OPINIONSocietyApril 3, 2024

How a dead rat on the cycleway represents everything I love about biking


Rain or shine, we’re fully immersed in our surroundings.

As gross as it sounds, a squashed rat on Auckland’s northwestern cycleway has recently been the talk of the town within our biggest city’s cycling community. At a time when cyclists are being rudely shaken awake from our dreams of safe biking by a Pakuranga lad with a fossil fuel fetish, the cycling community needs something to rally behind – and some crushed roadkill beside Mount Albert’s Chamberlain Park golf course on Auckland’s northwestern cycleway provides us with precisely that. 

Over several weeks, the rat has been flattened to more closely resemble a black, grey and slightly red pancake (with a tail sticking up out of it) than a rodent. Let’s call the crushed rodent Stanley after the kid’s book character Flat Stanley. One evening a few weeks ago, my partner told me that she couldn’t swerve out of Stanley’s way for fear of hitting an oncoming bike and had to ride over his head. Other local cyclists I’ve chatted with have also noticed Stanley. But how the hell does this pancaked rat provide cyclists something to rally behind, you ask? 

To me, the squashed rat represents one of the best parts about cycling. On a bike, you’re intimately in tune with your surroundings and can easily notice tiny details. It’s hard enough to read a billboard while driving without rear-ending someone, and identifying what specific pest you’ve just driven your multi-tonne behemoth over is much more difficult. Was it a big rodent, an escaped battery chicken who didn’t want to be Kentucky fried, a common brushtail possum or a rarer black possum? Who knows. 

Stanley the dead rat pancaked on the concrete.
Stanley the Northwestern cycleway’s dead rat. Since taking this photo, he has been unstuck from the ground and moved around a bit.

But riding your bike along Auckland’s northwestern cycleway, you can clearly identify that Stanley, the black, grey and red blob beside Chamberlain Park, is, in fact, one big rat who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it’s more than just pest identification that cyclists are adept at. We’re also amateur meteorologists and wind experts, because if we’re going to ride through pelting rain into a headwind, we want to be mentally and physically prepared. I really mean this: every weekday morning I religiously compare two different daily weather forecasts. 

If rain is predicted, while drivers are idling in queues within their air-tight, dry boxes, don’t be surprised if you see me zooming past traffic in head-to-toe waterproof gear. You know who doesn’t bike in the rain? David Seymour, who some were surprised to learn e-bikes around his Epsom electorate. When the Act party leader cartwheeled off his e-bike in Parnell recently, the NZ Herald reported that he called cycling “a great way to get around … so long as it doesn’t rain and motorists keep being kind.” Seymour not cycling in the rain isn’t surprising from a senior member of a coalition government who slashed biking and walking funding by half a billion dollars – making the government’s already minute investment into these sustainable transport modes essentially negligible. 

Biking around Tāmaki Makaurau, rain or shine, has provided me with a more intimate relationship with my home town than I’d argue an MP, who is partly Wellington-based, can achieve. But squashed rodents are not the only parts of my surroundings that I’ve noticed cycling. You discover all sorts of fascinating people and things when you’re not speeding from A to B at 50-100kph in an air-conditioned box. 

One of my favourite things about cycling is the small interactions with random people. Chatting with some lycra lads at the St Luke’s Road intersection about a recent car crash or having a kōrero on Grafton Bridge with a cargo-bike dad taking his kids to kindy takes an introvert like me out of my own little world. While driving, strangers only chat to each other during road rage incidents, and post-Covid, approaching strangers often comes off as annoying or creepy when you’re taking the Waewae Express or public transport. But cycling genuinely promotes these small, mauri-sharing interactions. 

A picture of Auckland's Grafton Bridge, which is a great place to have a chat with a fellow cyclist while waiting for a green light.
Grafton Bridge, which is car-free during both the pre and post work commute rush, is a great place to chat with a fellow cyclist while waiting for a green light. (Photo: Flickr/Ted McGrath)

Plus, you can’t just stop your bus or car in its tracks, like you can easily park a bicycle, to pet a dog that has taken itself for a walk or a cat perched up on a fence, or stop to admire (and maybe steal a couple of) beautiful flowers. Cycling truly immerses you in all your city has to offer: its elements, people, sites, sounds, and smells (oh so many smells). Riding down Sandringham Road and basking in the aromatic, spicy smells of its restaurants never fails to make me hungry, no matter how full my puku is.

Even around Stanley the pancaked rat’s open-air tomb on Auckland’s northwestern cycleway, the Christmasy aroma of pine wafts over from the edge of Chamberlain Park, overpowering the smoggy scent of state highway 16. At a time when fossil fuel fetishists are constantly ruining cyclists’ days by postponing safe biking for another three years, Stanley’s unfortunate death under the tread of a bike wheel is the perfect reminder of the best thing about cycling. You’re out in the elements going slow enough to intimately take in your surroundings, but fast enough not to be too disgusted by the sight of rat guts drying out on the concrete. 

This is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air.

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