In many ways, building a bike is like baking a cake. Whilst lots of the ingredients are likely to be the same for various cakes, there’s always going to be a few different ways of going about it, and while some people may delight in the preparation itself, for others it’s purely the end result that justifies the effort. But whatever the case, I think for most of us, every attempt leaves us feeling a touch of pride and satisfaction when we get to say those three gratifying words ‘I made this’.

So too, for some of the half-a-dozen kids, and mums, at Saturday’s inaugural Build A Bike session, the task of assembling a bike was a process they relished, whilst for others it was really the payoff that would make it all worth it.


First we gathered and weighed our ingredients: we attached dangling handlebars and de-bubble-wrapped our frames, and began to build our bikes from the wheels up. Commence the typical wrestling of tyres, stuffing of tubes, and coaxing of wheels into frames. This happily became a group activity with mums in attendance getting stuck in too, and before long what was previously a pile of bicycle parts was becoming pleasingly bicycle shaped!

Next we mixed our ingredients together: bolting on wheels and setting up brakes had many kids and parents a bit more stretched — as it can be a fiddly job getting everything balanced and quiet at the best of times — but everyone still had a go at tackling it. Some of the more practised amongst the kids were really in their element at this stage, and it was lovely to see some of our attendees find an enthusiasm for bike building that they apparently didn’t have had for other subjects at school.

And so finally, to the baking. And to complete the build came everyone’s favourite: fitting pedals with confusingly topsy-turvy bolt threads (regular righty-tighty on the right, chain-side pedal 🙂, but backwards lefty-tighty on the left pedal 🙃), and the dark art of gears.


Gear-adjustment, whilst pleasantly intuitive once you grasp the core concepts of it, takes some of the same patience as waiting for the magical power of heat to take effect on the ingredients that you’ve so carefully curated into a cake batter. At this stage it’s edible and you could eat it, but if you spend a little longer making sure it’s cooked through and risen, you’ll be glad you waited! Understandably, setting up our gears was a trickier task but still one that some of the kids were interested in learning more about.

After a couple hours of twisting, turning, tightening and tweaking, the anticipation of getting on a working bike and actually taking it for spin was tangible. And so, with our bikes all bicycle shaped and ship-shape, a small amount of huffing and puffing with bike pumps later, and it was time to taste the fruits of our labour and take the bikes out for a ride!


As you’d imagine, it was endlessly rewarding to see a group of kids so eager to go out and ride have a hand in actually putting together their own bikes. Whilst some of the build may have been slightly daunting at times, or perhaps just not of particular interest — after all, not everyone is as besotted with building bicycles as I am! — I think hopefully kids and parents alike left with a bit more confidence in doing some basic bike jobs, and sense that bikes are something that we shouldn’t worry too much about when they have problems, because more likely than not, and sometimes with a guiding hand, they’re things that we can fix and feel self-empowered by in the process.

Disclaimer: any comparison between bikes and cakes is purely for illustrative purposes, please do not attempt to put bikes in the oven or consume any bike parts or products no matter how delicious they may appear!

Life on bikes

My nose is froze, and my ears are froze, and my toes are froze!

Winter is here! Those of us who cycle with children know that a cold child on a bike is a very bad thing. Mostly because we love them so much and don’t want them to suffer, but also partly because they can get extremely whiny.

The quote in the title of this article is from the version of 101 Dalmatians which I watched as a kid (you will be kind, Dear Reader, and not attempt to do the maths on my age). Without the “my tail is froze” line which I have deleted it’s a pretty good summary of the list of complaints we’ve had from our kids over the years (though it is missing fingers, which is fair enough as dogs don’t have them, and actually ours have never whinged about their noses). I thought I’d share something about how we have addressed them.

Firstly, keeping the child’s body warm. They don’t get as much wind chill as we do (being somewhat sheltered behind our bodies) but they aren’t doing exercise in a bike seat so we tended to wrap them up pretty warm. We loved an all-in-one snowsuit, right up until the point of potty training when suddenly the ability to undress quickly becomes REALLY IMPORTANT. After that, we went waterproof dungarees (sometimes called puddle jumpers or puddle busters) over a warm coat. No gap for wind chill, but they can still be peeing in a bush on the side of the road 10 seconds after pulling over.

For feet, we tried all sorts of shoes/socks/boots combinations, but the thing that really solved it was snow boots – the fluffy lining made their toes very cosy. For their ears, we found a thin but warm woolen “elephant hood” could fit under their helmet and kept their ears toasty.

Now, if my husband and I had only ever bought the older Kidical Mass Intern into the world, this article would end, “and for hands, gloves”, and that would be the end of it. So aren’t we all so glad that the younger Kidical Mass Intern came along to make all of our lives so interesting?

Around the age of two, the younger Kidical Mass Intern decided that Gloves Were For Losers. So I would put them on and start cycling, then he would take them off and throw them away, then shortly thereafter (but, crucially, long enough that we’d moved down the road and the gloves were no longer anywhere to be seen), he would start crying because his hands were cold. He also, for a short while, did this with his shoes. Being his mother is one of the greatest joys of my life, but it is not always a joy in every single moment.

Even from here, as I write this several weeks before you are reading it, I can hear you thinking, “Hasn’t she ever heard of mittens on a string?’ Of course I have, Dear Reader, and it was there I turned next. Unfortunately, it transpires that many manufacturers of mittens-on-a-string do not make them with the idea in mind that children are actively going to attempt to dismember them. The younger Kidical Mass Intern is quite strong, so we lost quite a few pairs of gloves that way. The strings, of course, stayed safely inside his coat, but that was cold comfort.

When I finally found a pair with a strong enough string to stand up to him I found a new problem. Gloves are tricky to put on, when you’re two, He would take them off, and (grudgingly) leave them dangling off his arms, then yell that his hands were cold. I knew that he couldn’t get the gloves back on unassisted. Our monthly gloves bill had at least gone down, but I was now pulling over every few minutes.

So, finally, I ordered him a muff – an item I associated previously with Laura Ingalls Wilder books and flower girls at posh weddings. It was SUPER warm. I could tie the string that was meant to go around his neck to the back of his child seat so he couldn’t throw it away. He could operate it himself, so I didn’t need to pull over (or feel guilty if I didn’t) to help get it back on when he took it off.

Now, for the million dollar question. Did that keep his hands warm? Nope. But it did stop me feeling guilty about it as I knew he had the option to tuck his hands safely away at any point that he chose. What actually solved the problem (as with many things in parenting) was time. When Winter came around again and he was a year older it finally made sense to him that cold hands could be avoided by keeping warm things on them. HURRAH!

If you want a Winter bike ride opportunity to test out your child weather-proofing plan, do join us for a circular ride from Reading University Campus at 2pm on Sunday 14th January.


December 2023 ride

Annual General Meeting

A Kidical-Christ-Mass booklet

Here is the booklet that Santa offered to the kids – and a few adults too – during the last ride he shared with us!

We’d also like to announce our first Annual General Meeting, which will happen after our January ride, in Reading, on Sun, 14 Jan 2024 at 15:30 in Park House on the campus. You’re welcome to join us, in which case please book here on Eventbrite so we have an idea of the attendance.

Our next ride is on Sat 16th December, at 2pm in Wokingham. See you there!


A Kidical-Christ-Mass ride

I have very good memories of the Kidical Mass Christmas ride last year. We often expect lower turnouts in the cold months, but December was an exception and lots of families turned up to ride with Santa. The weather, though cold, was clear and the sunshine beamed down on us.

I’d love to say that we had similar luck this year  – in which case this article would perhaps twist towards claiming that the universe is clearly on our side and in favour of us campaigning for safer bike lines and helping kids build confidence on the rides whilst building a community of cycling families. However, I’m afraid, Dear Reader, that the day started out looking like the universe was kindly giving us a chance to prove our dedication to the cause.

The weather forecast had deteriorated overnight and looked totally miserable. Heavy rain was predicted for the whole afternoon, with the possibility of temperatures that were close to freezing. There were many messages flying around the WhatsApp groups as we tried to work out how best to weather proof an outdoor bike ride for an unknown number of children. Several people collected up all the spare gloves they owned to bring with them (it’s surprising how many gloves one child can accumulate, though mine now mostly own many many single gloves rather than pairs). There was very little shelter at our planned end point (Thames Lido) so we discussed a change of route to a shorter ride that could finish at Forbury gardens (which is a short walk from the Lido but a rather longer bike ride if you don’t want to navigate the Vastern Road roundabout), where the now-renovated bandstand would offer somewhere dry to stand. We battle planned how to make the hot chocolate mobile, as having promised it in all our communications we didn’t want to let any children (or adults!) down.

In the end, however, we got pretty lucky with the weather as the worst of the rain held off and the temperature did lift. Perhaps the universe is on our side and wants better for Reading!

I think everyone else was reading a different (and more accurate!) weather forecast to us, as we had one of the best turnouts we’ve had to date. Just under 70 riders showed up to ride with Santa and his elves. Santa rode at the front on a tandem with ride leader Simon, and the marshals were identifiable not only by their hi-vis vests but also by their reindeer antlers. The children were delighted to see Santa, and of course he had to say hello to most of them (with many hi-fives exchanged) before we set off.

Santa and kid doing a high-five

I had another issue that almost made me late for the ride, which was that my kids decided they ABSOLUTELY HAD to wear their elf hats. These do not fit over a bike helmet, so I was in our kitchen duct taping hats to helmets and muttering “argh, we’re going to be late,” just fifteen minutes before the ride. Thankfully the kids were pretty motivated to get there in time and see Santa, so we positively flew over Christchurch Bridge and along the towpath (with due care for pedestrians, of course) to join the crowd.

I think we made quite a spectacle riding through town, with many people stopping to watch, take photos and smile and wave. The younger Kidical Mass Intern (Mr just-turned-4) did the first part of the ride on his own bike then came up onto mine at the back of the ride when he got tired. I tasked him with calling out “Merry Christmas” to the people and town, which he did in between yelling, “Look! I’m an Elf!” He got a very high hit rate on friendly replies.

At Forbury gardens Santa’s grown-up elf set up shop to do free bike maintenance for anyone who’s bike needed a tune up. I was personally particularly grateful for his patience with Mr 4 who hung round persistently determined to chat to his fellow elf about all things North Pole related – he got some quite inventive answers!

Santa's elf fixing a bike

Santa congratulated all the children on how well they had ridden and passed out presents (bells, lights and reflectors) and a little book that we’d put together as a sort of Christmas card from us to the kids (see next week!). We plied them with hot chocolate and cake and then quite a lot of them decided that what they really wanted to be doing after a long, damp, cold bike ride was to… ride their bikes around Forbury Gardens. I love the energy that children bring (except when they’re mine, at bedtime, when I would rather they bought a little less of it!)

All in all, it was a very successful and happy ride, and I’m feeling all Christmassy after it. So I know it’s a little early, but I’ll take this opportunity to wish for a very happy Christmas season to all of the Kidical Mass People – the kids, the grown ups, the marshals and the organising team. You’re all brilliant!

Hot chocolate being served by a freezing Kat

If you missed out on this ride (or even if you didn’t) don’t forget our next rides: Wokingham will be holding a ride on Saturday 16th December at 2pm, meeting at Elms Field. The next ride in Reading will be around the university campus at 2pm on Sunday 14th January.