New research shows cyclists are the happiest travellers on the road for reasons beyond protecting the planet or improving health and fitness.

Dr Kirsty Wild, Research Fellow on the ‘Future of the Bike’ project at the University of Auckland, has found that the smiles you see on the faces of bike commuters as they whizz past while you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic are the result of one simple thing: control.

“Car drivers in Auckland on average have to add 50 percent to their driving times to be sure they’ll get to work on time,” says Dr Wild. “Our study showed that cyclists have a level of control over that time that other commuters do not, and that leads to less stress.”

“I think a lot of people think that cycling isn’t for them because there’s so much focus on these big, virtuous goals like saving the environment or getting healthy,” says Dr Wild. “But it’s really the simple pleasures that make cyclists so happy. A big one is time reliability. People want to feel like they’re in control of their lives, and cycling provides a greater opportunity to do just that.”

Dr Wild and fellow researchers interviewed riders, planners and retailers, studied traffic patterns, and followed a group from Auckland Hospital transitioning for the first time to e-bikes. As well as the time advantage, other feel-good factors reported by participants in the study include the sensory stimulation of being outside, the positive effects of moderate exercise and the social interactions along the way that drivers tend to miss out on. 

The study also revealed that e-bikes are putting the benefits of cycling within reach of many more commuters by tripling the comfortable riding distance (from 5km to 15km each way) and acting as an ‘equaliser’, especially for women, older people, and riders with disabilities. On the busy Northwestern cycleway, for example, women make up 27 percent of total riders, but 41 percent of those on e-bikes. 

With 17,000 e-bikes arriving in the country per year, clearly Auckland’s commuting habits stand to be transformed. Accordingly, the study recommends addressing barriers to biking, starting with creating more high-quality separated cycle lanes.

Barb Cuthbert, Chair of the cycling advocacy organisation Bike Auckland, says the research confirms the growing diversity of the city’s cycling population, and the pent-up demand for a joined-up cycleway network and more bikeable neighbourhoods. 

“There’s a transport revolution taking place right in front of our eyes. E-bikes are being adopted in numbers by people that even a few years ago you might not have expected to see on a bike. Older people, shoppers, families in cargo bikes, people wearing suits and ties, frocks and heels,” Cuthbert says.  “As well, initiatives like bike share and community bike kitchens are bringing bikes into reach of all sorts of Aucklanders, inviting more and more of us to hop on a bike for neighbourhood trips and daily travels.”

Bike Auckland is celebrating Auckland’s diversifying bike culture with a fun personality quiz to highlight the way cycling can fit all sorts of lifestyles, released this week as part of the Biketober month of cycling celebration that encourages people to hop on their bikes for spring. 

The ‘cycle-ology quiz’ invites people to answer a few simple questions online to find out which of five ‘bike gangs’ they belong to, and is supported by high-profile Kiwis Jeremy Corbett, Mike McRoberts, Matilda Rice, Art Green, Suzy Cato and Avi Duckor-Jones. (https://www.bikeauckland.org.nz/bike-personality-cycle-ology-quiz/).

A charity auction on Trade Me offers the chance to bid for an ‘e-bike date’ with each of these bike-friendly celebrities, in support of Bike Auckland’s work for a more bike-friendly city. The auctions run until Thursday 18 October and can be found at trade.me/bikedates

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