Life on bikes

Train tracks and car clubs

My long tail cargo ebike is great. On it I can (and often do) comfortably day trip with two children from our home in Reading to Stonor Park in the North, Bracknell in the East, Wellington Park in the South and Beale Park in the West.

However, unlikely as it may seem, we do occasionally desire to go further than fifteen miles from Forbury Gardens. Trains are great if there’s a station close to our destination (the museums in Oxford and London are popular with the kids, and easy to get to). Bikes are only Mr 6’s second-favourite form of transport, and we often go to Didcot to see the steam trains. But what if end to end public transport isn’t practical or even possible? Not everywhere we want to go is on top of a train station or bus stop.

We do sometimes carry our bikes on the trains. However, many of the trains from Reading are run by GWR, who seem to take pride in making this pathologically difficult. Their storage often requires you to lift your bike to vertical and hang it off a hook. As soon as you have a heavy e-bike (as you might if you were carrying children), or an unusually shaped bike (as you might if you were carrying children) or any form of child seat on the bike (as you might… oh, you get the idea) it becomes difficult or impossible to use. There’s not much hope for us in the future when the kids are big enough that we’re all on “normal” bikes either, since they often limit bikes to three per train. I guess we could just decide which kid has annoyed us the most that day and leave them behind.

The shining exception to the trains being problematic for bikes is the Elizabeth line, which has the rule of “off peak, if you can get it on you can travel with it.” We’ve made copious use of this to take the bikes into London, and then on to other places from there where we’ve been able to find train operators that are more accommodating than GWR. We love having the freedom of having our bikes with us when we’re staying away from home. Still, it requires a lot of research about the routes we use, and it isn’t always possible to find a suitable one. So what happens when public transport and bikes have failed us?

I’ve made a big deal in this blog of being car free, but perhaps it’s more truthful to say that we are car ownership free. Co wheels car club operates in Reading, and we do have membership. We pay a small fee per month (which gets deducted from any hire charges if we use the car – we don’t every month). Then when we need a car we can just book one online. We don’t have to do the admin on insurance, etc. every time that we would under more traditional hire arrangements. There are several cars stored within a short bike ride from our house, and we’ve always found that at least one of them has been available when we need it. My husband goes and grabs the car, then brings it back so we can load up the kids. Probably the most unsatisfactory part of this whole arrangement is the fact that about half of our bedroom cupboard (by volume) is given over to car seat storage.

Kidical Mass Reading are a campaigning group, but as well as speaking up where we believe things need to change I think it’s also important to recognise where Reading Borough Council are pushing in the right direction. I note that a lot of the new housing that is being built in Reading is flats in easy striking distance (on foot) of the station (which is very well connected for buses and trains). It’s notable that these new buildings do not include as many parking spaces as some people in local Facebook groups think they should, but they do have allocated bays for co wheels cars. Especially as it’s likely that many of these flats will be bought by commuters moving out of London (a demographic that isn’t traditionally big on car ownership), if we can avoid building car ownership dependency in then that is brilliant.

Dear and Sensible Reader, if you too would like to campaign for a Reading where more people can be free of car dependency, come and join us for our next Kidical Mass ride, meeting at midday at Reading Cycle Festival on Sunday 10th September.