OPINION: In the battle between bikes and cars, it's the landmines that will get you

Bike accident
Bike accident. Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: If you ride a bike - especially in Auckland - chances are you've seen the battle for New Zealand's roads up close and very personal.

Nationwide, 18 cyclists died last year, 1400 made new ACC claims for injuries related to road cycling and another 700 received payments on existing claims.    

None of those numbers really hint at the close shaves - the road rage, the close passing, the tooting horns, the one-finger salutes, the abuse (and beer cans) hurled through car windows and returned in kind - that contribute to the tension between cyclists and motorists.

It exists throughout the country, but if you live in Auckland, where 1.6 million people jostle for position on the city's roadways, this is almost a daily occurrence. 

You certainly need your wits about you whenever you push out from the kerb.

One of my workmates hasn't ridden since he was almost driven off the road and then physically attacked by the driver, who lay in wait for him further up the street.

My own closest encounter came when I was forced to follow a 4WD that cut me off, as it turned left around a corner in front of me. I slapped the vehicle as it passed and the driver pulled over to continue the discussion.

I'm 6ft 5in (1.95m) and 110kg, he was closer to 5ft 6in (1.67m) and 55kg. It was a short conversation.

Many drivers insist cyclists should not be allowed on their roads, but even attempts to get bikes onto their own pathways have drawn the ire of local communities, who resent their neighbourhoods being carved up by council planners.

If the streets are a battleground, pedal-pushers are seemingly stuck in no-man's land with very little cover from the crossfire.

But this isn't just a 'pity the poor cyclist' piece. In many cases, the blame does lie squarely with the rider.

Two weeks ago, I was tooted at twice during the course of a three-hour ride - both instances were my fault, as I misjudged the speed of vehicles before changing lanes.

There are definitely riders out there who do themselves and rest of us no favours with their reckless attitudes. They need to remember that, in the contest between bike and car, there will only ever be one loser, so common sense and self-preservation must prevail.  

It's a two-way education process and over the next couple of weeks, Newshub will highlight some of the efforts aimed at easing animosity between the factions.

But while cars pose probably the biggest threat to the health and safety of cyclists, there are so many other obstacles out there, so please spare a thought for those of us trying to negotiate these landmines along the way.

Potholes

Ironically, even if a street has a designated cycle lane, it's often the worst surface imaginable, which certainly doesn't encourage cyclists to use those expensive pathways.

Drains

Last week, Newshub ran amateur footage of a car crowding a bike on Kohimarama Rd. The scariest part of this wasn't the nearness of the pass, but the fact the cyclist was forced to ride over a drain grill, where the grating can sometimes run horizontally. Get your front wheel jammed in one of those suckers and that's over-the-handlebars/face-plant territory. 

Glass

If a cyclist suddenly swerves out in front of your car, they could be avoiding any number of hazards, but broken glass would be the most common of them. There's only one thing worse than a puncture - and that's two punctures.

Road markings

Especially in rain, these painted lines become like an ice-skating rink. One minute you're cruising along, minding your own business, the next you're donating skin to the tar seal.

Parked cars

Ever notice how cyclists take up a centre-lane position around parked cars? That's because you never know when some driver will open their door without warning. You know the 'ghost-bike' memorial down by Kelly Tarlton's - that rider was clobbered by a swinging car door and ended up under the wheels of a truck.

Parking cars

There are few things scarier than the sight of a car reversing towards you, as the driver attempts a parallel park. In many cases, an evasive manoeuvre forces the cyclist to swerve way wide and flirt with oncoming traffic.

Pedestrians

Honestly, some pedestrians seem completely oblivious to the risks of crossing the road, often venturing forth without even checking for traffic. Maybe the worst spot in Auckland is - again - by Kelly Tarlton's, where tourist buses often park and spill their passengers across a blind corner on Tamaki Drive.

Tram tracks

Probably the only place this is currently an issue in Auckland is the Wynyard Quarter, where tracks can force riders out towards the centre-line. Crossing these tracks is a treacherous exercise and Dominion Road will quickly become a no-fly zone for bikes, if the planned tram to Auckland Airport goes ahead. 

Traffic lights

Yes, cyclists often illegally run red lights, but sometimes it's because they won't turn green. The combined weight of bike and rider is not enough to trigger the pressure pads at most intersections, which leaves them waiting (and waiting) until the next car comes along to bail them out.

Buses

These public transport monoliths aren't that courteous to regular traffic, assuming an automatic right-of-way by virtue of size, so cyclists must be especially vigilant. Because buses are repeatedly pulling in and out along their route, it's not unusual for bikes to have to dodge the same bus along the full length of any of the city's main roads.

And here's another bus-related hazard that most motorists won't even have considered - melted tar seal. At busy intersections or public transport hubs, where buses sit idling for minutes on end - all day - roads melt under the heat, creating a BMX-track affect.

Try hitting one of those bumps at speed.

Newshub.

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz