Matt Fordham's family are regulars on the bike lanes around Point Chevalier and central Auckland. He tells us a bit about their commutes to school and work, and gives advice about riding with children.
When did you start riding your bike as a way to get around?
I first started when I lived in London 10 years ago. It was as fast as the tube to get to and from work, kept me fit, and allowed me to see more of the city than if I’d been travelling on the Underground.
Kristen and I moved to Oxford after that, and biking was the easiest way to get around. We were so used to biking that when we came home to Auckland we chose where to live (Point Chevalier) in part because it was so bike-friendly.
Why do you choose to ride a bike?
Some of the reasons are purely practical. Biking to and from work keeps me fit, saves money on petrol and parking, and is faster than driving or taking the bus. It’s also better for the environment – and people’s health – than driving.
Evident, a company I started with a good friend, was founded on strong sustainability principles so we commute and get to client meetings by bike as much as possible. We even chose our office location based on safe cycling routes and bikeable distances from where we live.
What I really enjoy about it though is the sense of connection to the city. The effort you put into cycling gives you an appreciation for the city’s terrain, its scale, and changing wind patterns.
Even little things like the sound of birds each morning biking past Western Springs – I miss that if I’m in a car or on a bus. I also really like the freedom of being able to stop wherever I want without having to find and pay for a car park or walk from a bus stop.
There have been times when I’ve been cycling past a cafe in the city and decided then and there to pull over for a coffee. It’s so much harder to do that in a car when you’re stuck in a flow of traffic and have to find somewhere to park.
Tell us about your morning commute with your family.
Most days I drop the kids at school and daycare. Kristen leaves home first – she takes the Springs to City cycleway to Upper Queen Street and then down Te Ara I Whiti and the Nelson Street cycleway to her work in the central city.
Elliot (6) bikes with me on his own bike, and I take Willow (3) and Liberty (1) in the bike trailer. It takes less than 10 minutes to bike to Elliot’s school, and after I’ve dropped him off I take the girls to daycare, which is a two-minute ride away. I unhitch the trailer and leave it at daycare then bike into work in Eden Terrace along the Springs to City cycleway.
Do you have any advice for parents wanting to ride with their children?
Safety first. Make wearing a helmet a habit. The helmets with magnetic chin straps are easier for kids to get on and off themselves. Also, if you’re biking on the footpath in the morning there will be a lot of cars coming out of driveways so a high-vis vest is a good idea. You can get kids ones for about $5 online.
Give yourself plenty of time to get where you want to go; kids will find plenty of interesting things along the way that slow them down. Remember you need to get back again, so turn for home well before the kids get tired.
And take some food and drink – it’s hard work for kids when they’re learning and there will be many places you can stop under a tree for a break.
Where are your favourite places to ride with your family?
Willow got a pedal bike for Christmas and the Springs to City cycleway is great for learning on. It’s flat, wide, has no driveways or intersections to interrupt her, and on the weekends isn’t too busy.
We've also spent a lot of time at the track at Onepoto Domain where the kids graduated from tricycles to balance bikes to pedal bikes. Elliot has just discovered the BMX pump track at Grey Lynn Park and is hooked, so I can see a bit more time being spent there. I’m also keen to try him on a kid's mountain bike out at Woodhill this summer.
My favourite is biking down to Point Chevalier beach. We can ride all the way down to the beach and park the bikes and trailer right next to the sand, loading up the back of the trailer with towels, food, umbrella, buckets and spades etc.
For anyone considering biking in Auckland with young families, what would you say to encourage them to start?
It is such a good thing to do as a family. It’s focused time with your kids, it’s healthy for you and them, and it’s a great way for them to develop their independence. There are so many cycleways now that you’ll have years of exploring the city together as they get bigger and can ride further.
Elliot’s advice: “Just try one little bit to start with, and then add a bit more at a time.” I couldn’t agree more. He started on a tricycle on our front deck when he was two and now a few years later can bike from Point Chevalier almost all the way into the central city. Just one little bit to start with.