Weekend Sun   

The true power of pedal power

Tania Ellis enjoys the independence of riding everywhere but just asks motorists to keep an eye out. Photo: John Borren.

The plucky 14-year-old might be running the gauntlet of every bus, truck and car on busy Cameron Road each day, but her daily jaunts up and down sniper alley still put Tania Ellis in a “good place, a happy place”.

“I stay pretty alert. You have to. I’m always scared of car doors opening or cars pulling out in front of me.”

Tania stands out in many ways, so you may have noticed her.

The chic, powder blue Avanti mountain bike, the long pony tail flowing from beneath the hi-viz pink helmet, a smile on full beam ….. and her golf clubs.

Yes, a full bag of Callaways slung jauntily across her back as she charges down the Cameron Road cycle lane towards the Tauranga Golf Club at the racecourse reserve.

The Year Nine newbie at Tauranga Girls’ College is a powerful advertisement for Bike Month – that time of year Sport Bay of Plenty makes a concerted push to get people out of cars and riding, and riding more.

“First of all, after a big day at school, cycling to golf puts me in a good mindset. And it’s one less car on the road,” says Tania.

And it means she is a very independent 14-year-old. “I can go anywhere, whenever I want. I rely on no-one. I just have to tell Dad where and when I am going. I am my own person, in my own time.”

There are many positives over and above the obvious physical benefits that come with riding, according to Jay Carter, New Zealand national gold coach.

He works his way into this story because he’s keeping an eye on Tania at the practice range. He recognises talent.

“Two things that are very important for young people, especially up-and-coming athletes like Tania, are learning self-reliance and having a sense of autonomy, both of which come from using a bike.”

Tania has already touched on that. “It helps her get to and from training which helps her understand that to achieve her goals, she will have to make sacrifices and take ownership of this.”

When Tania closes her eyes and dreams, she can see herself striding down the LPGA fairway with Imbee Park of Korea or Madelene Sagstrom from Sweden.

“And being the best player in the world.”

But to achieve that dream she must climb on the “powder blue” and pedal for 10 minutes and 3km down Cameron Road again, to another practice at the golf club where her mountain bike will be the only bike in the carpark, amongst all the Kias, Audis, Mercedes and Toyotas. She laughs about that.

“And people do comment. They say they have seen me on my bike with my golf clubs.” All nice, positive things.

And she has to ride tactically. It’s a wide load with those clubs so she has to ride strictly down the middle of the cycleway so the bag doesn’t stray into the traffic lane. “I have to be very, very careful.”   

The Tauranga Girls teenager asks one thing of motorists.

“Please be more careful towards cyclists. If you are not looking out for us, you won’t see us. If you are pulling out of a drive way and expect only cars, you aren’t going to see a cyclist.”

And remember, she says, cycling means fewer cars and less pollution. And it means a better environment.

Tania has been playing golf for just eight months and is on a 32 handicap.

“Not bad for that amount of time.” And while she is hell bent on a professional golfing career, she just may cycle off in a different direction if that doesn’t pan out.

“Perhaps a singer or a police officer.” So the options are sports celebrity, rock star or a cop, on a bike of course.

Wednesday, February 26, between 6.45am and 8.45am, is Go By Bike Day. Leave the car at home and bike to work or school or wherever.

There are pit stop locations at Red Square, 633 Cameron Road outside the Bike Garage, the Harbour Bridge on the cycleway side of the marina, opposite the Salt Marsh Reserve in Ngatai Road, Omanu Bowling Club in Golf Road and in Grenada Street.

Join Tania, Leave the car at home and cycle.

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