Maths was my favourite subject as a kid (and I still love it now). One of the interesting problems I remember learning about is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The premise is this: you and a pal are suspected of wrongdoing. You are taken into separate rooms and questioned. If both of you say you didn’t do it, you both serve a short sentence. If both of you say you did do it, you both serve a medium length sentence. But if one of you admits to the crime and the other does not, the one who talked goes free and the one who didn’t fess up gets locked away for a really long time. What should you do?
The mathematically correct answer to the dilemma is this: if each prisoner acts solely in their own interest, they will always turn each other in, even though they would be better off if they both kept quiet.
Sometimes I think that the choices people make around transport modes are a kind of prisoner’s dilemma. Except the losing option if we all act solely in our own interests is “large parts of the planet become uninhabitable”.
If everyone who could ride a bike to get where they were going chose to do so, the roads would feel a lot safer for all of us.
When I walk my children through car parks I have to remind them to stay extra close to me around SUVs, because the drivers are so high up they might not be able to see them.
I agree, our roads are narrow in places. If I were queen for a day I would bring in legislation around bringing down vehicle width. When I’m on my bike, I really feel the difference between being overtaken by someone in an SUV or someone in a smaller lighter car.
I gave you the mathematically correct answer to the prisoner’s dilemma above. However, I’ve always felt that the actually correct answer is to associate with the kind of people who won’t turn you in. I also reckon the morally correct answer (leaving aside the issue of the crime committed at the opening of the problem) is to be the kind of person who is willing to do what’s right for your friends.
We are in a climate crisis. I know you all know this. I do think we see more and more bikes on Reading’s roads as the years go by. I’m grateful to all those people who make the sometimes difficult choice (I know we don’t have the best infrastructure yet) to travel this way. The more people make that choice, the easier it will be for others to do the same.
So, Dear Reader, if you want a new year’s resolution but haven’t yet settled on one, how about this? When you travel, look at the options reasonably available to you and consider as a factor the impact that your choices make on other road users. When your car reaches the end of its life maybe a car with a smaller footprint would be sufficient to transport your family. Perhaps public transport is viable for your commute. Maybe some of your journeys could be moved to active travel.
And if, after all of that, you sometimes find yourself on a bike in Reading, do pop by to join one of our rides.
We had a rather low turnout of ~20 for our ride in Wokingham today — maybe because of the yellow warning of rain, issued just before. 🌧️⚠️ In the end, we didn’t have any rain, and this just meant we had more cake at the end. We have photos to prove it! 🍰🍰
Last year we found that (apart from Christmas) our Winter rides were generally low on numbers. I believe we discussed this and decided that, as much as people love free, fun, family friendly bike rides, they love them slightly less when the weather is freezing.
We clearly forgot that we’d learned this when we scheduled the rides for this year, as between us and Wokingham we’ve had monthly rides between November and January, finishing with a double ride month in February. However, numbers have not been bad at all – last week we started off with 33 (including several new faces), and finished with 38 (thanks to excellent recruitment efforts from the marshals to passing cyclists).
Perhaps this is in part because of how mild February has been to date – the temperatures are in the double digits, daffodils are growing and I am trying not to think about whether or not this is something I should be worrying about from a climate change perspective.
On a positive note, we had a last minute route change – which we’ve had before due to path closures and roadworks (our planner always checks the route in the day or two before the ride). However, this time it was for a very good reason – the route on the North side of the Kennet is finally open. It has been closed for a very long time whilst the area was under construction, to the great frustration of our official route planner Simon Smart (which I have heard about at length, Dear Reader, because he is my husband and we have the best pillow talk, if your definition of “best pillow talk” is chat about cycle lanes).
This is a much easier connection into the centre of town with children than we have previously had from Thames Lido – it avoids several points that require our marshals to be on alert, including cycling alongside Kings Road for a short way after passing the Narrowboat (previously known as the Bel and Dragon), merging out onto Duke Street and cycling past Reading Central Library. It’s now a route to Forbury Gardens that we would consider doing as a family with the kids on their own bikes, whereas before there is no way we would have attempted it outside of a Kidical Mass ride.
The only fly in the ointment is a boom barrier between Chestnut walk and the Abbey archway, where you have to push your bike up onto the pavement without a drop curb and walk around (unless you are four, in which case you can limbo on under the bar – a very rare case of a route being more accessible to kids than adults!). Kidical Mass will be using our voice at the cycle forum to ask the council to look at improving the connectivity here, as it is otherwise a lovely and much needed low traffic route into town from East Reading.
Coming through town we had the usual run ins with rail replacement buses parked on the “no stopping” section of the route past the station (there seem to be some almost permanently stationed there at the moment, which is something of a problem), and the occasional impatient driver who really didn’t see why they shouldn’t drive straight through a group of very young cyclists – all ably managed by our marshals, of course. I would be remiss, of course, if I didn’t mention that most drivers we encountered were friendly and polite.
At the end of the ride the kids had a great time riding around with their new friends – and many of our new faces let us know that they hope to see us for the next ride as they were heading off. We look forward to seeing them (and perhaps you, Dear Reader?) in Wokingham next week on 17th Feb, or in Reading or Wokingham for the Safe Streets Now action ride on 20th April.
On Sunday 14th January Kidical Mass Reading held its first AGM. The purpose of this meeting was to officially adopt the constitution, define a list of members and elect the committee, all of which we did. We also heard a report from the Chair (Kat Heath) in which she thanked everyone for their involvement and the Treasurer (Samuel Langlois) updating us on how the £3.8k grant received from the university last year has/will be spent.
Per the constitution, membership is open to anyone who has attended 3 or more rides, and anyone who wasn’t at the meeting who would like to be on the list of members should let the membership secretary (currently Hilary) know. Being a member gives you a vote in selecting the committee — this is the only purpose of membership, otherwise we make no distinction between members and other volunteers/marshals.
Kidical Mass is largely organised by WhatsApp. The two members and friends groups are “KM Reading+Wokingham” which has a lot of organisational chatter/conversation, and “KM Reading Marshals” which is used primarily for letting marshals know details about the rides and is deliberately low chatter. Anyone who is only in the marshals group (or vice versa) and who would like to be added to the other one should let us know. We agreed that minutes from the AGM (which is what these are) would be circulated in both WhatsApp groups, and that any members who did not want to be in those groups should let us know how they would otherwise like to be contacted with the minutes (there were none this time).
The first bullet point I listed when drafting this write up was a very happy one, “People showed up!” This was not necessarily a given on a freezing mid-January ride on new territory for us, so we were delighted to have around 50 riders present, including several new faces. It’s great when so many families show up to celebrate cycling together, helping children to build confidence and campaigning for better cycling infrastructure.
The new territory was the University of Reading site. I’m afraid, Dear Reader, that the pun in the title of this article is slightly gratuitous as we did not in fact have any unicyclists join us (though, going for an increase rather than a decrease in wheel count, we did have several tricycles). You will see on the list of upcoming rides that we will be back on the Uni site on Sat 18th May, and many brownie points (if not actual brownies) will be available for anyone who shows up on an actual unicycle, thereby enabling me to use this pun more legitimately.
The 4km route was probably our calmest and easiest to marshal yet, and involved lots of segregated bike paths. Where we were on the roads, they were (at the weekend anyway) very quiet, and the cars that were moving around were relatively slow and calm. We passed several other groups who were clearly out for an afternoon’s ride together. It was great to see how infrastructure like that enables families to get out and ride together even without the friendly Kidical Mass marshals present to keep traffic at bay.
There was only one point on the route we had any issue with, and that was a spot where there were a couple of bollards quite close together on a bridge – most of us could get through but some wider trikes and bikes had to take a slightly longer route around. We’ve flagged this to the university in the hopes that they might be able to make this pinch point a bit more accessible.
The quality of the infrastructure would have been reason enough to want to run a Kidical Mass ride on the university site, but we are also have another link to the University of Reading – they kindly awarded us a community grant last year. This grant has enabled us to ensure we continue to have insurance and relevant safety equipment for the rides, funded the build a bike workshop and helped us to publicise the rides more widely. We are so grateful for their support.
On the subject of insurance, Dear Reader, if you have happened upon this blog and don’t live in Reading and are thinking, “I need to get one of those Kidical Mass things in my home town” (an obvious conclusion after reading about the all the fun we have here in Reading) our own Kat Heath has helped to put together a guide to setting up a ride, which includes instructions on how to affiliate to the UK network of rides and get covered by the insurance:
This was a particularly special ride for Kat as her little one balance biked the whole thing independently – his first one. The younger of our Kidical Mass Interns (Mr 4) also rode on his own pedal bike with me at the back of the ride and helped me to make sure that we didn’t lose anyone. You’d think that after what is for little legs a very long ride that at the finish point they’d want to stop and rest, but nope, most of the kids got back on their bikes to ride around the square. Karen Roberts from Avanti Cycling, who joined us from the ride, organised them into a race and then very liberally declared EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM the winner. “You are the winner of the under 5’s!” “You are the fastest balance biker! “You two are the joint co-winners of the under 10’s category!” Hi-fives all round.
And indeed, as we piled into the pub afterwards with many of our Kidical Mass friends to hold the AGM, elect the committee, and discuss the successes of last year and the plans for this year (more on this in the blog next week), it did feel like at Kidical Mass we can all be winners. I’m looking forward to seeing many of our Kidical Mass friends again (and perhaps you, Dear Reader?) at the next ride on Sunday 4th February, meeting at Thames Lido at 2pm.
We had a lovely, sunny ride away from traffic today, on the campus of the University of Reading, enjoyed by 50 people. We also had our Annual General Meeting there, but there will be more on that later. Check the pictures!
Also, for the people asking: the hot chocolate at the end of the ride was Twinings Swiss, and it is indeed very nice ☕
We are a family of three: two parents and a 9 year old. We have a fairly basic bike setup: boring hybrid bikes for mum and dad and a much cooler mountain bike for our beloved son. To transport groceries and other items we use low-cost, low-tech solutions such as panniers or a crate tied to a bike rack. To transport heavier or larger objects I have a flatbed trailer.
When our son was smaller we shared a bike, using various versions of Yepp bike seats. At first he was seated at the front of the bike, on the stem of the handlebars, then moving to the rear before graduating to his own balance bike (his first bike was an actual BMW convertible, btw).
How does cycling fit into your life?
Cycling has always been my primary mode of transport, in all of the 6 different countries I’ve lived in. We’ve never owned a car and so many beautiful moments in my life are inextricably linked with cycling. Cycling to Sydney’s scenic Bronte beach or Copenhagen’s fantastic indoor and outdoor playgrounds with my son are some of my most precious memories.
I really loved to have my child on my bike with me, either happily chatting about all kinds of things we’d see along the way, or him quietly dozing off with his head resting against my back after a busy day out. I’m very grateful for these wonderful moments that we wouldn’t have had if we’d have been in a car.
Why did you get involved in Kidical Mass?
If you had told me ten years ago that I would get into cycle campaigning, I probably would not have believed you.
Growing up up in Flanders, cycling was such a normal part of every day life that I never gave it much thought. Where I grew up, no family was considered to be a “cycling family”, every family cycled! As a child, I could visit friends and explore my neighbourhood by bike. My bicycle was a very important part in the development of my sense of independence.
Many years later we moved to the UK and even though I’m a very experienced cyclist, I still vividly remember how anxious I was the first time cycling on UK roads. Nevertheless, we still cycle nearly everywhere as a family for many reasons. It keeps us fit, it’s sustainable, and we don’t put others at risk, or pollute the air.
Here, my child isn’t free to cycle independently at all, though. Because of the dangerous UK roads, I constantly need to supervise him. I got involved in Kidical Mass because I want him to have the same freedom I had. I want him to have safe public spaces to explore. I want him to have clean air to breathe and a liveable future climate.
What is your role in Kidical Mass?
I only participated in my first Kidical Mass ride less than a year ago, so I’m a newcomer to the team. I’ve marshalled a few rides, I’m working with other organisers to obtain funding to support Kidical Mass and I’ve helped to spread the word about Kidical Mass by distributing leaflets.
In many ways, building a bike is like baking a cake. Whilst lots of the ingredients are likely to be the same for various cakes, there’s always going to be a few different ways of going about it, and while some people may delight in the preparation itself, for others it’s purely the end result that justifies the effort. But whatever the case, I think for most of us, every attempt leaves us feeling a touch of pride and satisfaction when we get to say those three gratifying words ‘I made this’.
So too, for some of the half-a-dozen kids, and mums, at Saturday’s inaugural Build A Bike session, the task of assembling a bike was a process they relished, whilst for others it was really the payoff that would make it all worth it.
First we gathered and weighed our ingredients: we attached dangling handlebars and de-bubble-wrapped our frames, and began to build our bikes from the wheels up. Commence the typical wrestling of tyres, stuffing of tubes, and coaxing of wheels into frames. This happily became a group activity with mums in attendance getting stuck in too, and before long what was previously a pile of bicycle parts was becoming pleasingly bicycle shaped!
Next we mixed our ingredients together: bolting on wheels and setting up brakes had many kids and parents a bit more stretched — as it can be a fiddly job getting everything balanced and quiet at the best of times — but everyone still had a go at tackling it. Some of the more practised amongst the kids were really in their element at this stage, and it was lovely to see some of our attendees find an enthusiasm for bike building that they apparently didn’t have had for other subjects at school.
And so finally, to the baking. And to complete the build came everyone’s favourite: fitting pedals with confusingly topsy-turvy bolt threads (regular righty-tighty on the right, chain-side pedal 🙂, but backwards lefty-tighty on the left pedal 🙃), and the dark art of gears.
Gear-adjustment, whilst pleasantly intuitive once you grasp the core concepts of it, takes some of the same patience as waiting for the magical power of heat to take effect on the ingredients that you’ve so carefully curated into a cake batter. At this stage it’s edible and you could eat it, but if you spend a little longer making sure it’s cooked through and risen, you’ll be glad you waited! Understandably, setting up our gears was a trickier task but still one that some of the kids were interested in learning more about.
After a couple hours of twisting, turning, tightening and tweaking, the anticipation of getting on a working bike and actually taking it for spin was tangible. And so, with our bikes all bicycle shaped and ship-shape, a small amount of huffing and puffing with bike pumps later, and it was time to taste the fruits of our labour and take the bikes out for a ride!
As you’d imagine, it was endlessly rewarding to see a group of kids so eager to go out and ride have a hand in actually putting together their own bikes. Whilst some of the build may have been slightly daunting at times, or perhaps just not of particular interest — after all, not everyone is as besotted with building bicycles as I am! — I think hopefully kids and parents alike left with a bit more confidence in doing some basic bike jobs, and sense that bikes are something that we shouldn’t worry too much about when they have problems, because more likely than not, and sometimes with a guiding hand, they’re things that we can fix and feel self-empowered by in the process.
Disclaimer: any comparison between bikes and cakes is purely for illustrative purposes, please do not attempt to put bikes in the oven or consume any bike parts or products no matter how delicious they may appear!