Perfectly conceived, perfectly formed

June 22, 2024 David Slack

Of all the innovations since 1800, what has been the most significant? The BBC put this question to its listeners in an online poll and got a resounding answer. Clearly out in front, with more than half the total vote, was… the humble bicycle.


Top call, BBC listeners. It really is a sublime invention. It can take you almost anywhere and at a perfect pace. Not as fast as a car, to be sure, but it can take you much further, much faster than walking and that’s in many ways the nicest pace at which to be moving through the world. For energy in/movement out, it cannot be beat. All you need to power it is a couple of Weet-Bix. Alternatively, you may choose an electric bike, in which case we're still only talking a couple of Weet-Bix in electricity bill terms. Sound good? If forking out more than a hundred dollars every time you fill your car is starting to wear you down, perhaps a bike could be for you?


Crazy that something so good should be the target of so much angry spleen-venting. Crazy that simply mentioning your liking for biking can be treated as an invitation to enumerate all the reasons ‘why it surely cannot work for you’. Strange, really, when the fact that I have declared a liking for biking surely implies I have found acceptable solutions to these supposed problems.


I’m writing this in London, where things have been getting kinder for people on bikes. In terms of having a lane of one's own, the total available distance has grown fourfold in recent years. You see plenty of people on bikes: mums with school kids on cargo bikes, student types, retired types, all types, all rolling contentedly, happily, exuberantly; all making the most of one of the most significant innovations of the past two centuries.


What I’ve especially enjoyed seeing is the number of electric cargo bikes doing the food deliveries that might otherwise have been done by car. Everywhere you see the Uber Eats, the Just Eats and all the rest of those services, rolling up to the door of the cafe, loading a big, insulated box on their carrier and rolling off towards another happy customer. The simplest of things to stop, collect the order and go.


I’ve long thought there could be great possibilities for people on cargo bikes back home in the busy city of Auckland, our own little sawn-off London, where getting around in a car drives people spare. Pity the poor courier or Uber Eats driver slogging their through Auckland traffic, lights and congestion. What if there were a better, quicker, easier, cheaper way to do that work? What if it already exists?


I have a suggestion, and it involves the absolute quickest way to get from the top to the bottom of the Auckland CBD. What vehicle can get you there fastest, do you think? A Maserati? A Kawasaki ridden by someone with lightning reflexes? Nope, the fastest way from one end to the other is on a bike using the Grafton Gully cycle path. That is one absolute rocket-on-rails speed chute. You have only a couple of road crossings and that's it; you're there in just minutes. Truly, you cannot believe how fast it gets you from top to bottom, or on your e-bike from bottom to top. It is a thing of beauty.


Now, join that up with the possibilities of being an e-cargo-bike courier in Auckland city. If I were a person casting about for a fresh enterprise, I would totally recommend an electric cargo-bike in Auckland, taking advantage of the Grafton Gully speed chute as your secret weapon. Not to mention the various other cycle lanes that make it possible to get yourself around the CBD in double-quick time. The stop-start misery of parking a car or a van evaporates.


You do have to make your bike theft-proof, of course; you can't just leave it sitting there while you deliver apartment 13/7 their pad thai. But a combination of apps, alarms and battery control makes that straightforward enough.


In short: if you're feeling ready for a new life chapter, a new venture, well, an electric cargo bike might be just the thing for you.


I’m in England right now for two reasons: one is to spend time with our daughter, the other is that an old mate and I will soon be making our way across Europe, powered by Weetbix and/or croissants, using the greatest innovation of the past 200 years. We confidently expect it to be one of the best experiences of our lives. No matter what the doubters tell us.



David Slack is an Auckland-based author, radio and TV commentator and speechwriter and regular contributor to NZ Optics.