Once you have your bikes you will need somewhere to ride them. This is where many dreams come unstuck resulting in bikes gathering dust and cobwebs. So how do you find where to ride?
Finding Places to Ride
You can find places to ride by:
- Exploring your neighbourhood (if it is not too hilly). A good start is a ride around the block, to the dairy or the park
- Asking other families where they ride
- Observing riders in your local area
- Looking at your council or regional council website for information
- Inquiring at your local i-site, who may have cycle maps available
- Checking in at your library for cycle maps and brochures from your local authority
- Reading books – the Kennett brothers have published a number of books focused on places to ride in New Zealand, including one on ‘Short Easy Bike Rides’
- Surfing the net, including local cycling-focused websites, search engines and online maps
To begin with, look for off-road paths so you can develop your skills without traffic on your shoulder. On a map, the key will identify them as dedicated or shared cycle paths. If it is tricky finding somewhere suitable to practice then think ‘outside of the box’.
The goldilocks zone for beginner riders
Just as Goldilocks liked her porridge not too hot and not too cold, a beginner rider has some comfort requirements too. Consider potential riding locations in light of:
- Reasonably flat (if you can walk it then usually you can bike it too, and you can always do both, i.e. walk the bike on tricky bits)
- Consistent surface, not too bumpy or rutted
- Little or no traffic
- Graded ‘Easy’ if it is a graded track
- If there is a hill, go uphill first: it is easier to have downhill on your homeward journey. Same applies to wind: having a tailwind on the trip home is wise.
School Bike Tracks
Bike tracks and skills courses within school grounds have become popular. Incorporating a variety of surfaces and terrain, these are great places to develop your skills in preparation for riding on ‘real trails’. ‘Bikes in Schools’ is a charitable trust that works with schools to develop bike tracks and ‘bike libraries’. Their blog contains links to schools who participate in the program: Bikes in Schools. Some schools with tracks are not part of this program, so it is worth asking around or exploring your local schools (outside school hours). Visiting a school bike track is a lot of fun, and has the added bonus of checking out their playground too! If they don’t have a bike track, their sealed paths, play areas and tennis courts provide useful riding surfaces.
School bike track: Gracefield School, Lower Hutt
Parks with Bike Tracks
Another wonderful initiative is that of local councils who incorporate bike tracks into their parks. These include mini road systems where children can learn the rules of the road, such as keeping left, giving way, and going the correct way around roundabouts. It can be very funny to watch! All kinds of bikes are welcome, from tots on their ride ons through to accompanying adults. Notable examples include Marine Parade in Napier (complete with traffic lights) and Avalon Park in Lower Hutt (huge road system complete with level crossings).
In parks you may also find shared use cycle/footpaths, BMX or mountain bike tracks and ‘skills areas’. A ‘skills area’ will have special built structures where you can practice various on or off road skills such as cornering, cycling over humps and bridges and holding your line on narrow courses.
Visiting a park with a bike track is a wonderful opportunity to develop skills in a safe place, and the availability of playgrounds, toilets and picnic facilities mean you can make it a great day out.
Avalon Park Bike Track, Lower Hutt
New Zealand Cycle Trail
The New Zealand Cycle Trail, Nga Haerenga, is an expanding network of rides throughout the country. Rides are grouped as ‘Great Rides’, showcasing the best of New Zealand’s scenery, and ‘Cycle Touring Routes’. You may find you have part of Nga Haerenga on your doorstep just waiting for you to explore it!
nzcycletrail.com is your go-to source for information about the trails, tracks and routes. This excellent website allows you to view ride options by region and grade. The grades range from 1:Easiest through to 5:Expert and are described on the website. Grade 1 is a great place to start.
You can also pick up a brochure about the New Zealand Cycle Trail from iSites and the Automobile Association (AA). Some good books have been written about the NZ Cycle Trail also, such as those by the Kennett Brothers.
Some of New Zealand’s ‘Great Rides’ are Rail Trails. Rail Trails are built on disused rail corridors. Usually the tracks are gone, but the supporting structures (like bridges and tunnels) and gentle gradients remain, making them the perfect place for a cycle trail. Although the whole trail length may take several days to complete, it is usually possible to ride sections of the trail according to what suits your family.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is New Zealand’s most famous example. Hugely popular with local and overseas visitors, it provides excellent family cycling and facilities.
In the Wellington region, the Rimutaka Incline follows the route of the old railway over the Rimutaka hills between Upper Hutt and the Wairarapa. It is a lovely cycle and includes a fabulous tunnel to explore near the summit.
Further north, the Hauraki Plains trail provides excellent cycling around the areas of Thames, Wahi and Te Aroha. The Te Aroha to Wahi leg is particularly scenic and memorable. Part of the old railway is still in use as a vintage train ride attraction, which you can take bikes on, or you can enjoy riding the scenic cycling trail built near the railway line.
Your local area may be rich in cycling trails that have been built by your local authorities, or in the case of off-road trails, by willing volunteers. There is no single source of information on these trails and pathways. Your can start by checking your local council or regional authority website, inquiring at i-sites, or generally asking around. Some local bodies produce printed cycle maps which are very handy. Others prefer you to rely on their signage: not so handy as signs can go missing and get defaced. Cycle maps and signs only provide limited ‘reference’ information as a guide, so it is a good idea to have a proper map, portable satnav or smart phone map. If you are cycling off-road, unless the trails are especially well marked and short, a topographic map may be advisable.
Local trails can vary a lot. Some are concrete paths gently meandering beside a stream. Others are a network of shared use paths and quiet on-road cycling that form a connected network to get you from A to B. Caution is needed as many cycle routes are works in progress and may not well connected yet. You can be happily cycling along a well built off-road path and find it suddenly ends with nowhere for you to go but join the road or turnaround and head back. Funding for cycling facilities is a very small portion of the local bodies budget, so support for cycling facilities is essential. Other paths are built by volunteers or using community funds, e.g. the Rotary pathways in Hawkes Bay, Lower Hutt and Pakuranga.
New Zealand’s leading authors of cycling books specific to New Zealand are the Kennett Brothers. They have written over twenty titles and have something for everybody. Your local library may be a source of books on cycling. Many books are focused on the sports of cycling and mountain biking, and on cycle touring. Although less relevant to finding shorter family friendly rides, they may offer some ideas about beginner rides you could try.
What is your top place to ride with your kids?