Health: Cyclists need to be more considerate
Last February, when in Nelson, I bumped into Conservation Minister, Dr Nick Smith. I was cycling around the city while he was out and about meeting with his constituents.
After briefly chatting about Accident Compensation (Dr Smith was once the Minister for ACC and I was the ACC's National Coordinator of Sport and Recreation Safety during its early days), Dr Smith changed the topic of discussion to the Heaphy Track, saying that a number of his constituents were unhappy about his extending the season of mountain bike access to the track.
I have walked the Heaphy Track twice now and my daughter, Mary-Ann, worked two seasons on the track as a porter. Our plan, now, is to cycle the track. When we do that, we will spend money on transport, lots of food and comfortable accommodation. Ageing "Baby-Boomers" are bigger spenders than your usual back-packers. The local bike shops will do well out of us, as well, because offroad cycling involves a lot of mechanical wear and tear.
I said to Dr Smith that I am now 60 and, thank goodness, I am still in good health, including my joints being in good nick. I put my healthy joints partly down to striking a balance between walking, running and cycling. Cycling is very easy on the joints - so long as you stay upright! Nowadays, I keep the running and walking to relatively short distances and without the heavy loading of huge back packs. I use cycling for the long, hard stuff, including carrying the heavy loads. It seems to be working and our cycling holidays exploring New Zealand and the Pacific Islands are a relaxing pleasure, rather than being a joint-grinding slog.
With the burgeoning population of "oldies" who are no longer content with the prospect of retirement in the rocking chair, preferring, instead, to explore the Great Outdoors, the demand is growing for more leisurely options, other than the traditional hike with a 20kg pack. These options include hiring a strong, young person, like my daughter, to be their "mule", or to ride a full suspension mountain bike (the "lazy Boy" option).
Dr smith agreed, while pointing out that his cycling skills were "limited", hinting that the hired mule option might be the safer for him. He's right: Cycling is not for everyone!
Cycling trails are lacing their way around most of New Zealand. There are now so many that I wonder if I will ever get to explore them all - they are being built faster than we can ride them!
Trails that are graded for cycling are perfect for walking. The only issue is the safe coexistence between cyclists and walkers on narrow, winding tracks. I think it comes down to being considerate of other track users and recognising that walkers and cyclists are actually one and the same, with common goals, rather than being opponents.
For the cyclist, this means slowing down, or stopping to let walkers past and taking great care when negotiating blind corners. Walkers are easily startled. A bell would be handy, if not compulsory, when riding shared trails.
Dr Smith said that he was not about to backtrack on his decision to extend the Heaphy Track's mountain bike season because the benefits far outweighed the negatives. I agreed - of course!