John Cowan of Cafe Cruisers (https://www.facebook.com/groups/cafecruisers/) suggests these guidelines:
• Drop back to single file and keep left on roads with traffic. Watch the leader: one finger held aloft means single file (or, possibly, extreme annoyance); two fingers means you can ride two abreast if it’s safe (or the leader is still annoyed).
• If you notice a car behind the group, signal its presence with two rings of your bell, klaxon or steam whistle. If you hear two rings, move left and pass the signal up the line. You could also call out “Car back!’ like real cyclists do. Give the driver a thumbs up or wave if he was kind and cautious enough to wait before overtaking.
• Call and signal “Slowing” (right arm out, palm down, moving up and down), and “Stopping” in a group.
• On paths it’s amazing how often we fail to see oncoming cyclists. Call out “Oncoming!” and make way for them.
• Call out hazards on the road, “Glass!”, “Hole!”, “Debris!”, “Yetis!” etc.
• An arm waved vigorously around the head indicates “Bee in helmet”.
• When overtaking another rider, call out, “On your right!” or “On your left”, or “A droite!” and “A gauche!” if you suspect they are French.
• When passing pedestrians tinkle your bell and say “Excuse me”, greet them, and thank them if they step aside. Calling out “On your right!” just seems to confuse them: they turn around, step into your path and stare at you to see what you mean.
• Dogs on leads, small children and headphone wearers are very unpredictable.
• Be very kind to café staff. We arrive in a big group and so we should expect delays and occasion confusion.
• If you are in a group riding on a path and have to stop or dismount, please signal and scoot to the left of the path as quick as you can to avoid a pile up.
• If someone comes a cropper, pass the news up the line to the leader. By the way, we do like to REALLY check you are okay before proceeding: some of you are far too brave and hate making a fuss, and would probably keep riding despite compound fractures, cardiac arrest and decapitation. Any blood? Let’s dress it to avoid infection. We carry First Aid.
• Try to keep the group together. If you are at the front, watch your pace and pause occasionally to allow others to catch up. If there are a lot of us with a wide range of speeds, we can spilt into multiple groups. Feel free to suggest it. Also, feel free to ride as slow as you like!
• Dropping out of the ride? Fine. Just let others know so we don’t come searching for you.
There’s lots more that we can learn to make our rides safer and more enjoyable. We can be a casual group, but not a careless one.
Here’s some things you might be wondering if you are thinking about getting into cycling:
Isn’t it dangerous?
It can be. It is always best to keep the rubber part of the bike down on the road because it can really hurt when you don’t. Here is the thing though: when I started riding in my fifties I was pre-diabetic and morbidly obese. Riding has brought my weight down more than 10kg without even trying. There is a risk every time I jump on my bike, but I think I was more at risk from stroke and heart disease, sitting on my sofa.
What about the war between cyclists and motorists?
Honestly, I don’t see much aggro, really. We mainly stay out of traffic, and the increasing amount of bike paths that keep cyclists and cars safely apart really helps. Our cycling group, the Café Cruisers are waging a ‘charm offensive’: we wave and smile at motorists. Even the sour drivers feel they have to wave back, and I think it dampens their gun powder!
Don’t you get sore?
Yes. Bike seat manufacturers really need to talk things over with whoever designed the human bum because I am sure things could be more comfortable. My experience: cycle pants with padding help immensely. Some cyclists use a secret weapon – stuff called shammy cream (or chamois cream for the more Gallic) with which they lard-up their tender bits.
Another observation – big ‘comfy’ sofa seats get very uncomfortable after a while. All that movement and rubbing. Those serious cyclists on skinny little seats do it for a reason – they are more comfortable.
Is cycling expensive?
It can be. You could buy a decent car for the money some people spend on a high-end racing bike. I have a number of bikes, all of them second-hand and none of them costing me more than a few hundred dollars. Spend your money on getting it well set up by a good bike mechanic so that it ‘fits’ you well.
When I started leisure cycling, I thought Auckland was awful for riding – lots of traffic and hills. I am happy to have been proved wrong: Auckland is full of wonderful rides that are safe, scenic and easy. I just drew up six months of rides for our ‘Café Cruiser’ cycle group with a different ride every weekend – there really is no shortage of paths, parks, and quiet roads.
The really surprising thing is that they are often beautifully scenic. So often we have riders who say things like, “I’ve lived in this suburb for years and I had no idea this was here.” People are amazed when they discover waterfalls in Waterview and Pakuranga, bushy paths weaving through industrial areas, kilometres of wide concrete path through connecting parks in South Auckland.
On your bike you see and hear and smell so much more; you talk to people and you linger if something interests you. Dawdling past cricket games and swimming beaches and through hidden parks, you see a side of a lovely side of Auckland many never know exists.
Another thing about cycling that surprised me: I can ride. Of course I learnt as a child, but stopped when I started to drive and came to see cyclists, ‘serious’ cyclists, as being another species. So I have been intrigued that cycling actually ‘works’ for me. I have not tackled cycling as a programme or a course of exercise – I just started riding when wanted and for as long as I wanted. I have not tried to build up my stamina or fitness but have been very pleased to discover it happens anyway. My first rides of only a few kilometres left me a bit puffed and a little sore but very happy; a few years later I rode 160km around Taupo, and afterwards I was a bit puffed and a little sore and even more happy.
Leisure cycling ticks so many boxes for me. It’s now my major hobby, my main exercise, a big part of my social life and very much part of who I am.
I should say here that I am not a praying-mantis shaped racer dressed in skin-tight lycra that looks like it’s been sprayed on. (Some of my cycling clothes are tight, but only around the belly and belt). I am leisure cyclist and I do it for fun. “I feel like I’m ten years old!” said one of my riding pals recently. “I’ve just spent all day having fun on my bike, going to the beach and hanging out with my gang.”
I was well into my fifties when I was coerced into cycling by a friend. I was a ‘newbie’: unfit, ill-equipped, a bit scared and a little wobbly. But I liked it, and I kept doing it. My wife started cycling with me and we have discovered that it is a great thing to do as a couple. We started rendezvousing with other friends for Saturday rides and soon there were a hundred of us!
Our group is called the Café Cruisers; it’s very informal and we say there are only two rules: be safe, and be nice! We are an odd assortment of people from all over Auckland [including Blockhouse Bay] and with varying fitness and experience.
Rides are on paths or quiet roads, typically 15-30km with usually a cafe at the start and a lunch together at another cafe. Occasionally we travel out-of-town, especially on long weekends, and have great adventures. Most people ride hybrid or leisure style bikes but basically anything with wheels would suit our style of riding.
If you would like to know more, check out Café Cruisers Auckland on Facebook.