Friday, 6 December 2013

Bicycling Auckland

In 1869, Mr Cousins of the carriage-makers Cousins and Atkin Ltd, rode the first bicycle in Auckland down Grey Street. Reportedly Mr Cousins wobbled down the road on a rattly sounding number with wooden wheels and iron tyres. No surprise then that the earliest bikes or 'velocipedes' were called 'boneshakers', and were perhaps not so easy to ride. "Messrs. Cousins and Atkin have offered a very handsome premium to any of their employees who could first bring it [the bicycle] safely along Queen-street without a 'spill'' (Daily Southern Cross, 26 Aug 1869, via Papers Past).


Bikes may have been tricky to ride, but the craze had begun. Velos morphed into high-wheeled penny farthings - popular for a few years among wealthy young men. Then came the 'safety bicycle' – much easier for everyone to ride - men and women, and were more like what we ride today.

Ref: AWNS-19001109-1-3, Auckland Amateur Athletics and Cycle Club, 1900, Sir George Grey Special Collections

Bicycling gave freedom of movement and transportation. Bicycles became a symbol of emancipation for women. "The dual-purpose nature of the bicycle (i.e., as a mode of transport and as a recreational tool) enabled women to become more physically and geographically mobile, as well as to pursue new directions in leisure."

People of all ages could safely and cheaply ride bicycles. Bikes were and still are popular for racing, recreation, business and commuting purposes.

Ref: Footprints 01276, Bathers and bicycles, Weymouth, 1960s, photograph reproduced by courtesy of Dorothy Young, South Auckland Research Centre
Sadly, this popularity was not enough for a cycle-way to be included in the building of Auckland Harbour Bridge. By 1959 the rise of the automobile as the primary form of transport was underway, and in building the bridge “the Government of the day took fright at the cost and grudgingly settled on an "austerity" bridge of four lanes and no footpaths” (NZ Herald, May 30, 2009). The effects on Auckland’s transportation system are felt to this day… but that is another story.

Want to find out more about the history of bicycling in Auckland? Then check out these resources:


For more general resources about bicycling, you can browse through the following heritage resources at Auckland Libraries:
  •  Heritage resources at Auckland Libraries by theme including bicycles, bikes, cycling, cycles,
  • The Daily Southern Cross (1839-1945) through Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand).
  • You can also try searching Papers Past using keywords such as 'bicycling', 'bicycle', 'cycling' or 'cycle' in the search box. You can further Refine your search (click on this button at the top of your results list) using a variety of filters such as date, content article type (e.g. articles, ads), newspaper title(s), date period.

For your viewing pleasure, we have also put together a wonderful collection of heritage images on Historypin. Check out the bikes and cycle clothing of yesteryear - Auckland looks pretty different too! To access the 'Bicycling Auckland' collection, go to the Auckland Libraries, Heritage and Research channel/profile page on the Historypin website, scroll down the page and click on the Collections tab and choose the 'Bicycling Auckland' collection.

Link to Auckland Libraries heritage collection on Historypin
Author: Emma Chapman, Central  Auckland Research Centre

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