The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

1 May 2016

Cycling revolution: bike shopping

The about page of Bike Auckland proudly boasts this nugget of information:

Did you know that one in four Aucklanders owns a bike?

Let’s teleport to the Belgian Countryside, the most brutally car-dependent suburb ever. Where you basically can’t survive without a car. Did you know everyone owns a bike there? Apart from babies and toddlers, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t own a bike. Literally not a single person.

So for the majority of people, the first stage of the bicycling revolution is shopping.

The cycle shopping experience, 2014

A blank stare. That was the answer I got when I asked where I can find city bikes. “Perhaps you’re looking for a road bike.” Sounds about right I guess.

A road bike.

That is not a city bike. We Belgians call that a race bike. We see these on television, in the Tour de France and other bicycle races. And of course, the lycra clad cycling tourists ride these as well. The advantages of this kind of bike are the low rolling and air resistance. Making them a good choice for the tourists for their 150 km Sunday morning rides. But they are not the most comfortable ride, so they're not a popular choice for more casual riders.

“OK, maybe you can get a hybrid bike”

A ‘hybrid’ bike.

That is kind of in the middle between a mountain bike and a city bike. The tyres are a bit fatter but not as fat as a proper mountain bike. So you can ride it “both on the street and off-road”.

Those silly city dwellers. Look: for riding in the forest, in mud a foot deep, or with those 40% inclines, we get a mountain bike. Otherwise, a city bike will do fine.

A city bike will do perfectly fine here.

Let me explain. We Belgians have these things called city bikes. Colloquially just known as a bicycle (“een fiets”). What do you New Zealanders call that, anyway? I have no idea. The shopkeeper doesn’t know either.

“Ummm… I guess we don't have those.”

Well. That was weird.

My buying experience

I bought mine in 2011. One of these ‘hybrids’.

And then I also had to buy:

Now I realise how pampered we are in Belgium. Over there your bike just comes with all that stuff. Most of it is mandatory on the street anyway. And before you start yelling that nobody would buy a bicycle anymore, I told you above. Every single person.

Meanwhile in Auckland, I moved the front derailleur up so it wouldn’t scrape the chain ring. D’oh.

The cycle shopping experience, 2016

Although most of Auckland is still ridiculously hostile to cyclists, things are unmistakably moving. More and more people are figuring out that it is much less of a PITA than driving a car through congestion. That going out of your way with that car so you don’t have to walk, and then going to the gym is stupid. And the shops are catching on those changes.

So we got ourselves a new choice. Note for online shoppers: city bikes are easy to recognise because they usually come with a chain guard.

A ‘vintage’ bike.

A vintage bike. As if this is some Amsterdam-style hipster thing. Bragging rights among neighbours.

But if you look past the silly name, this is a city bike. With an upright posture, for easy riding—note the height of the steer compared to the saddle. It includes all that other stuff, like a stand, mud guards, reflectors and luggage rack. It has one of these cushy woman saddles. You can take this one on the street without still having to buy tons of add-ons.

Some of those come with 4-digit hipster price tags. Don’t get suckered. (Unless you’re actually buying a bike for hipster purposes. Knock yourself out). There’s nothing wrong with the more down-to-earth 3-digit price tags.


Nobody talked about this much, not even the cycling advocacy groups. There was a post from a women, recommending to buy an upright bike. How revolutionary. It’s as if car dealers, after stocking buses, trucks and tractors, finally started stocking cars.

You can now actually buy a bicycle in Auckland. Not a sport bike. Not a mountain bike. Just a “go to the shop and buy something” bike. At last.

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