Next Saturday morning in Glenorchy, we nine riders in Team Ākina will line up for the start of the 2021 Tour of New Zealand cycle event. Over seven days with some 160 other Tour riders we will race 530km up the South Island to raise money for six selected charities, of which Bikes in Schools is one.
Then for our eighth and final day, we’ll travel to Wellington to race in front of Parliament. Afterwards, thanks to Speaker Trevor Mallard being a very keen cyclist, we’ll hold our prize-giving ceremony in the Grand Hall of Parliament.
This is the 6th Tour of New Zealand. We on Team Ākina believe we’re the only team to have ridden in all of them…always raising money for Bikes in Schools, a fabulous charity promoting a well-established proposition: kids are healthier, happier and better students, teachers say, when their schools promote cycling.
Bikes in Schools has documented these findings among the 50,000 children in the 150 schools it has helped since Paul McArdle founded the charity in 2010. I vividly remember, for example, how excited the children were at Freeman’s Bay primary school when their track was opened in 2015. Many of them lived in apartment buildings in Auckland’s CBD with no places to play. So the school grounds and its cycling track quickly became a place for them and their families to socialise and play after school and at weekends.
The idea for the programme came to Paul after he and his family returned home to New Zealand from Amsterdam. There cycling was a way-of-life, even for the youngest children.
But here, his sons found very few of their friends rode to their Hawke’s Bay School. A lack of ways to learn riding skills was one factor, which only compounded parental fears about traffic.
Bikes in Schools helps schools design and build bike tracks in their schools grounds, buy bikes and helmets stored at school, and train up school staff to teach cycling skills and supervise riders. Once the kids become competent cyclists, many more of them want to ride to school…and their parents are more willing to let them.
We riders call ourselves Team Ākina because Paul was one of the first social entrepreneurs the Ākina Foundation helped in its early days. Back then (when we were called Hikurangi Foundation, founded by Stephen Tindall and John Todd) I was one of the first trustees. And these days, I stay in close touch with Ākina and many of the social entrepreneurs it has helped.
At the same time we were helping Paul, we were assisting Pete Yarrell develop his wonderful idea of a Tour of New Zealand. A life-long cyclist and resident of the South Island, he was very keen to create a fund raising event for charities that took cyclists to very beautiful parts of the country.
The first Tour was 2012, with the North Island race starting at Cape Reinga and the South Island one simultaneously at Bluff. Riders pedalled some 750km over the week to converge for a grand finale in front of Parliament on the eighth day.
The first four Tours had similar formats; the fifth was one race but traversing both islands thanks to a chartered Air NZ plane to lift us from Christchurch to Rotorua; and this year’s is just in the South Island, including a trans-Alpine train ride, but still with the Wellington finish.
We’ve had around 180 riders in each Tour, mostly from here and some from abroad, raising funds for selected charities — Heart Foundation, Tearfund, Child Cancer, Unicorn, NZ Spinal Trust and Bikes in Schools.
Over the Tours we’ve ridden on days short and long, in weather glorious and awful, over roads easy and hard, to places spectacular and modest in their beauty. Some things, though, are constant, notably our fun, friendships and adventures along the way, and the encouragement of families and friends. But above all is the feeling of accomplishment, personal and on behalf of our charities.
Here are the Hikurangi / Akina teams in the first five Tours – 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019. And this Saturday, we’ll eagerly post a photo of this year’s team of nine at Glenorchy. We are a motley crew including farmers, teachers, a chef and a journalist….and we greatly look forward to bringing you stories and photos daily from our Tour travels.