Cycling Conversations: Eric de Freitas
We spoke to former competitive cyclist Eric de Freitas about safer cycling, changing mindsets, sustainability, and his love of the sport.
In one sentence, tell us why you ride.
It makes me feel alive and more connected with nature and the elements.
When did you first get on a bike?
I think I was about six when I first started cycling. Then when I was a teenager I discovered mountain biking and went all around the world cycling. As an adult, I spent six years racing bikes, touring around Brazil and South America.
How has cycling shaped your life?
It has always been a huge part of my life but especially since I moved to New Zealand in 2005 . I was immediately drawn to working with bikes and ever since then I’ve been involved in some way or another. I’m a bike mechanic by trade, and now I also coach competitive high school cycling teams. Right now, I’m coaching teams at Westlake Boys High School.
What are the key things you teach your students about safety?
Before we take new riders onto the roads, we always spend time training in an area where there are no cars and going over key things they need to remember about sharing the road with vehicles. We make sure every student has an understanding of the road rules, how to clip in and clip out and we practice reacting to different situations.
Once they’re ready for the road we start in small groups and leave very early, before 6am, when it is quieter. Slowly, they start to feel more comfortable and confident around cars. Any time there is a situation they can learn from we stop, discuss what has happened and explain the best and safest way to react in that situation.
What are some key safety messages you have for cyclists in New Zealand?
First and foremost, choose the safest route. For example, if you’re mapping out your route and there is a very busy road with little room, choose a different route.
Use your peripheral vision and always be alert. Make sure you are listening for vehicles and aware of what’s happening around you. Stick as closely to the left as you can, and if you can, ride in a group. Make yourself visible. Always check your front and rear lights.
Why is riding in a group safer than riding alone?
I believe it is safer to ride in a group because drivers will see a bigger group more easily and are more likely to slow down in response than they are for a single cyclist. There is safety in numbers; the more volume the group has on the road, the safer it is likely to be. Even if a driver slows down by a couple of kilometres an hour, that makes a huge difference.
What do you see as the future for cycling safety in New Zealand?
I think we need to look at why we want to make cycling safer to start with. What’s most important in my opinion is the interactions between cyclists and drivers and so it becomes about how we improve those interactions and respect for each other on the roads.
More cycle lanes would be helpful, but I think they are just one part of a more complex picture that is about promoting understanding.
The main thing we need to do is work towards more education for all road users.
In my view, having more cyclists on the roads is a good thing. It takes cars off the road, reduces pollution, and is good for our health (physical and mental) and our planet.