Like most women, I get up in the morning to an alarm. I shower and get dressed. But then, like a few New Zealanders, I have to stop and think if my next decisions will suit life on a bike. Will my dress fly up in the wind while I ride? Will a helmet flatten my hair out? Will these shoes support the hills I must climb? Do I have the right bag for all my stuff? And more importantly, which way will I feel safe on the way to work?
Riding a bike in a city like Wellington is an everyday activity that has sadly become the luxury of a few. People call you “brave”, “courageous” and even a bit crazy. Dodging traffic becomes a daily routine, majority of whom are men, ready to battle the road. When we built this city, we did it wrong. We built it for man, muscle and the car.
Studies show a sign of a good city is how women use the infrastructure like public transport or cycle lanes to get around.
We are a growing city, populations rising rapidly, as Wellington attracts more and more people from overseas and we are honoured for our “livability”. But it’s a false sense that people are comfortable using the city as intended, especially women.
“Get out of the way”, someone yells at me on the way to work. I took the lane before the Basin Reserve to avoid getting squeezed on the turn. I smiled and carried on up the hill where I was greeted by a mum and her two kids on a cargo bike. She was my hero that day. She was doing the school run with a smile and a happy bunch of boys. She was setting an example for her children that riding a bike is not abnormal.
I arrived at work, smiling and heart-pumping. Thankfully I hadn’t broken a sweat and my helmet hair is windswept to the side. Not everyday can be like this. The middle-aged man in lycra walks into the office, hops in the shower and grabs a coffee. “Boy, was that some wind”, he yelps at me as he sits at his desk. I suppose we’re in the same boat. Except I don’t wear what he wears. I don’t care to battle traffic with speed. And I wished my city cared about how I arrived.
By Catarina Gutierrez
Catarina Gutierrez lives in Wellington. She’s an advocate for women riding bikes and creating cyclist friendly cities.