a very awful hill by car, bus and walking, was not so bad after all.  I nearly made it to the top!  Now I see that as quite a gentle slope really, but before Bertie it seemed intimidating and impossible.

Every day for about two weeks I went for a ride, slowly increasing how many kms I was doing, and how many hilly bits, until I could do 10 kms.  By then I’d worked out I wasn’t really interested in just going for a bike ride.  I needed to be transporting myself and my stuff to something I needed to go to.  So I decided that I needed a cupcake and cycled to Bluebells Cakery.  But after that I really needed to come up with actual places I really needed to go to.

I was fortunate that it was such a good, and long, summer.  I am also fortunate that I live in an area with a cycleway running through it, which I use as a sort of spine to get places; ride from my place to the cycleway on the southern side of SH20, cycle east or west as needed, then north or south off it as needed.  I love saying hello to people I pass although some seem quite bamboozled by it.  I love parking Bertie at the places I need to visit in my suburb; the library, the Local Board office, the community centre, the park, the shops, and, of course, Bluebells Cakery.

Since the weather got worse, and I’ve had some ill health, I haven’t been able to cycle so much and I miss it.  Bertie is there, nice and warm and dry, waiting.   I don’t feel guity anymore (I did for a while), now I feel hopeful that tomorrow might be suitable, or that next week I’ll be well enough, or that someone might give me the wet gear I need for my birthday.

One day I’ll be able to buy a bike of my own and Bertie will go on to someone else.  If that person is you, please be gentle with her.  She taught me a lot, helped me to gain some independence from cars and roads and driving through my neighbourhood without touching it, rather than feeling, hearing, smelling and seeing it up close as I do on a bike.  I hope Bertie, or another bicycle, will teach you all of that and more.  And if you already know, perhaps you can spread the lesson by sharing a spare bike of your acquaintance with someone else who needs to learn it.

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