In the spotlight: Meg Christie, getting communities cycling

Meg Christie is an active transport health promoter for Canterbury’s community public health service. Her job is about finding ways to make it easier for people to walk and cycle places. This involves influencing public policy (for example, by making submissions and presenting at local council meetings) and working with communities to reduce barriers to walking and cycling (for example, by helping develop community projects and providing letters of support for funding applications).

A big focus of Meg’s role is on supporting and empowering disadvantaged communities. I talked to Meg about some of the cycling-related projects she’s been involved with in Christchurch.

Frocks on Bikes

A barometer of how good our cycling infrastructure is how many women are cycling. This is typically less than men everywhere in New Zealand. Frocks on Bikes launched in 2009 with the aim of encouraging women to ride and highlighted that you don’t have to be super-fit or wear sporty clothes to do so. Christchurch held a Frocks on Bikes ride every month – tweed rides, blueberry picking rides, tours of new cycle infrastructure, red zone rides, rural rides, and mountain bike, road and commuter rides. You name it, there was a ride for it!

When the proportion of women riding rose to 46% of Christchurch cyclists – and it became apparent that women were riding in everyday clothes – the decision was made to wrap it up, 12 years after it was started.

Bike fix-ups

One of the biggest barriers to cycling for people in disadvantaged communities is access to a bike in good working order. Even if people have a bike, they might be unable to afford to fix it if breaks down. This is where bike fix-up projects come in.

Meg told me the first bike fix-up in Christchurch started as a one-off workshop run by volunteers in 2009. The original idea was to develop a bike library – to lend bikes – but the community provided a clear message that they wanted help with fixing their own bikes instead.

That first workshop was a success, and demand was high, so what became ICE (Inner City East) Cycles was soon running several workshops a year – helping people fix bikes so they are safe and comfortable to ride. ICECycles also repairs donated bikes and makes sure they are in good condition before passing them on to a new home – for free or at low cost. Meg estimates that 1000 bikes were given away within the first three or four years.

Meg is no longer involved with ICECycles – a measure of success for a community development project – but the initiative is still going strong.

ICECycles helped set up RAD (Recycle a Dunger) Bikes in its early days by sharing equipment, tools and donated bikes. RAD was set up in the central city after the Canterbury earthquakes as a Gap Filler project. It caters for a wider group of people, including tourists and people who can afford to contribute to the cost of fixing their bike. RAD Bikes, now an independent charity, runs workshops every Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening so people can drop-in, use the tools, and learn how to fix bikes for themselves or others. They also run mechanics workshops and accept donated bikes and parts.

Meg is on the governing board for RAD Bikes and volunteers her time to the project.

She was also involved, with Steven Muir, in setting up Aranui Bike Fix-up, which is about way more than fixing up bikes. This project is aimed at children and young people and operates out of containers at the Breezes Road Baptist Church. Every Thursday afternoon, volunteers teach kids how to fix up bikes. And they maintain a library of high-quality bikes so they can take them on rides.

Meg describes the rides as making memories for children who might not otherwise get the opportunity to go away on adventurous holidays or challenge themselves physically. Local destinations include Bottle Lake Forest, the Christchurch Adventure Park, and the Rapaki Track on the Port Hills. But they have been further afield to places like Akaroa, the West Coast Wilderness Trail and the Old Ghost Road Trail.

Old Ghost Road trip – photo supplied by Meg Christie

Buy Cycles – Supported bike purchases

Meg came up with the idea for Buy Cycles in 2017 after ICECycles became inundated with requests for free bikes. Many requests were coming from outside their target community in the eastern suburbs, with a lot of referrals from mental health and corrections services.

So, Meg proposed an initiative to help people buy second-hand bikes and allow them to pay back the cost at a rate they could manage (usually $2, $5 or $10 a week). After securing seed funding of $3000 from various government and community organisations, the project was run as a pilot. It quickly became apparent that this model of trust and reciprocity worked well enough for the project to continue.

The only requirement of Buy Cycles is that people have a case manager (to ensure they are helping those with genuine need). By the time Meg handed the project to the community to run in 2022, it had helped about 400 people buy bikes. Bikes were initially been sourced from Trade Me but are now bought from RAD Bikes. Customers are also provided with a helmet and a lock at a subsidised cost.

Meg estimates that, by 2021, the seed funding of $3,000 had turned into $10,000 worth of bikes.

Bike Bridge – Teaching refugee and migrant women to ride

Along with two other women, Meg offered free bike lessons for former refugee and migrant women on International Women’s Day in 2019. Initially a one-off project, the day identified a real need among Christchurch’s former refugee and migrant communities, so Meg developed it into an ongoing initiative. Meg says it is almost at the point where she can step away and leave the project to be run by the community.

Bad weather no deterrence to these new cyclists – photo supplied by Meg Christie

Watch this space for a separate post on Bike Bridge and other community projects – and the people running them – soon.

Meg the cyclist

Meg loves to cycle and tries to live her role by cycling and walking places herself. She’s a road cyclist, a mountain biker, a cycle tourist and an occasional racer – she does pretty much every kind of cycling other than BMX riding (although she has tried out the new pump track in Bexley – once).

In Christchurch, her favourite ride is the Montgomery Spur track, a mountain bike loop track on the Port Hills. Further afield, she really enjoyed road cycling in Northland (up the west coast and back down the east coast), around the Coromandel, and the East Cape. She also told me she and husband John have often cycled from Christchurch to Goose Bay near Kaikōura (a two-day trip), usually on the main highway. However, her pick of the South Island rides is the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail.

Meg said she couldn’t do her job without knowledge of the health benefits of walking and cycling. She points out that active travel is also a good way of reducing CO2 emissions and toxic runoff, reducing congestion, improving road safety, meeting people and building community. And it’s an efficient and cheap way to get around.

Her advice for anyone looking to cycle more is to make sure you’ve got a good roadworthy bike – check the brakes are in good condition and that the bike is set up for you (better still, take it to a bike shop for a bike fit). And brush up on your bike skills – perhaps look into a bike skills course. Paul Odlin runs free adult bike skills workshops (thanks to support from the Christchurch City Council).

3 thoughts on “In the spotlight: Meg Christie, getting communities cycling”

  1. I read The Press at the weekend and would like to suggest that Meg is tagged at number 51 for the story ‘ Who is on the Press power list ‘ Widespread influence and selfless hard work for others goes a long way to making changes for good. The city is a better place.

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