Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hell on wheels.

Queenstown, New Zealand. The menace is loose again. Daylight savings is back and with it the "Wednesday Wheels" bunch ride; a pack of insubordinate cyclists thundering through the back streets of Queenstown like a herd of panting, Lycra-clad wildebeest; with muscle to burn, a disrespect for motorists and a loose middle finger; following only their most basic instincts, which at six o’clock on a Wednesday night tell them it’s time to migrate.

These bunch rides exist thanks to a regrettable legal loophole that permits freedom of assembly among cyclists, even going so far as to let them to ride two abreast so long as they don’t "hold back traffic”. Exactly what constitutes holding back traffic is unclear and so the Wheels have been known to take to the streets en-masse in groups of up to thirty cyclists, forcing motorists to exhaustingly lift their foot off the accelerator, delaying their journeys by tens of seconds.

The riders don’t pay a cent in registration or fuel taxes, so while the beleaguered motorists are forced to endure the tedium of turning the steering wheel by a few degrees to avoid colliding with a mass of sweaty flesh and carbon fibre – the cyclists ride, mockingly, for free. Exactly how they get away with this is unclear because lord knows those two-centimetre wide tyres must dish out a brutal beating to Central Otago’s road network. Next time you sink axle-deep into a spring pot-hole, don't blame the tourist busses or the cattle trucks - it'll be the cyclists that are responsible.

Until now the Wednesday Wheels and the imitation rides they’ve spawned on Tuesday and Thursday nights have been at a tolerable level for motorists, like a tune on the radio that’s not quite annoying enough to make you change channel. But Queenstown’s cyclist problem could be about to reach full-on Van Halen levels of intensity.

Mountain bikers, road cyclists’ even filthier cousins, have been allowed to cut a network of trails through our pine plantations. Those trails have led to more bikers, which have led to more trails, which have led to more bikers and so on. Now, it seems this influx of lucrative, socially desirable, ecologically friendly visitors has piqued the interest of our national human trafficking organisation, Tourism New Zealand. The result is massive infrastructure projects like Nga Haerenga, a world-class national network of cycle trails designed to lure even more bikers from around the world.

The problem is, as sure as night follows day, where mountain bikers go, road cyclists will follow. If we let our country become known as a biker-friendly destination then we’ll inevitably see roads crawling with gangs of “roadies” jacked up on endorphins, speaking in their own lingo and performing rites and manoeuvres so bizarre that one can only conclude their sole purpose is to disturb the regular motoring public.

It’s not too late to stop this nightmare from happening. But Queenstown will need to take a cold hard look at itself and decide: do we want to give our town over to the spandex wearing scourge or do we want to preserve every man’s inalienable right to automotive convenience? I think the answer is obvious.

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