To mark the February 2019 Auckland Bike Challenge, we look back at the first stirrings of ‘biketivism’ on the University’s campus in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Although Auckland is not synonymous with cycling in the same way as Christchurch (once dubbed New Zealand’s ‘cyclopolis’2), the humble bicycle has been part of student transport for many decades. For example, this 1933 advert in Kiwi, the Auckland University College student magazine, proclaimed, ‘Students, Study Economy By Riding An Albion’.3 Cycling’s essential appeal to students – then and now – is captured in the copy: quick, cheap and a good way of keeping fit.
The pages of Craccum magazine show evidence of student-led calls for better cycling infrastructure at the University. The oil crisis of the mid-1970s, along with growing environmental concerns, provides the historical backdrop to the 1976 formation of a Bike Club advocating on cyclists’ behalf (see image below). Craccum noted that, “moves are afoot” to form a group promoting “cycleways, cycle housing facilities, cycle stands and the sport of cycling”. Top of the group’s agenda were bike paths over the Harbour Bridge and the new Mangere Bridge.4
The new Bike Club’s first venture was an organised ‘Ecology Action Bike Ride’ ride on Tuesday 8 March 1977 setting off from The Quad at lunchtime “down Queen Street on a voyage of discovery” before returning for a meeting to form the club’s committee.5 Tellingly, riders were warned that they might struggle finding a place to park their bike. Letters to Craccum in 1977 reported bikes chained around the entrance to the Library as the racks were “full to overflowing”. One student, for instance, reported a University custodian threatening to confiscate his bike as it was “mis-parked” to a railing.6
By 1978, there were new racks for 400 bikes on campus (see top image), several of which are still in use 40 years later. Craccum noted that, “As thieving of bicycles seems to be a popular sport, chaining of them to the new racks would be a sensible idea.” There was also a call for a proper bike lane down the “Symonds Street Racing track”.7 A Craccum staff writer reported the following March that “biking is becoming increasingly popular, and facilities for bikes seem to be stretched to the limit”. Cycling conditions, however, overall were not too bad in her opinion, although “a gas mask was advisable when biking over Grafton Bridge or really anywhere in the inner city”. Students were riding for a variety of reasons, “ranging from the morbid hatred of bus queues to a general love of the freedom of transporting oneself without paying for buses or petrol”.8
Craccum’s ‘Cycling into the 80’s’ feature from June 1980 called for new cycle routes into the city and secure, convenient and sheltered bike parking at the University.9 To some extent, these hopes are being realised. The proposed ‘Western’ route in the 1980 article is now the Northwestern Cycleway from Henderson to Upper Queen Street, down through Grafton Gully to the Business School, negating a bike path down Symonds Street. The SkyPath across the Harbour Bridge is in the works. Secure bike sheds are opening up on campus. ‘Biketivism’ from the 1970s is bearing fruit.
The Media Services team in Libraries and Learning Services have created a ‘Pedal power’ playlist in time for the Auckland Bike Challenge. Watch classic bicycle-themed international films, local TV programmes documenting New Zealand’s cycling history and inspiring cyclists’ stories.
Ian Brailsford, Special Collections
1 History of the University of Auckland Collection (Photographs).
2 Williamson, L. (2016). The bike and beyond: life on two wheels in Aotearoa New Zealand. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, p.51.
3 Merson Bros. Ltd. print advertisement for ‘Albion’ bicycle. (1933, Vol. 28), Kiwi, n.p. NZ Glass Case 378.95 K62. Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services.
4 Newsbriefs: Cycle Users Club. (1976, 2 August). Craccum, p.7. NZ Glass Case 378.95 C88, Special Collections.
5 Ecology Action bike ride. (1977, 7 March). Craccum, p.3.
6 Letters. (1977, 14 March). Craccum, p.2.
7 Take note: bicycle racks (1978, 26 June). Craccum, p.3.
8 Two wheelin’ (1979, 19 March). Craccum, p.9.
9 Cycling into the 80’s (1980, 3 June). Craccum, pp.11-14.
I sadly note that now, as back in 1980, there is still no mention of a bike path to and through South Auckland. This seems like a major flaw in the master plan of being able to cycle the length of New Zealand, if you can’t safely cycle from the CBD to the Bombay Hills. Until that gets sorted, I will unfortunately have to remain safely ensconsed in my car, as public transport to parts of South Auckland is nearly as bad as the cycle paths.