Life on bikes

In which our local bike shop does a very good RAC impression

My husband, Simon, has been a keen cyclist all of his life. He’s so keen that I’ve sort of become a cyclist by osmosis. In our second year of uni, not long after we’d got together, he taught me how to ride a bike well enough to get to my lectures. In the years after uni when we lived in separate cities, he would ferry me around on a second-hand tandem when I visited. After we’d settled down in the same city (hi Reading!) and had our first kid (occasionally referred to in this blog as the older Kidical Mass Intern) a bike seat was added to the back of the tandem. For a brief while, when the younger intern was still “in Mummy’s tummy” the tandem carried all four of us. However, it was a setup we were clearly outgrowing, and besides, whenever I went anywhere without Simon I had to walk or take the bus.

Simon started trying to persuade me that I needed a electric cargo bike of my own. Obviously I told him, very clearly and firmly, absolutely not. I’m not very fit and I was worried about being able to get up hills without him on the bike as well (that’s what the battery is for, he argued). I thought I wouldn’t be able to balance a heavy bike and with our children on the back I didn’t want to fall over.

Then he noticed that Reading Cycle Festival was coming up. Have I mentioned, Dear Reader, that Kidical Mass Reading returns after the Summer with a ride from this year’s Reading Cycling Festival on Christchurch Meadows at midday on 10th September? AW cycles, a Caversham-based independent bike shop, were going to be there with some electric cargo bikes. I agreed to go along and test ride one, but I warned my husband that no way was I going to like it.

Well, Dear Reader, if you’ve been reading this blog for more than about a week, you can guess how this goes. We went and spoke to Rob, who owns AW cycles and is the most enthusiastic person about bicycles that I’ve ever met – and a lot of my friends help organise Kidical Mass rides! I test rode a Tern GSD for about a minute round the field then came back and told Simon we had to get one. We ordered through AW cycles a few days later, and we’ve been very glad both about the ordering and about it being through our local bike shop. Here’s my favourite AW cycles story, which illustrates how supportive they’ve been.

One Friday night, we had both batteries stolen off my bike (that’s not what I like about this story). The mounts were damaged by the thieves. It happened on our local high street, so I posted in a local Facebook group to ask if anyone saw anything. We were annoyed about the cost of replacement, and really worried about being without transport for who knew how long.

One of the mechanics at AW cycles (Lewis, God bless him) saw the post and took it upon himself to check they had the stock in to fix it, then texted us that night to say we could bring it in on Saturday morning. They had us back on the road by Monday morning, and sold us the only battery they had in stock at cost. We were very grateful.

Not everyone who wants to cycle wants to or can do their own maintenance on their bike. If you get a flat tyre by the side of a busy road with a kid on your bike it may not be safe to stop and fix it. Society isn’t properly set up (yet) for people who use bikes as their primary form of transport. Quite apart from the issue of safe infrastructure the idea of a “courtesy bike” if yours goes in for service hasn’t generally caught on, and next day turnaround on urgent maintenance can be hard to find.

I think in the future, as cycling becomes more prevalent, we will see cyclists being able to acquire the equivalent of the breakdown cover that motorists have. I’m grateful that, in the meantime, AW Cycles have us covered.