Life on bikes

The right tools for the job

There’s more than one way to cycle with kids (anyone who has come along to any Kidical Mass rides will certainly know that!). Young children might be on a bike seat, or in a trailer, or a purpose built cargo bike. As they get older they might transfer to a tagalong or tandem, or ride their own bike (or sit in the amazing sort of halfway house permitted by the follow-me-tandem, where they sometimes ride independently and are sometimes hitched behind an adult’s bike).

There’s different approaches to it too – some people might ride with their kids for fun on a Saturday afternoon, others might do the school run by bike on a sunny day, and some people choose bikes as their main form of transport. We’re in the latter camp, which means we’ve gathered a large collection of bicycles (lovingly referred to by my husband as “The Fleet”) each of which performs a particular job for us.

If you’re new to cycling with children and overwhelmed by the amount of choice there is, I highly recommend the Facebook group Family Cycling UK as a place to ask for advice. I’ve directed many friends who have asked me for advice to this helpful (and large) group. If you explain your family shape, route issues (hills/narrow gates etc), storage options and budget then there is almost certainly someone with similar constraints who can share what works for them. This is much more effective than just asking one person, who can only ever really tell you what worked for them and won’t have tried the full range of options. Of course they might have completely different needs to you, making it a completely useless exercise.

That aside, Dear Reader, let me tell you what works for us!

I would describe our situation as follows: we have two children, six and three, both competent on bikes but not yet able to ride independently on most of the routes we do as the danger from traffic to an inexperienced cyclist is too high. The terrain around us is very hilly (we live by the river and our oldest is at school at the top of Caversham). My husband is very fit and I am definitely not. Both of us need to be able to transport both children. We have secure bike storage covered by CCTV. Bikes are our primary form of transport, so we consider our budget for this to be what we would otherwise spend on a car.

My “family car” is a long tail e-cargo bike, specifically a Tern GSD (shout out to AW Cycles in Caversham who stock them, we’ve seen a few around Reading now, which is really great – I think when we got ours we were the first). Both kids fit on the rack at the back (Mr 6 is on a bench seat and Mr 3 in a bike seat). The centre of gravity is very low so although the bike is heavy it’s the most stable bike I have ever ridden. The e-assist helps me up to about 15mph (after that I’m on my own), and can be set to variable levels, meaning that even with my fitness if I turn it up to max we can always get up the hill.

My husband rides a triplet, specifically one of the Circe Helios ones. This was an upgrade recently from our tandem (much loved and bought second hand in our student days, Daisy is the only bike in the fleet who we’ve given a name that has stuck). The kids were starting to argue over who got to ride on longer journeys and who “had” to sit on Mummy’s bike, so we figured they should both be able to. We have to be careful though, as the little one wants to ride even when he’s so tired he’s obviously going to nap! We haven’t tried it yet, but the triplet breaks down into three and can be packed into bags, which we’re hoping will make combining bike and train logistics on longer trips more straightforward.

Then we have various single bikes, including for the kids. If we want to take their bikes with us (but not have them ride en route) I can either haul them using the kid’s handholds and pannier bags on my bike (referred to as “bag and drag” this method involves lashing the handlebars on, putting one wheel in the pannier and letting the other trail behind) or my husband has special panniers (bakkie bags) which will do a similar job on his bike.

With this bike setup, we can run our daily logistics, and regularly do day trips as far afield as Stonor to the North or Bracknell to the South. Most importantly, the kids love being on bikes. Despite all the time we already spend on bikes they love to use the space near the garages where they can ride around safely on their own bikes (though I often don’t love being begged for “just five more minutes” at the end of the day when I’ve already been stood there for half an hour!). Ah well, such is parenthood.

I wish everyone the best of luck with the Summer holidays!