Lightfoot Legend

Paul Speedy | Winter Warrior

We Lightfooters talk to lots of people about active travel: how they do it, why they do it or perhaps what’s stopping them. And when we ask Queenstowners about main barriers to cycle commuting in particular, the first response is inevitably: “The weather.” And fair enough. Central Otago posts some of the country’s coldest temperatures in winter. The daylight hours are short here, and icy winter roads are even less fun when atop skinny bike tyres.

However, making cycle commuting a habit, even through winter, can bring many personal (and financial!) benefits. Paul Speedy is a Queenstown commuter who doesn’t put his bike into hibernation over winter. And the last 18 months he has been cycling from Arrowtown to his job at QLDC, where he’s the Manager of Strategic Projects. 

On a cold winter afternoon, Paul took a break on the way home to talk cycle commuting with fellow Lightfooter, Jen Smart. While her commute is much shorter, Speedy and Smart found some common themes around the things that keep them cycling through winter.

I never see it as a grind. For me it’s just part of the mindset.

SMART: Tell us about your commute. What’s it like? Why do you do it?

SPEEDY: My commute is about an hour each way. I come from the bottom of the Crown Range into Queenstown. I mix it up, going by road and trail. Generally there’s a whole lot of different options if I want more gravel – I can do the Twin Rivers Trail, I can do the Country Trail up through Millbrook. Sometimes I go through Arthur’s Point and up Coronet Peak on the way home, along the waterrace and down through Bush Creek to Arrowtown. It’s a nice single trail. I do about a 50 or 60 km round trip each day.

Then as our second vehicle was getting old we got rid of it and I replaced it with the bike. I’ve been going for over 18 months now and have sort of taken a principled approach. So if I’m ever going to work, I will take the bike.

SMART: Rain, hail or shine?

SPEEDY: Rain, hail or shine. I’ve got some great photos of going through Lake Hayes with snow on the ground – nice shots of bike tracks through 5 – 6cm of snow! I probably rack up somewhere between 200 – 250km each week; about 12,500km a year on the bike.

I’m pretty lucky I have a sensible sort of bike. It’s just a steel frame, no suspension, a simple bike. It has pretty basic componentry on it. I think my annual service was just under $300 which is really cool. It’s a Surly Bridge Club – it’s pretty fun as I can chop and change it. I can put different wheel sets on it or panniers for longer trips.

And aside from your bike, what’s your most essential piece of commuting gear?

My seat bag, the Carradice Super C is my favourite bit of kit at the moment. It’s compact. I’ve played around with frame bags and seat pouches before but I can fit everything in this – and it’s waterproof. 

SMART: Queenstown surely provides some of the most outstanding scenic commutes in the world. What’s your favourite bit?

SPEEDY: Either sunrises or sunsets. Sometimes there are some epic moon rises too – there’s a really nice moon in the evening at the moment. Generally my favourite sections are along the Lake Hayes Track or the Frankton Track. I do like the crickle-crackle of gravel along the Frankton Track.

SMART: Mine is Hawthorne Dr, weirdly. 

SPEEDY: That’s a good cycle track. It’s quite wide and you can cruise on it. My favourite moment is when I hit the Queenstown Gardens and go around the Band Rotunda. That’s the end of my trip and I have this little sigh and think ‘oh that was fun’. Then I go to Bean Around the World to get a coffee from Bill. It’s a must. 

I grew up cycling in Wellington, down The Terrace and Lambton Quay, holding onto the back of buses. It was in the 80s when there were some movies out with bike couriers in New York so I kind of fancied myself like that. I often cut through Five Mile now because I get the traffic lights and the city feel. 

The trick in Queenstown is being able to mix and match your ride. There are so many options here. I do think Queenstown could be better connected, if you’re comfortable chopping and changing [between road and trail] then it’s fine, but from a safety perspective I think there are some pinch points that could be improved.

SMART: It’s a long time in the saddle each day. How do you occupy your mind during the grind?

I don’t really like the word grind, I never see it as a grind. For me it’s just part of the mindset. What’s my breath doing, what are my muscles doing. Sometimes I’ll work on an approach to an issue – whether it’s a work thing or a personal thing that’s happening. Probably most of the time I’m relatively mindful and being really present: what’s my body doing, what’s going on around me. I’ve been through phases of using earbuds which I’ve done with endurance running too. But I’ve cut all that out now and try to be 100% dialled into what’s going on. 

SMART: It’s great me-time, I find. It’s an hour a day that’s just mine. It brings a lot of clarity to the day.

You solve lots of issues and problems eh? You get a great perspective on things. It’s very seldom that I arrive at work confused or fuzzy. I usually have a lot of clarity on things – all the cliches!

SMART: I really enjoy watching the seasonal changes. And noticing the small things. Have you seen the white-faced heron that lands on the fence along Ladies Mile every morning? It’s the kind of stuff you miss when you’re driving.

I haven’t seen the heron yet. I certainly see the sun on the Remarks in the morning as pretty incredible, just on the top side there when it comes through. I tend to look at the big vistas because there’s plenty of that here. There’s so many different things going on, especially on the route that I’m taking. 

SMART: What do you see as some of the challenges facing Queenstowners (or New Zealanders) who want to “Lightfoot”? i.e. use active travel modes such as walking, bussing, cycling or micro-mobility options like e-scooters.

I think culturally, we’ve got a long way to go. New Zealanders tend to have a sense of ownership over the road. Some motorists almost seem offended by bikes on the road at times! We could get better at sharing the space on the road. But we are a young country. Over in places like Copenhagen or the Netherlands, they’ve got the infrastructure and people are quite happy about just jumping on their bikes. 

The way we develop subdivisions is a challenge. By carving out new blocks of land further away from urban centres, we create these labyrinthes of cul-de-sacs – we’re just going to end up with the same engineering solutions. I’m of the view that by building new roads and making it easier for vehicles, we’ll just get more of them. If we can develop within the existing urban boundaries, we can make better use of nodes for public transport and cycleways. As they are utilised more, it becomes more efficient and cost-effective to develop around those nodes. Public transport, after all, is a big infrastructure cost.

If you were to give advice to someone considering cycle commuting, say for one morning a week, where would you tell them to start?

It sounds pretty obvious but I’d say, just get out the door. Everything starts with your first action. If the weather is going strange or I’m running late, I just take that first step which is to get out the door and get on my bike. It all unfolds from there.

Most people in Queenstown have got enough outdoor gear to start. I’ve never bought any specialised cycling gear but have just used what I’ve got. There was a bit of thought that went into the bike when I bought it. I went for something sensible rather than a really flash, expensive one. The bike shop – Arrow Bikes – was great. I spent a lot of time there discussing but we got there in the end.