The people behind KM — Balthasar

What is your current family bike setup?

We currently have four bikes: each of our two daughters has their own Isla Bike, which we are big fans of. They’re light and agile and incredibly sturdy. We bought them second-hand, and apart from a few scratches on the frame they are flawless.

For us adults, we own a regular touring bike that I bought about 8 years ago. Components are optimized for low maintenance, to serve for daily commute and transportation needs, even when you don’t have the time to keep it in tip-top shape.

And lastly our trusty Urban Arrow Family cargo bike, to ferry the kids or shopping (or both). It has electric assistance, which is really great for a hilly place like Reading. My wife and I have a similar leg length and we can share the bikes without needing much adjustment. We own also various child seats and a trailer, which have been used less and less since we bought the cargo bike.

How does cycling fit into your life?

Cycling has been the main means of transport my entire life. Growing up in Germany I cycled to school by myself and used it to go to friends, if necessary paired with a local commuter train that gave me an amazing range, long before I reached any legal driving age. As a student, I lived in a mid-sized German city where cycling was cheaper, faster and more convenient than public transport or driving. Only later we got a car and used it mainly for longer distance travel, especially since having kids.

Now, we do most of our daily trips by bike, so a typical day might look like this: I do the morning school run (with the cargo bike) and cycle on to the office. My wife works from home and uses the other bike in the afternoon to meet me at my workplace (conveniently on the way) to swap bikes and pick up the kids and continue to play dates, a play park or simply back home.

Occasionally there is even a friend coming along, riding with three kids in the cargo box, which is something we couldn’t even do by car without planning child seat logistics ahead.

With this, and many other family outings and trips in between, we ramped up more than 5000 miles on the cargo bike in the three years since we bought it.

Why did you get involved in Kidical Mass?

We moved to Reading four years ago, expecting to be able to continue our cycling habits as before. Suffice to say that I was slightly disappointed – virtually no dedicated cycling infrastructure beyond a few disconnected bits and pieces, which meant I had to use the road where I encountered surprisingly many aggressive and hostile drivers. In short, it didn’t feel safe. It was entirely unimaginable to let my kids cycle in this environment the way I did growing up.

A few months later, the first COVID lockdown happened and traffic nearly disappeared. We bought the cargo bike and went cycling frequently, exploring the landscape on beautiful country roads. None of that is possible in the same way any more but it showed what it could be like. So, when Simon told us about the initiative to set up Kidical Mass, we were immediately on board and have been since the first Reading ride (sadly missed a few in-between, though). Back then, our little one was still on a balance bike but managed to ride about half the length on her own, before enjoying the rest comfortably in the cargo bike, watching her older sister pedal along with the group.

What is your role in Kidical Mass?

I’m filling in when needed and able, so you may have seen me as a regular participant with our kids, as a marshal, test riding a route to see if it works for a long bike as ours, or carrying loudspeakers and cake, to spread joy during and after the ride.

Thanks to our cargo bike, I also frequently end up as a people carrier, be it for a dad whose bike didn’t fit in the car but only his daughter’s (and cycling to the start point from home wasn’t safe!), or for a city councillor and even Santa!