Commute Week: Paul Brislen writes an ode to that most European method of transport, the humble scooter.
It’s Friday afternoon in Auckland city and, as the offices let out, the roads seize up.
There’s traffic as far as the eye can see and each green phase of the lights allows one car through, to join the tailback of other cars edging towards the parking lot that is Dominion Road.
I, however, am as happy as a clam and actively look forward to the Friday crush. Because instead of the hour it would take me in the car, or the (record breaking) 90 minutes it took on the bus, I’ll be home in under 15 minutes.
From the office (free parking if you’re on two wheels) I’d head out into almost totally gridlocked traffic. This is good because if the cars aren’t moving they’re less likely to kill you. Because they’re all heading home it’s unlikely they’ll fling open a door in your path too, so it’s OK to tear down the dotted line (OK, actually I wobble slowly between two lanes of cars) and push my way to the front. Fifteen minutes later I’m home, James, and I spared the horses.
Scooters are, I have to tell you, the business.
Forget your motorbikes (too big and angry) and your push bikes (too pushy and so much lycra!) and your e-bikes (what even are you?) and get yourself a scooter.
Buy one under 50cc and you won’t need a bike licence but trust me, unless you’re a 48kg teenager, you want more power. Not a huge amount more, but more: 125cc is fine and you can pootle about the city safe in the knowledge that you can keep up with the flow of traffic and it won’t cost you a fortune.
Six bucks a week in petrol. Six! I’ve had beers that have cost more. Heck, I’ve had coffees that have cost more. Fuel tax, thy name is irrelevant.
Of course, you do have to put up with almost being killed periodically, but if you’re young and fit you usually survive.
My first bike was a 50cc piece of crap imported from China in a cardboard box and assembled for me for an extra $50 by the apprentice at a local workshop. Never buy these – the metal is so cheap the nuts and bolts round off as you tighten them up.
It lasted until some fellow pulled a U-turn through me and I had to put the bike down or run smack into him on a wet Auckland road. He did not stop to take down my details. Remember kids: ATGATT (all the gear, all the time).
The next bike lasted longer but was squashed by a guy who decided to park ‘no wait, I won’t – no wait, yes I will’ style. Fortunately I was nearly home but of course the insurance said it was all my fault for not ensuring the way was clear. Well, OK then.
The last one was a dream bike. Narrow enough to slot cheerfully between lanes, powerful enough to get out of trouble and with a headlight like a World War II searchlight so they couldn’t fail to see me. Ha ha, that’s a joke that you drivers won’t get.
If you want to see how well scooting works for commuters, make your way to Saigon. Everyone is on a bike, all merging like soup, giving way to each other and moving millions of people efficiently around town.
But my knees aren’t what they once were and my reflexes are less cat-like and more aged-Labrador, and so these days I’m back in a tin box, shuffling ever more slowly towards home.
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