When you’re in charge of an event which aims to see more people using bicycles, the best thing to do is lead by example. So most mornings and afternoons, Nicky Bowden can be seen on her bike, towing a trailer with her toddler inside, heading into Cambridge. “My seven-year-old daughter rides her own bike next to us and that’s the way we go to daycare every day and ride home in the afternoon,” Bowden said. The Cambridge woman is the director for the Ride New Zealand Cycling Festival, which this year will be held from February 11-14 in Waipā.

“The main aim of Ride is to encourage more people to have cycling as part of their life,” Bowden said. “We’re putting more emphasis on that aspect this year, to help improve mental health after the challenging time everyone had in 2020.” Bowden said the event committee had worked with the Mental Health Foundation to see how cycling could help propel people in a better direction. “The foundation has five steps to wellness and the first one is fitness, doing exercise. So we’re asking people to ride a bike as part of their daily lives. “It’s just one way we can help people, help themselves, and encourage others to ride a bike for better mental health and physical wellbeing.” Ride is now into its third year and this will be Bowden’s second in charge. She described herself as a “keen rider” who has enjoyed cycling on road and mountain bikes recreationally and competitively for many years. And while it is not unusual to see some of New Zealand’s top cyclists around the streets of Hamilton and Cambridge, Bowden is hoping to see more families and recreational riders like herself, moving around the communities on their bikes instead of cars.

This year’s festival will feature some of the country’s top cyclists but will have a strong focus on providing a chance for everyone to have a go at riding in an event. The opening night criterium will be held at the APL manufacturing site at Hautapu, near Cambridge on February 11. It will involve the U15 criterium followed by grades from A to D, for men and women of any riding skill level to enter. There will also be a Business House Relay. “Not many people will have been at the APL site yet and we will be riding around on the new seal there, making most of the new complex.”

The Vantage Elite Road National Championships, the flagship event for top riders, will be held on February 12-14 as part of the festival in Waipā. It included the Elite and U23 Women’s Time Trial and U19 Men’s and Women’s Time Trial hosted by Roto-o-Rangi School on February 12. The Vantage Women’s and Men’s U19 Road Races will be held at Memorial Park in Cambridge on February 13. The Vantage Elite Women’s and Men’s Road Races will be held also at Memorial Park, on February 14.

The “Gran Fondo” which loosely translated means “the big challenge” will involve 18km, 67km and 103km races on February 13. “This is the one personally, I’m looking forward to the most because it’ll be something the whole community can be involved in. We’ve put a lot of effort into encouraging people to enter one of the races as their first event on a bike.” All three rides take in rural scenery around Cambridge and have some gradients to make it challenging. “Gran Fondo is Italian and it would have represented the idea of accomplishing a major ride in the past. These days it’s used more generically and so while 103km is not a massive ride, for many people who aren’t elite racers, it will be a big achievement.”

“I think the Gran Fondo and the opening night will really be the hero events of the festival, in terms of getting more people involved in cycling.”