It feels like someone is giving you a gentle push from behind. Though we’re riding uphill, my electric bicycle skims along; the pedals turning effortlessly under my feet.
It’s a warm, humid day, but I haven’t broken a sweat by the time our first stop comes into view: the greenhouse-like façade of City Works Depot, a restored building housing various boutiques, cafés and creative studios.
First stop: Odettes
I gaze at the large Art Deco letters spelling out Odettes, a stylish café with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. It’s brunch time.
It’s also my first time on an e-bike. I’ve long cycled around Auckland using only the power of my legs, so I know first-hand how punishing its hills are. Now, it feels like those hills no longer exist.
The power of e-bikes
When I collected the e-bike from Adventure Capital downtown, owner Jacqui Wilkinson encouraged me to ride a few loops around the square next to the shop.
It took me about 10 seconds to get the hang of the electric assist.
You choose the bike’s power setting, which changes the magnitude of the electric push. Set to two, it gives you a gentle boost. On five, a big one. There’s also a scooter-like throttle for hill starts.
“When you’re pedalling, an e-bike is quite intuitive, so it picks up when you’re going up a hill and it will give you just that extra boost,” Wilkinson says. “They know when you’re starting to slow down.”
I can see why Wilkinson has switched to one for her daily commute. “It’s really fast, and you arrive not sweaty, but still feeling like you’ve done a bit of activity and have got some fresh air,” she says. “And you don’t have to wear activewear.”
Choose your own bike adventure
Adventure Capital leads e-bike tours, but I decide on a choose-your-own-adventure option that roughly follows the route of its City Discovery tour, which covers some of Auckland’s iconic attractions. Mine has a few of my favorite places added in.
I’m taking Bella, a friend from Melbourne, on a tour, and I’m determined to show off Auckland’s food scene as well as its sights.
That’s why, as soon as I see the sign for Odettes, we pull off the Nelson Street cycleway.
Enter the Lightpath
A couple of almond-milk flat whites and sharing plates later, we continue uphill to Te Ara i Whiti, the Lightpath, a 10-minute ride.
Bella gasps with delight – suddenly we’re riding on a bright-pink cycleway curving up into the distance, suspended above the traffic.
The one-kilometer Lightpath used to be a motorway off-ramp: now it connects Nelson Street with the uptown precincts of Ponsonby Road and Karangahape Road (K Road to locals).
As we ride over the magenta tarmac, the gray day seems to brighten, and we’re both wearing huge grins. Behind us, a view of the city skyline and the harbor unfolds.
More Aucklanders ride bikes
Groups of people on bikes pass us, as well as parents riding with kids. It didn’t used to be like this. Bicycling is new to the city, but Aucklanders have embraced it.
“Auckland’s cycling network has grown significantly since 2015,” says Hamish Bunn, who manages the network for the council-controlled organization Auckland Transport. “More and more people are choosing to ride bikes for fun and for transport – 38% of Aucklanders now ride bikes.”
And the network is still expanding. Bunn says the priority is to build “safe, separated” cycleways which are “suitable for everyone on two wheels”, not just the Lycra warriors of the past.
Expanding the network
Separated cycleways were rare in Auckland before 2015. Since then, a loop of protected paths, which encircles the city centre, has been built.
Auckland Transport has drawn up plans to expand the network – out into the inner suburbs – and a new route up to Ponsonby is currently under construction.
Improvements are also about to start on K Road, and a route has been drafted to cross the Harbour Bridge.
People are flocking to the new openings: according to Auckland Transport figures, the number of cycling trips in February was up 20% compared with journeys the previous year.