Cycling week

It was a week of small miscalculations.


Set off early in a raving wind. Sky a yellowy, burnt-looking grey. Buses moving in slow-motion. A van full of dogs (‘Boom Rock Dogs’) went past.

Cold pointy rain on the way home. I’m not a fan of this kind of rain. Going up Kelburn Pde, the southerly was so strong I almost got stuck in it. I saw several men cycling along with shorts on. One looked happy. What’s going on?! It was cold – freakishly cold for this time of year. Ears especially cold, due to forgotten headband.

On Moana Rd I saw a large bit of fur on the road that looked like something dead. I braced myself. Thankfully, when I got closer, it was just a sock.

INJURY TALK: I went to the physio today and had shockwave therapy on my sore Achilles. This involved the physio using a huge expensive machine to shoot ultrasound waves into my leg and ankle. It was pretty painful, like someone jabbing at a sore tooth with increasing intensity. But immediately afterwards, all of my pain was gone. I could’ve leapt up and thrown away my cane if I had one and started tap-dancing. I’m told it’ll take a few sessions for the tendon to start healing properly, but it seems promising. I always knew, deep down, that I just needed to have shockwaves blasted into my leg.


A pretty full riding day – the sun was out on the ride to work, and I had a hilly ride around at lunchtime (excellent, sanity-restoring), then rode into town after work to see Sam Duckor-Jones’s incredible work of art LADS, then home at night after eating a lot of corn snacks. An e-bike whipped past me incredibly fast, with someone wearing a hi-vis backpack with CAUTION written on it.

I rode up Raroa Rd three times today, which is too many times. I recently came across a heated conversation on the Cycle Wellington Facebook page about the proposed cycle lane up Raroa Rd. I’ve noticed that there are new painted stripes along the side of the road. They’re sort of baffling. A cycle lane for ants, really.

Something happens in my brain when I encounter online discourse about cycle lanes. I know that people are probably saying sensible things and making good points, but it all just feels like shouting. It’s like that Far Side cartoon with all the neighbourhood dogs revealed to be shouting ‘Hey!’ ‘Hey! Hey!’


Three rides today. Going up old nemesis Raroa again, and thinking of the work day ahead, I had a thought: ‘What if the rest of my life is just sending emails?’ This is one problem with cycling – it unleashes these fears and realisations upon you.

An early eveningish ride home after a book launch. Legs grousing and griping by this point, but a good ride in the cool air.


A no-ride day. Attempted a lunchtime run but had to keep stopping to cough because almost as soon as setting out, a bug flew directly into my open mouth and right down my throat, in a perfect arc. Like the bug had been shot out of a cannon.

At an event last year, I remember talking to an interesting man named Andreas who told me that he was once cycling down a road in Nelson when suddenly he had to sneeze. He said something like, ‘I love, love to sneeze and I always breathe in very deeply. I want to make the most of the sneeze.’ As he was rushing along the road and breathing in deeply, about to relish his sneeze, a bug was sucked down his throat and right into his lungs. He had to go to A&E and the bug showed up on an X-ray. It was too far down for them to do anything about so they just had to leave it in there. ‘I can still remember the laughter of everybody in the A&E.’


A ridiculous ride to work, blasted with rain and wind. I was riding lopsidedly with mostly my left leg because earlier in the morning I accidentally dropped a 10 kilogram weight on my bare foot while enthusiastically doing ‘kettlebell goblet thrusters’ at home. I decided that my toe simply could not be broken, because I don’t have time for that. Rode along like a loon, wincing into the weather. Very few other cyclists out today.

(Hilariously, later on when I opened my fitness app back up I saw that it was still paused at the fatal moment. Needless to say it was not ‘a proud chest finish’.)

The foot seemed to get worse during the day but gradually the pain eased off and it felt better, so I figured it definitely was not broken and I could ride on it. Rode into town for a beer – the wind was mad on the ride in, roaring in the powerlines. There’s something about the sound of wind at the moment that feels more ominous than usual.

Then home, a surprisingly enjoyable ride once I was clear of the St Paddy’s revellers. Went up the Terrace and through Kelburn. On the Terrace, I saw what looked like an animal writhing in a driveway and involuntarily cried out ‘Noooo!’ But then I got closer and saw it was just a potplant container rolling back and forth in the wind.

POSTAL SERVICE TALK: A wonderful thing happened this week, which was that I got a card in the mail (the mail!) from a kind person saying that she likes this blog. I was moved, I was genuinely delighted, I felt slightly shamefaced at the lack of more exciting bike rides featured here and how most of it is just me complaining. Thank you Leanne from Piha.

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Cycling week

It was a week of … you’re not going to believe this, but it was a week of cycling.


A five-ride day. First, early, in a calm blueish morning. Uneventuful, except that a bunch of sparrows on the road took a long time to move.

Rode home at lunchtime to drop off some stuff but mainly to pat Jerry and stare into space.

I really recommend a lunchtime ride, even a short one, on a sunny day. It can give you a huge second wind for the rest of the day and make you insufferable to all those around you. I used to do biggish lunchtime rides a lot – sometimes round the bays, sometimes even up to Brooklyn then out to the South Coast, and when I was crazy I would even go to the gym and do a goddamn spin class then ride back up the hill. What was I thinking? Why did I like spin so much when the music was so bad? Why did I try to become friends with the spin people? Why did I go their Christmas drinks one year and stay till the end? Still, I enjoyed those lunchtime rides. Time feels a bit too tight for such things these days.

Back to work up Raroa, for extra hills.

Into town. It was my good friend Craig’s birthday and it was important to have whisky. I rode home lateish, slightly boozed, but the night was beautiful and the moon was out. This was a nice ride, though there is an awkward moment when, inching very slowly up Mt Pleasant, I accidentally rode through some branches and leaves that were overhanging the road. I think I startled a lady getting out of her car, who must’ve seen me slowly emerge from the leaves grinning.

A few weeks ago I promised a review of the new bike light set from Germany, gifted by the literary agent Martin Shaw. Well here it is: the TRELOCK LS 600 VECTOR/ LS 740 VECTOR REAR SET has come into its own in the darker mornings and during any night ride. I could take or leave the rear light – I’ve designated it my ‘secondary light’, which is pretty luxurious in itself, to have two rear lights – but the front light is, honest to god, like an exploding sun. I keep it dipped down so as not to blind anyone, but the great thing, the unexpected thing, is that it actually works like a headlight. I can see things on the road in the dark! On every night ride this week, I saw things on the road I don’t usually see – potholes, for one, but also spiders running along, and snails setting out optimistically.

Bad moon photo; front light brightness.


A yellowy morning ride. No wind.

Another night ride home.

Usually a later ride is fairly peaceful, but parts of this one were crazy. Cars blasting past me too close, all the way through Aro. But the moon was still good.

Riding along on a quieter stretch, I was overcome with an almost embarrassing feeling of gratitude for my bike and that, even though it’s always an eternal slog to get back home, I can go on my own time, and I get some fresh air and time to myself. No waiting for buses. No sitting in the chemical stink of an Uber. No walking, like an animal.


Rode to work into a blustery, sideways, haranguing sort of wind.

A mad ride home into the same sort of wind, only it’s as if the wind has got even more incredulous and irrational. It’s like the wind has been sending angry emails all day and is annoyed to have gotten no response. Now it must escalate. Everything seems on edge. A driver starts revving behind me (they must wait five seconds, max).

I had planned to ride into town to meet my partner and see Pavement, but I had to give the tickets away. The last few days, while I’ve been mostly keeping up with things, I’ve gone into a steep mental spiral downwards and am feeling too precarious for crowds, even though deep in myself I know that seeing Stephen Malkmus thrashing around (does he still thrash around? I will never know, now) would probably make me feel better.


I had one of the worst rides today but in retrospect it was also one of the funniest. I had to go into town and on the way back I realised I was absolutely busting to go to the loo. The sort of needing to go to the loo where your entire being becomes Bladder. You are nothing but Bladder; Bladder is all you have ever known in this life and it is all you will ever know. Simultaneously, I had a blood sugar crash. I began sweating the cold liquidy sweat, vision speckling, mouth watering. Only the bladder pressure was keeping me alert. I cycled as fast as possible, distantly aware of my legs shuddering around, and made it back, only just.

Another ride, to a poetry event – the problem of sweat, again; the futility of make-up; the difficulty of being seen – then zoomed down to town afterwards for a dinner. This is all bad timing; I’m not really fit for public, but somehow the bike riding is keeping me steady.

On Cuba St, I had to lock my bike to one of those racks that have decorative woollen sleeves on them. The sleeves are meant to be fun and joyful, part of the guerilla knitting movement, but I find them horrible. Especially the ones that have things dangling off them. Those in particular should be banned. I can’t really explain my aversion. I just don’t want to engage with weird bulbous knitting when I’m locking my bike up.

A very slow ride home at night. The moon was still good. High-pitched purring of crickets. Three night rides this week might be one too many.


Just two low-key rides today. One into town, for a coffee with my friend Andrew, who’s over from Paris. This is a good sort of ride – the going-to-meet-a-friend ride – because when you hop off all you need to do next is sit down and blather. I recommend it. And then I have a wholesome ride home with a loaf of bread in my bag. I could actually BE in Paris. (If it wasn’t for the steep, steep hill with a squashed rat on it, the cicadas blaring, the sweat, and so on).

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Cycling week

It was a week of extreme helmet hair and various other complaints, but I was so busy and distracted that I kept arriving places on my bike and having no memory of cycling there.


An early ride, on calmish roads. It’s darker in the mornings now, or dark-bluer, and I like it. If only the mornings would stay just like this, without getting darker. This light is a good light to ride in.

The thing with doing an earlyish ride – this one was to the gym, then work – is that you really need to pack all of your stuff the night before, and it’s a whole performance. As I’m packing all of my things, trying to keep the pannier as light as possible but not forget anything, I sometimes have a minor existential crisis. Do I really want to live this way? Packing things? Little towels, undies, socks? Then it passes and I regain focus and carry on.

At lunchtime I rode into town to go to the physio, then rode back up the fast hell of the Terrace. Last week my brother Neil wrote about scooters rushing past ‘like flying axe handles’, and that simile is also very apt for the cars on the Terrace – so many of them scream past as if thrown by clowns.

A lateish ride home. I gave myself permission to proceed at a timid crawl.


Somehow this turned into a six-ride day. It started off quite badly when a truck towing a trailer with a little yellow digger perched on it roared past too close on a blind corner.

At lunchtime I had to ride to Thorndon, so today included another wrestle with my old nemesis the Terrace. At one point, slogging back towards Kelburn, I was wedged between fast-moving traffic on my right and, on my left, a guy sitting in a parked car waving a lit cigarette out his window.

Last week when I was in town, riding in the rain, I saw this interesting sight – two cyclists wearing full-body rain capes, bikes absolutely laden with panniers, both shuddering slowly up Victoria St; one seemed to be struggling with the traffic, and stopped in what looked like confusion on the side of the road. When we stopped at a red light I heard the two of them arguing loudly in French. I wonder where they are now.

A later-than-usual ride home tonight. I really enjoyed this one. The kākā are in full scream lately. Also the cicadas. As I went down Broomhill one smacked into my throat at full speed.


Legs like wet concrete. Rode to work, ducking as a low pigeon veered suddenly at me on Mt Pleasant. What is it with pigeons? I ask myself this often.

There’s something about riding – rushing through the fresh air, heart pumping – that kicks my memory into action. I’ve been finding myself hissing ‘Fuck!’ when I remember some task or other I haven’t done. Other times, I’m just groaning. For a while it felt like I was reading a lot of articles about the creativity-boosting properties of exercise; for me the guilt-boosting properties are more noticeable.

A ride into town at the end of the day, then home via Aro and Mt Pleasant, trying to keep up a fast clip for once.

I sat my learner’s licence test today. That’s right – things are going to change around here.


We were back to a trusty two-rider today, and they were auto-pilot rides that were immediately erased from my brain upon arrival at my destination, as work pulled me into its vortex.


Rode to town first thing to get my hair cut, and was shocked when I took off my helmet and looked at my face in the mirror. I looked so grizzled and old. Now, maybe if I had an e-bike none of this would be a problem.

Had to ride up the Terrace again to get to work, then up Salamanca. Went as fast as I could on the narrow. Indicated for ages to turn right, but had to give up as a long line of traffic surged forwards impatiently. Hopped off and pushed over the road instead.

On my ride home another cicada smacked into my face and bounced off. These cicadas seem to have reached a new level of desperation, at this stage of their lives – practically howling now, and not so much flying as flinging themselves through the air. I feel a connection with them.

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Cycling week (London edition)

This week, we’re on London time. My brother Neil Young – solo dad in London and an influential cyclist in my life despite being on the other side of the world – takes over the blog to report on his cycling week. With bonus Sunday ride.

Winter tunnel.


There’s a scene in The Wire in which detectives Bunk and McNulty investigate a cold murder scene, journeying from cluelessness to major breakthrough by way of variations on the word fuck. My morning ride today is peppered with similar expletive-variants, from bawdy bellow to mournful, slim-shanked parp, pipes and whistles in the sound. Auē. The roads. The berloody London roads. It’s really not worth writing about. In Burgess Park, a phalanx of guys on scooters flash past, like flying axe handles.

At 5:30pm a dullish light still remains. We’re almost through the winter tunnel. My otherwise uneventful ride home is interrupted by a slow leak in my rear tyre, swiftly fixed by Nip Nip at London Bridge. A solitary red crocus has appeared in my front garden. A little tail-light in the distance.


A no-ride day today as I’m working from home. But I do manage to finish amateurishly tinkering with a song I’ve been working on with my brother JP, called ‘We Ride On’. 


A full two-rider. In the morning, due to circumstances entirely within my control, I am running late. Before setting off, I stalk the wild lands of the house like a silent and indefatigable character in a Cormac McCarthy novel, turning off lights that the kids have left on. As I pedal northwards, a tentative rain begins, gradually growing in conviction. On Rye Lane in Peckham, I stop next to a moustachioed cyclist wearing a magnificent rain cape, gently pattering in the rain. I wish I had one of those.

I take the C10 route, which prods like a pipecleaner through sooty back streets.

In the first incident, a van driver flings open his door with an expansive gesture, and I come juddering to an emergency stop. ‘Sorry, mate.’

In the second, a driver pulls alongside me and then drifts sideways, forcing me towards the kerb. I look across at him questioningly, but he stares fixedly ahead, like the stuffed walrus in the Horniman Museum.

In the third, a driver turns in front of me, even though I have right of way.

In the fourth, a van driver pulls across the cycleway on Blackfriars Road, then stops, while looking at his phone. I’m forced to jam on the brakes again and my crate slews to a halt. When I suggest he shouldn’t be looking at this phone, he looks up with total disinterest. ‘Shut your fucking mouth.’ He drives off, still looking at his phone.

The rain continues. On arriving at my office in Farringdon, I realise I’ve forgotten a spare pair of socks, but I have packed a spare set of underpants. All is not lost.

Riding home I detour to take the tail-end of the Waterlink Way, a fragile run of riverways from Greenwich to Beckenham. I hop over the main carriageway, then turn off onto a bumpy narrow path. A woman with two small dogs suddenly freezes in my headlight. ‘Jesus!’ she hisses. Soon I’m coasting along the riverside to the cicada-whir of my wheels.


A multi-modal day. After working at home, I take a mid-morning train with my bike, then cycle from London Bridge to Farringdon. I’ve dodged rush hour, so it’s a quiet ride around the Barbican; then a quick nip through Smithfield Market. At work, I help run a meeting for the Climate Crisis Advisory Group. The news isn’t good. In precise, emphatic tones, Professor Johan Rockström tells us about accelerated warming in the Arctic, about the unravelling jet stream, about the disintegrating Doomsday Glacier in Antarctica. Dr Fatima Denton describes the effects of climate change now being experienced across Africa. But there’s a glimmer of hope. All the problems related to climate change are solvable, she says.  

I cycle the full stretch home with a helpful tailwind. It’s noticeably colder and I regret not having gloves. The papers warn that ‘the Beast from the East’ is stirring.

Bike on the mid-morning train.


JP sends me a field recording of a rubber-band plunking on a lunchbox, captured in his kitchen in Wellington.

Once again I catch a lift on the train, cycling around Mayow Park to avoid car-crammed Sydenham High Street, before heading northwards on the Overground line. Nothing to report from this ride, apart from the preposterous sight of a woman with a very small head in a hulking black Range Rover. Would her vehicle be more acceptable if she had a larger head? I don’t think so, no. She catches me looking at her and seems to be gripped with a sudden paroxysm of rage, gesticulating silently through the thick dark windows.   

Later, uneventfully home.


No ride today. 


I tog up in my wetsuit and cycle to Beckenham Park Place for a swim in the lake. It’s cold, but a lot warmer than it was a few weeks ago. Silver fingerlets of water sneak into my gloves, around my toes, down the back of my neck. After a while, I get out and struggle for about five minutes to unpeel myself from the wetsuit. Then I realise I’ve forgotten my socks again. And my underpants. 

Back home, JP’s plunking rubber-band triggers a short synthesiser sketch to see out the week. 

The lake at Beckenham Park Place
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Cycling week

This might be the least action-packed cycling week so far.


A blustery ride to work. Lately, in the mornings, I’ve been noticing sparrows: today on Mt Pleasant there was one fluttering about that didn’t move until I shooed it, and then on Glasgow at the intersection there was one having a great time pecking at something on the road. I will always stop for a bird. But these birds are not very street-smart. NZ Birds Online tells me sparrows lay eggs between September and early February, so maybe these are young sparrows still getting their bearings. (One thing I had not known: in NZ the average clutch for sparrows is just under four eggs, and there can be up to four clutches a year, but usually less than half of those eggs make it out alive.)

Rode home from the gym around 6.30pm. This was brainless: the gale-force winds were forecast to blast through the city at exactly that time. But as I crept out and looked around, I saw it was eerily calm. The trees outside the gym were barely moving. Maybe the window of calm would last for another twenty minutes. So I set off. The roads were quiet. A feeling of hunkering down was all around.


There’s a saying among cyclists on days like today, when the wind is ferociously strong: ‘Only a madman would cycle in this.’ (I might be making this up, that it’s a saying among cyclists. Maybe I have just said it to myself a few times.) But I still considered riding today – how bad could it be, really? Then I remembered that even motorcyclists were being advised not to ride, and gave myself a talking-to and set off on foot. Walking! What a drag.


A slow rainy slog up Raroa in the morning. Close-passed by a truck full of gas canisters. It’s funny how often the worst close passes are by trucks full of deadly objects, or cars pulling long trailers full of deadly objects.

Today: good news. I received the gift of new bike lights – front and rear! A literary agent named Martin was in town, and in a gesture of almost unhinged generosity, gave me bike lights. The bike lights, from Germany, look heavy-duty. I was delighted and also I think this marks an important milestone in the evolution of this blog: it is beginning to generate gifts. My plan is working. A review of the bike lights is forthcoming.

Rode home into greyish windy evening. About halfway along, I got the familiar itchy tingle in my teeth and hands, and I realised I was about to have a blood sugar crash. It happened quickly: I turned noodly, sweaty, woolly-brained. Low-blood-sugar sweat is weird: it’s cold and watery and all of a sudden you’re drenched, like you’ve been sprayed with a garden hose. I also get the feeling that I’m shrinking, shrivelling up. Progress up the hill was slow, zeroing in on the patch of road in front of me. At last I got home. Staggered through doorway and towards the pantry, as Jerry screamed mercilessly at me for Fancy Feast.


Lashed by rain on the ride in; lashed by wind on the ride home. Sparrows scattering. Saw a very old little dog, white whiskery snout, trotting along haphazardly, about ten steps to its owner’s two. I’ve been thinking a lot about dogs and cats this week, stranded on rooftops and patches of higher ground. And cows and sheep too. I saw a video of a small herd of cows swimming through deep floodwaters in central Hawke’s Bay as a woman called out to them, ‘Come on girls, come here.’


A morning ride, pushed along by a damp southerly. Last night I went into town for a book launch, and considered riding, because the weather was clearing, but in the end I took the bus. Then I had Bus Regret: the weather was 100% rideable after all. But at the launch I talked to my friend James about the problems of cycling to evening events from home, because he too had taken the bus. He said something like, ‘It’s too hard to cycle and then look like a human being.’ I said something like, ‘After all this time, I haven’t figured out how to streamline it,’ and he exclaimed, ‘You can’t!’ Of course, for all that we fight it, it’s true: for the everyday cyclist, there is no real streamlining to be had. Far more often than you would like, you will end up standing on your own shoes in a public toilet, trying to get changed while avoiding touching any surface. There is no dignity.

Rode home into the mouth of the southerly. Energy fading. As I rode I thought maybe I should try out the Arepa brain pills again. I wrote about these last year and my brief experience with nootropics more generally – one of the best things about the Arepa ones was that they seemed to give me more energy. But they’re also wildly expensive. There must be a better way to feel less like a ragged husk, I thought pitifully as I gasped up Highbury Rd.

Once home I realised my rear tyre was flat, and probably had been flat all week; that’s why the ride was hard.

So, zero big rides, minimal small rides. But: sparrows, being safe and dry, and new bike lights.

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Cycling week

There was some soul-searching, there was some close-passing.


A no-ride day. The long weekend involved minimal cycling. Remember when, a few weeks ago, I mentioned doing a duathlon? Please. Let us forget everything.


A four-ride day. First, early, to the gym. I love an earlier ride, when the air is fresh and roads are quieter, but the problem is that you have to get up early to enjoy it. When swooshing along Raroa Cres towards Kelburn I saw that there are freshly painted sharrow markings on the road – these show two little chevron hats hovering over a bicycle. I was nerdishly excited to see these. Both ways, that road is narrow and windy, and drivers seem to lose their minds going along it. I try to go as fast as possible along there so as not to enrage anyone. But the sharrows encourage cyclists to take the lane and drivers to hang back until it’s safe to pass. I don’t know whether the markings make much difference to drivers’ behaviour, but still, it’s good to see an acknowledgement that, from a cyclist’s perspective, this is a gnarly road.

Road home after my class, to try to write. I like these middle-of-the-day Tuesday rides. With less traffic, I feel freer to go slowly. And then two more rides: one fast one into town; one very slow one to get home. All up, because all of these were outside of rush hour, this was a pretty good riding day.


A two-ride day. A blustery wind has arrived, and both rides were hounded by close-passing cars. Lately, riding home during rush hour has been a trial. I find myself feeling sort of crazy, as if all of the things I’ve been holding back during the day come flooding out. Cycling is strange in this way. It opens you up, whether you want it or not. And I find myself wondering what the hell I’m doing in life. Which is sort of ridiculous: who wants to wonder what they are doing in life when they’re just trying to get home? Maybe this is why most people drive.

Then I get off the bike and come to my senses. Or I lose them. I can’t tell which one is the right one.

I remember reading this really interesting thread on twitter a while ago by the brilliant author Sandra Newman. I can’t find it now – Sandra has deleted her twitter account which is a big loss, I feel – and I’m going to garble this summary, but she was writing about the personal essay and how it tends to privilege the moment of writing as the one of clarity, or of realisation, or of knowing. But who’s to say that we’re right at this moment of writing, and that we didn’t also see things clearly before? Sometimes writing about the past can be a way of tidying experience away, erasing messier and more complicated things that were also true for us before, when we simply felt differently from now. Newman’s beautiful essay about ghosts gets at some of these ideas.

Anyway, I was thinking about all of this because I thought, maybe when I am on my bike and feeling crazy, there’s a truth in my craziness. Or my craziness is trying to tell me something that is true.


Another two-ride day, and while the ride into work was fine enough, the ride home was again sort of rubbish. Passed really close by a car on Glasgow, revved at by a car on Raroa Cres (the sharrows only go one way, so there’s still kind of an expectation that cyclists will somehow get out of the way when heading towards Karori), nearly taken out by a bus on Highbury (admittedly, it’s a bad road for buses). I can’t be bothered with dickheads at the moment.

I sometimes worry that cycling is hastening my evolution into a really grumpy old lady (and this blog’s evolution into a series of gripes). But what can be done?


Guilt about not having been out for a proper Big Ride this week, or last week, but this was a four-ride day: a harried ride into work, running late due to a contact lens malfunction, and during the day a ride into town to the physio. On the way back to work, inching up the Terrace in the heat, a little red car shot past me so close that I felt dizzy. I gave up on the road and went on the footpath. The Terrace is one of my Worst Roads. On Salamanca Rd I caught up with the little red car and thought about giving the driver the evil eye, but giving the evil eye takes a lot of energy, so I decided to save it up for when I really need it.

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Cycling Friday

Last week was yet another week of sweat, and all I did was complain about it. So I’m going to spare everyone and skip right to a good ride, and a very muddled meditation on helmetlessness.

My bike nestled in happily with a whole stack of other bikes outside the pub on Thursday.


In the morning I walked my bike to the top of the hill and then realised I’d forgotten my helmet. I clutched my head like a character in a Chekhov story. Around once a year, or less, something short-circuits in my brain and I forget my helmet. I knew that walking all the way down the hill and then back up again would unleash another wave of sweat, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I decided, the hell with it – I would go forth helmetless.

I worried that I’d be shouted at from a car window, but I always worry about that anyway. Asided from that, this ride was excellent. I felt free, and fast, and my mullet looked better at the end of the ride than at the start.

I used to ride around without a helmet sometimes in London, and I always loved how much more connected I felt to my bike, to the road, to the weather. But I never lost the sense of helmetlessness being transgressive, sort of asking for trouble, even though arguably I was much more careful when I rode without a helmet.

On my ride this morning I saw two people zooming along the road on e-scooters, going faster than me, and I remembered how weird it is that you can legally ride an e-scooter on the road without a helmet, but it’s illegal to go bare-headed on a bike. (I’ve always thought that a person looks more vulnerable standing up on an e-scooter than they do sitting down on a bike. It’s something about seeing the full length of the body and being more able to imagine it falling over. I feel this way about those bike racks where the bike stands on the car’s roof, making the whole contraption weirdly tall. Things that move at speed should not be tall.)

I can’t remember what my first helmet looked like, and wish I could. It was probably one of those foamy-looking ones, like your head was packed in polystyrene packaging. It probably had ‘highlighter yellow’ plastic on the outside and badly fitting straps so that the whole thing slid about uselessly. I do remember that wearing a helmet (the helmet compulsion law came into effect in NZ in 1994) was frighteningly uncool, so much so that riding a bike didn’t really feel like a viable day-to-day option.

Anyway, the helmet debate is complex, and full of people yelling in circles. I fear confrontation, so I won’t try to distil the debate here or construct a big argument either way. But it does seem clear that historically we’ve tended to focus obsessively on cyclists and what they do or don’t do, and how they need to protect themselves from danger – at the expense of focusing on things that would make a more meaningful difference to their safety, like drivers’ behaviour and proper infrastructure that would protect people on bikes. Also, droning on about helmets and hi-vis and screaming ‘It’s a no-brainer!!’ is, in the end, incredibly annoying and unhelpful.

The business of helmets is also more complicated than it intuitively feels. There’s been research that suggests that drivers are less careful when passing a cyclist wearing a helmet, giving them less room than somebody not wearing one, almost as if a helmet were a full-body forcefield – and, as well, research suggesting that cyclists themselves take more risks when wearing a helmet. I think in some horrible way, over a lifetime, I’ve internalised this idea that we have to dress up as if for warfare when riding a bike, and if we don’t and we get hurt, of coure we’re to blame. But in the last few years, some of this ‘Everything is my fault’ thinking has started to come loose, and these days when I have a near miss with a car, I usually feel furious – as has been documented in this very blog – rather than embarrassed. My next step is to figure out how better to channel my anger rather than letting it eat me alive (the old-fashioned way).

Anyway, I haven’t worked out where I land on the helmet question exactly. Partly it’s because habit is such a powerful force. Partly it’s because I’ve had a few incidents where I’ve got home and absentmindedly haven’t taken my helmet off for a few minutes, and in that time I manage to whack my head very hard on something – a mantelpiece when getting the cat food; the metal edge of the washing line when getting clothes off – and have been quite grateful I was wearing it.

Maybe it’s just that a lot of things can be true at the same time, and often, when that’s the case, people go crazy and cannot have a conversation. Some things that are true are: helmets are generally good at reducing a head injury in a crash. They can also unwittingly encourage worse behaviour from drivers, make ride share schemes hard or impossible, and reinforce the message that cycling is dangerous (and this is that self-perpetuating thing: obviously cycling can be dangerous! And it often is. But when there aren’t as many cyclists because of fear, and because we focus more on cyclists themselves than on infrastructure, the ones who are there are more vulnerable).

Anyway, after work I walked my bike all the way to Kelburn village and then snuck on and rode the rest, slowly winding up the hill in the drenching heat. I was not stopped and arrested. Happy Friday!

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Cycling week

It was a week of such average rides that I thought I wouldn’t write a cycling week this week. I felt like I hadn’t earned one. But then I thought, an average ride is still a ride. So let’s go, slowly and with trepidation.


Today was a public holiday so I rode into town to write in a cafe. It’s not cycling, but let’s talk about writing in cafes. At surface it seems like such a joy. Writing – but in a cafe! Twenty years ago, I used to do it a lot. I loved getting a pot of tea for two, which you could spin out for ages, and writing at a small table. Usually in a notebook and later (towards something like 2008ish) on a laptop. Especially in the late afternoon, and especially in the library cafe, which doesn’t exist anymore but which was excellent for people-watching and for feeling a part of things while being slightly apart. But I can’t enjoy writing in a cafe in the same way now. I wonder if it’s because my sense of time passing has changed so much. There’s just less of everything. Today I drank coffee, managed a few sentences, and spent the rest of the time realising how shockingly bad everything I had written up until this point in my life was. A sense of doom descended on me. It was all over. I cycled back home, slowly in the heat, and tried to write there (which didn’t work either).

Wondered about doing a big ride today, but I overdid my riding on the weekend, with big rides on both Saturday and Sunday, so today was better kept a small ride day.


Rode to uni in morning. Aching heat. Had what felt like a really close call with a sudden swooping kākā on Moana Rd.

Afterwards I rode into town and – despite everything I said about yesterday – tried to write in a goddamn cafe. This time I almost cracked it. At least, I wrote some sentences that I didn’t delete. (I deleted them later, but having something to delete is better than having nothing.) After that, I rode to the pub to meet friends. This is my favourite sort of ride. I love the moment when I am locking my bike up outside. My friend James arrived drenched in sweat from his bike ride too. It is always validating to see fellow cyclists engaged in the battle of sweat vs daily life.

Recently I bought some new cycling gloves. My old ones had huge holes in them. The new ones are fingerless, and on the palms they have these pad things filled with gel. ‘It’s a great choice for riders seeking a classic short finger glove paired with the comfort and cushioning of gel,’ says the brand, Giro. I never imagined that one day, I, too, would be one of these riders – these seekers of a classic short-finger glove paired with the comfort and cushioning of gel. But I am! Or I was. I have found what I was looking for.

Cycled home early evening. I have to be honest that I’m feeling deranged this week. Apart from my newly comfortable gel hands, I’m not enjoying my rides.


A sweaty ride to work. A truck passed me too closely on Raroa and I did a noodly wave of irritation. I think I’ve said this before, or something similar before – I always have a sense that something is wrong when I feel a bit disembodied on the bike. It’s like the rest of the world is moving at speed but I’m not going anywhere, like I’m a big rock in a river. The ride home felt dark and bleary. No sense of connection with my legs.

Sometimes you just want a ride to be over. You have to bargain with yourself to get through it. I play a game with myself: Just reach this next signpost, then if you really can’t go on, you can hop off and walk. I keep doing this with various short-range targets until I’m nearly home. It helps distract (a bit) from the pain of the uphill. My friend Susan says that the trick to going up hills is: never stop. You must keep going at all costs. If you stop, it’s incredibly hard to start again. This is a good general approach to hills, I think. But sometimes you really do need or just want to stop. (Now, I’m not saying I stopped today – but I could’ve! And it would have been fine. Sometimes stopping for a few moments feels like a celebration. There’s just nothing like the good feeling of properly catching your breath.)


Rode to uni after a long morning walk up steep hills in an attempt to shake off the mood. But the mood – even though I saw some good things on the walk, like a quail running along the top of a fence, and a few dogs on morning walks – just bedded in. Usually, any kind of exercise, and especially riding my bike, helps me to feel better, or at least on an even keel. That’s why I try to do quite a lot of it and why I like to do Big Rides especially – the effect lasts for longer. But sometimes it doesn’t work and you just have to get through. I feel like I have a very small headlamp on in the dark and can only deal with things directly in front of me.


The week ended in disgrace. I rode to work, and I rode to town in the middle of the day, but then I couldn’t bring myself to ride home in the rain. So I didn’t ride home! I just left my bike at work to collect on the weekend. A bad end to the week.

Actually, I feel better for having recorded these rides, small and average as they were. Pedal on everyone.

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Cycling week

This week had more cycling in it than usual.


This was a three-ride day: to work, to town, and home in the evening. As usual, the night ride was my favourite ride – road quiet, air cool.

The traffic – quiet for a few weeks now – is creeping back to its old impatience and noise. Somehow I’ve hurt my right arm (I say somehow, as if I’m mystified, but I know for a fact it was from trying and failing to do a push-up challenge) which makes me feel precarious on the bike. It’s strange, arms – you wouldn’t think they’d make a difference, but they do.


A four-ride day: to and from uni, then later, to and from town. These were all small rides, but it meant sweating through two sets of clothes. I have given up trying to hold back the sweat, so there’s some acceptance here, but I’m not at peace with it.

It was really peaceful though to cycle home at night, slightly boozed, slogging up Raroa then Mt Pleasant in the dark. It’s interesting how I can set out on my bike feeling sort of abysmal and full of self-pity, but once I’ve ridden up a couple of hills I feel cheery. It’s almost embarrassing how quickly a feeling can change, and how making your legs go round and round can be the thing to change them.

I also managed a tiny run today, through the bush. INJURY TALK: My Achilles is still creaking but I think I might be winning it over.


Another four-ride day. Before my morning ride, I woke up early and walked up to the turbine. A lot of people were out and about, with their dogs, or just running, and a lot of Californian quail were out too. I saw one running alone, looking around, as if looking for its mate – it’s rare to see a quail on its own. I was about to write something like ‘A quail is the definition of nervous energy’ but does nervousness mean anything to a quail? Does energy?

Rode to work in foul smoggy heat. I had a guilty moment at a pedestrian crossing in Kelburn, when a pedestrian turned right to go over the crossing but I was going too fast to stop for them. I felt terrible as I scythed through. Worse, I am 99% sure the pedestrian was Dougal McNeill.

Rode to town. Rode back to work. Rode home. All of these were small rides, and not really worth describing, but know that they were full of struggle.


Lately, I’ve been craving two things: to be by the sea in the early morning, and to ride on a flat road. So at 6.30am I set off to ride around Miramar Peninsula. (I’d planned to be out by 6, but couldn’t manage it.)

I dipped down into Aro and then back up to Brooklyn, then down Happy Valley. This was an unwieldy way of doing things, and I could’ve gone along Highbury Fling then sailed down effortlessly into Brooklyn, but I wanted to have a series of steep hills first thing to wake me up.

It was very still and clear, and early enough for the day to feel exciting in some way. And early enough to notice those little shifts in communal mood as the morning goes on. As the light changes, we no longer have the same compulsion to say ‘Morning’ and soon enough it’s just an ordinary day and nothing needs to be said.

On Happy Valley Rd I saw a man walking a dog and a cat. Also, a group of older men were cycling at a gentle pace up the road, spaced far apart and all looking delighted about things. Near the turn-off to the landfill, a car roared past at speed to overtake all of them, leaving a smell of petrol and smoke.

The fishing boats at Island Bay looked like they were sitting up attentively. Lots of dogs were out being walked. Someone was bashing their flippers against the sea wall.

For me, the real ride begins once you get past Lyall Bay and reach the airport. Then you go round Moa Point. The traffic dwindles to almost nothing and it’s just you, the sea, the occasional other cyclist.

Moa Point
Going up the hill towards Seatoun

But where were the women? Every single cyclist I saw – some in packs, some solo – was a guy, in fancy kit, on a fast racing bike, and as time went on fewer and fewer of them responded to my hello.

Along Marine Parade in Seatoun I heard women talking and laughing and then saw that they were swimmers, bobbing together not too far from the shore.

But there were no women on bikes at all. The only women I saw were those swimmers. I began to feel self-conscious rattling along in my sneakers and my silly mudguards.

Swimmers at Seatoun

The construction site at Shelly Bay, when I reached it, gave off some kind of dark energy. I rode along and it seemed like this dank, grey place would never end – the ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs on every fence, the huge piles of broken concrete, the few remaining buildings looking weird and barren. I wanted to get out of there in a hurry. I worried for the kororā, little blue penguins, and their lost nesting sites.

I didn’t want to go through Newtown or Hataitai to get home, because the traffic was in full roar by now, so I went round Evans Bay and along to Oriental Bay. Ever since they put all the cycle paths in, this stretch makes me nervous. Going into the city, the cycle path keeps shaking you off – you have to cross a busy road three times to get back to it, which just seems to be asking to get flattened. Then, once you reach Oriental Parade, if you don’t want to ride on the shared path with all the runners and walkers and e-scooters from hell, you have to cross over again, and – I’m embarrassed to say this but I’ll just say it – I’ve never been able to figure out how to get back onto the actual road without just hopping off and pushing my bike over the pedestrian crossing, like an animal.

I sped through town as fast as possible, regretting that I hadn’t brought a bag big enough to buy a loaf of bread. I think I saw the writer Damien Wilkins crossing the road, in the morning sunshine, but I was so hungry I could’ve been hallucinating. Rode back up to Highbury and realised my feet had gone numb and made a mental note to go back to the bike fitter.

I made it home in just under two hours, flailed about eating, then saddled up again and rode to the uni. Rode home at the end of the day, when I got snarled up in roadworks and a long, long line of idling cars.


A four-ride day. I rode to work, then to town to the physio so that I could complain about my Achilles. While I was lying there with needles in my calves, we talked about early mornings. The physio said he read a self-help book that stressed the importance of getting up early in the morning – I had this dreadful creeping suspicion that the author was Jordan Peterson – and that ever since, he had got up early in the morning and it had changed his life.

I wish I could get up early in the morning consistently. An ideal version of myself gets up at 5am just to write. Remember when the writer Amélie Nothomb, who everyone fell in love with in the 2000s, talked about her morning writing routine – she got up at something like 4am and made a pot of tea so strong that the tea was like syrup, and in an interview she said something like, ‘When I write at this time, I feel that I am a god.’

Cycled back to work up the Terrace in sweltering heat, in a dress – I do not recommend this.

After work, as I rode along Disley Street around 6pm, tired, I saw the man out practising his wheelies again, just gliding serenely up the street on one wheel. Once again, for no reason that I can articulate, this made me furious.

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Cycling week

What is a cycling blog that has very little cycling in it? An embarrassment, is what it is. A shame and an embarrassment. Let’s ride.


I did not ride my bike today.


I rode to uni and back, in the sunshine, because I’ve started a fiction writing course. It was a warm day, and I was self-conscious about my streaming sweat in the workshop room in front of my new classmates. Once again: how do we cycle, and how do we live?

I’ve been thinking a lot about a bike I would like to buy one day – a Surly Midnight Special, a road bike that ‘shines on pot-holed, deteriorating pavement and the occasional long stretch of gravel’, according to Surly.

The Surly Midnight Special.
Look at it. Image is from

There’s a pale pink/purple one at Bicycle Junction (just like the one in the pic) and it breaks my heart every time I go in and see it. I would need to learn to ride using drop bars, which I’ve tried only a few times before. I’ve panicked every time, because it felt like riding an out of control horse – to the point where, on my current bike, the Surly Disc Trucker, I had the beautiful drop bars swapped for straight ones, to the clear disgust of the bicycle mechanic. But if I got a Surly Midnight Special, I would learn. I would learn!

I came across this event I’d like to do, a duathlon, that involves running 400 metres, road cycling 44km, running 12km, then road cycling another 22km. I don’t know what that 400 metres is doing at the start. But for the cycling, the Midnight Special would be ideal. The thing holding me back (apart from my non-racing-appropriate Surly Disc Trucker and lack of 44km fitness AT THE MOMENT) is, I think I’m scared of the people who do duathlons. I wouldn’t know how to act around them. I worry it would be like encountering the Lord of the Rings fans who would sometimes come into the bookshop Dymocks, where I worked for years – at the height of Jackson’s LOTR business – and I never knew how to speak to them. They knew this other world in crazily intricate and intimate detail, and because you didn’t know or care about it in the same way the two of you could never really connect.

The thing to do when you don’t have much cycling to write about in your cycling blog is, you write about all of your most dubious plans.

Another event I’m eyeing up is a 24km trail run in Nelson in May, but considering I can only do a sort of hobbling run/lollop at the moment, this might not be so realistic.


I rode to work today, after running early in the morning, and I have to say, I got no joy from this ride. Why? I just didn’t. My head was elsewhere. But I did have a nice moment when pushing my bike up the hill (too lazy to ride it) to get to Highbury Cres when a woman, walking her dogs, said, ‘Ooh. Is that a proper bike?’ This distinction people sometimes make between e-bike and ‘proper bike’ brings me only joy. At least, it will until the day inevitably comes that I get an e-bike, and then I will do everything I can never to be seen with it.

I didn’t ride home, because it rained.

I should say here that, for all the times I did not ride my bike this week, I did feel guilty. I always think: I should ride because it’s better for the environment, it’s usually faster than other modes, it gets me out into the elements, it helps me get the measure of a day, it helps me defrag. So there was guilt, but something has changed in me in that I can no longer keep my guilt about these things going for very long. It’s like my guilt fitness has ebbed away over the last while. I used to have an incredible capacity for guilt and I would channel all of best thinking and feeling into it. Maybe in some strange way I felt proud of this capacity. But now it’s not long before I flinch away from guilt – I feel the pain and discomfort of it and then I lose interest in feeling more of it. It’s really nice to be able to decide: I simply will not feel this for any longer.

Anyway, that was a roundabout way of saying I didn’t ride home and ultimately felt fine with that decision.


I did not ride to work today.

I rode home at the end of the day, though, a short hilly ride as usual, and I struggled. Gasping up hills. Wheezing, at one point. My body just had no interest in anything other than sitting on the couch and trying to write a silly story.


You’re not going to believe this, but I did not ride to work today.

But I did ride into town at lunchtime to go to the physio again, to get my bad Achilles seen to, and I told the physio about my running aspirations and duathlon curiosity. He was quiet for a while, which I took as a very bad sign. Then he said, ‘It doesn’t sound impossible. It just depends on how much pain you’re going to be in afterwards.’ Very diplomatic. Well, fine. I probably need to scale back my plans. I told him about cycling to and from the ferry last week, and he said, ‘On an e-bike? Or a proper bike?’

On my way home I nearly ran into a man who was just standing in the middle of the road yelling happily to someone who was sitting in their car. This was amazing to me. Imagine being a man just standing in the middle of road, yelling happily. Waving your arms and sort of swaying back and forth, ignoring everything. It must be both terrible and glorious.

All up, this cycling week wasn’t very outwardly productive, and the only Big Rides in it were the ones I dreamed about doing on a bicycle I don’t own yet. Pedal on!

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