Meet a smiling example of bike joy… Liz Mikkelsen

You know the feeling: you’re leaning into a turn and barely suppressing a grin because the day is beautiful—maybe even just so-so—and you’re on your bike.  It doesn’t matter where you’re headed or where you’ve been.  It’s the ride.  Another rider approaches and you see your reflection—a little distorted, but true—in her.  She’s elated too.  She’s feeling what you feel.  You’re totally living life.  All is good in the world.  You pedal on.

A bike journey is full of these meandering yet missed connections—meandering because we know we’ll see that reflection again; missed because we all have our destinations to find.  But maybe the connections can form elsewhere.  Maybe later, we’ll ride together.

Some facilitated introductions might help.

To that aim, Cycle Aware Wellington, with the help of Cycling in Wellington, wants to host a meet-and-greet, courtesy of the interwebs.  Say hello to your people, people.  These are your homies. We’ll introduce you to a Wellington rider every week or so and let you do the rest.  Say hello in comments, if you like, or say hello on the road.  Everyone has a story to tell; let’s start sharing.

Cool Bike Person #1: Liz Mikkelsen 

Liz rides in skirts. She wanted to let you know how easy it is.

If you’re looking for a little inspiration to get you on a bike, then maybe consider calling on Liz Mikkelsen.  She’s a long-time cycling advocate and a long-time rider and the first moments spent with her make clear the sheer joy she takes in cycling, and probably life as well.

She might also be our missing link to the Danish example of regular transport cycling.  Originally from Denmark, she was introduced to cycling early.  As a kid, riding her bike eight kilometers to school was no big deal, despite the weather and the distance.  She says it developed her “I can do it” attitude which you can almost hear as a background mantra when you’re lucky enough to meet her.  She started her career as a teacher and frequently led a classroom of kids around town by bike which she downplays as “something you learn to manage very quickly if you decide to do it.”  Ah, Denmark.

When she moved to New Zealand in 1976, the culture shift included a temporary break from the bike.  Her children were still toddlers and the car became ubiquitous in her new life.  Not that she ever liked it.  Cars make her claustrophobic.  She prefers the open air.  It wasn’t until her marriage dissolved, and she found herself without a car—liberated, she said—that hopping on the bike resumed its place in her routine.  It was the early ‘80s, her kids were little and she needed to get to the store.

And then, in 1987, with the Christmas holiday looming and not a lot of money at hand, she took the kids on a bike adventure.  They hopped a train to Christchurch and cycled all over the plains.  She kept the kids in front of her and yelled when cars approached.  They played Eye-Spy and caught a bus when everyone got too tired.  They didn’t wear helmets or lycra and they carried everything they needed with them.  She knows they were a strange sight back then—people pulled over to ask them by for tea and chats that inevitably included a brief survey of her sanity.  Still, she remembers it as one of her favorite cycling adventures– topped only by the bike holidays she and her kids took over the next few years.

Once Liz was back in the saddle, she didn’t get out.  She’s helped with the founding of Cycle Aware Wellington, and a few years later, Cycling Advocates Network.  Later, when asked what inspired her to get involved in cycling advocacy, she recalls a trip home to Denmark.  She visited Copenhagen.  Enough said.  Recently, she’s championed the lowering of the speed limit on the river bridge near Otaki.  Thanks to her efforts, and the 30 folks protesting with her, the limit has dropped to 70kph.  She wanted it at 50kph but still, she says, “it’s something.”  She’s now working with OCEAN (Otaki Cycling Environment & Access Network) to encourage cyclists to demand the completion of the Millennium Cycle and Walkway from Paekakariki to Otaki.  To date, it only makes it to Waikanae, where riders are dumped onto the State Highway.

Liz parks on the street so she can make quick getaways.

These days, Liz commutes from Otaki into Wellington a few times a week.  She rides her 11-year old Giant with a Brooks saddle to the railway station in Otaki, locks it up for the day and takes the train to town.  On the Wellington end, she keeps an old commuter bike with a basket.  She’s no racer; you don’t have to be, she says.  What you have to be is safe.  She wants riders to know what they’re doing and to do it with confidence.  Take the road when it’s narrow, control your speed, know who’s around you at all times.

Liz continues to do whatever she can to help others find their way onto a bike.  She’s a firm believer in “giving it a go” so she’s constantly coming up with new ways to cheaply put bikes under anyone who wants a try.  She researched a Green Bikes loan program for the community of Otaki but needs a bike mechanic to make it go.  Unwilling to drop the idea in the meantime, she came up with Cycle and Save Limited, a venture intended to share the wealth of her nine garaged bicycles with folks interested in shifting their transport methods.  This past October, Liz held an event she called a “Show and Tell for Bicycles.”  Folks were invited to bring their bikes, kid seats and trailers to the Otaki Railway Station for a free check-up.  Also on site were Liz’s loaner bikes, available for free to any cycling aspirant for a month.  To date, only one family has taken up the opportunity for the bike trial but Liz looks at the result positively.  It’s a young boy who borrowed the bike and he’s loving it.  One-at-a-time conversion may take a while but it’s a strategy that has proven itself time and again.

Because we all like to emulate really cool people, here’s why Liz rides: “it’s cheaper, healthier and much more fun than driving.”  She prefers to spend her money on things she actually likes, like gardening and travel and her children.  And she’s happy knowing that she’s in better physical condition as a grandma than she was in her 40s.  Plus, she admits, it’s really easy to be famous in New Zealand just for riding a bike.  Who doesn’t like that?

Liz offers this three-step approach to put more folks on bikes: 1) get kids riding to school by educating motorists; 2) build more off-road cycle paths and 3) park your bike in front of your car so it’s always easy to grab and go.  And final words of advice?  Don’t set yourself up for failure.  Be patient with your progress on a bike, know that it takes additional time, and remember that don’t have to spend ridiculous amounts of money on trendy bike gear or clothes.  You just have to give it a go.

If you’d like more information about the Liz’s bike loan program or know someone in Otaki who needs a loaner bike, please feel free to email Liz at l i z DOT o c e a n AT v o d a f o n e DOT c o DOT n z.  And now, everyone, please say hi to Liz.  Hi Liz!



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