Life on bikes

Out on the Monsal Trail

In my previous blog post I confessed that sometimes we go away without our bikes. We did this very recently when we went up to visit family in the Peak District. Our reasons for minimising car usage are two fold. The slightly more high-minded one is that we try to be conscious of our environmental impact. The slightly more practical one is that Mr 3 is sick every twenty minutes in the car (like clockwork) if he’s awake. For this reason we always travel after his bedtime if we can, especially for long distances. Anyway, the morning after we arrived we gave the children a few options of things that we could do in the local area (sadly, we would have to drive to all of them).

They voted to go and hire some bikes on the Monsal Trail.

The Monsal Trail follows the path of a disused railway line. The tracks are no longer visible, but it passes through some very atmospheric (but adequately lit) tunnels. This is a source of much joy to Mr 6, who loves all things trains. It is open to walkers, cyclists and (according to the website) horse riders (though we didn’t see any), and about 8.5 miles long end to end.

Bikes can be hired from the “Monsal Trail Cycle Hire Centre” at Hassop station, which is about a mile from the Bakewell end of the trail. They have a great range of bikes, including kids bikes, tandems, tagalongs, trailers, bikes with child seats and even an electric box bike. The front of the shop looks like all it needs for an epic Kidical Mass ride is a few willing cyclists (speaking of which, Dear Reader, if you are willing we would love to see you at our next ride from Reading Cycle Festival at midday on Sunday 10th September).

We went for a kid’s bike for Mr 6, and a tagalong for Mr 3, as he was too small for the available tandems and we intended to go further than his range. It’s the first time we’d used a tagalong. Mr 3 did seem to enjoy having the option of sitting and not pedalling (which isn’t possible on a tandem) but I think as a consequence his bottom did get uncomfortable on the saddle a lot more quickly than it does on the tandem at home. When he’s pedalling a lot more of the weight ends up being carried by his legs. However, we were out on the trail for about two hours, so a few breaks to rest his bottom (and play at being trains) was hardly unreasonable. Our conclusion was that as a compact and cheap way of taking a bigger child along with you for short hops, tagalongs work really well – but on balance we won’t be replacing Daisy (our tandem) with one.

Hassop Station is perfectly located as a starting point for a bike ride. As you might expect from an old railway line, the trail is pretty flat, but heading out onto towards the Chee Dale end of the trail there is a gentle and almost constant incline. This has the beautiful result that when you start to think your legs are tired and maybe you ought to turn around, things get markedly easier. The first time we went for a ride on the trail, I insisted we turn around at the forty five minute mark (wanting to be sure of being back within the two hour bike hire). It took us fifteen minutes to get back. Especially for little legs, which sometimes get unpredictably tired, this can be a very welcome discovery.

It was notable that, although we didn’t make it to the end of the trail before we turned around, we got about twice as far as when we did the trip last year with Mr 6 (then Mr 5). I was also pleasantly surprised to find that although I hired an acoustic bike rather than an electric one, I was able to keep pace with the rest of the family pretty comfortably. I guess cycling on the flat not pulling kids without assistance from the bike is about the same as cycling uphill with two kids with assistance from the bike! And it’s nice to see that even on an ebike the regular cycling I’m doing is good for my stamina.

At Hassop station we indulged in tea, cake and ice cream (and the children had a run on the play equipment) before getting in the car. Thankfully Mr 3, worn out by all the cycling and playing, went down for a nap on the return journey in the car well before the twenty minute mark. All in all, it was a very successful day all round.