Life on bikes

Get your body moving!

One of the things about being responsible for small people, and liking a quiet life, is that I have become a lot more conscious of what a human body needs in order to function. All of us need sufficient food, drink, sleep and movement. Nine times out of ten when one of the kids has a meltdown and we run through this basic needs checklist, there’s a contributing factor. The kids are even starting to be able to recognise this in themselves, which makes conversations about early nights after difficult days a lot smoother.

If I’m honest, I’m much better at managing this for the kids than I am for myself. When the kids were small and waking up several times in the night, the biggest challenge was sleep (for everyone, but especially the grown ups!). At least as babies they could always be relied upon to nap in a bike seat, a fact we made copious use of during lockdown when we needed to get the baby to nap three times a day, manage our own exercise, and make time to play with the preschooler. It was a constant multitasking exercise in trying to make sure that the ways we were spending our time were meeting different needs for different people simultaneously.

Thankfully now they are older sleep is much less of an issue. In a packed week, the first thing that slips is movement for me. Given a choice between clean clothes for everyone the following day or a walk in the sunshine it often doesn’t feel like much of a choice. This is one of the reasons I’m glad that we are a family that cycles – doing the school run by bike builds a bit of movement into my day every day and helps keep me happy.

I’m grateful too to see the boys starting to set good habits of their own. Young children naturally move a lot through the course of the day, but I can see that as they get older there will be far more demands on their time in terms of school, homework and other focused activities that require them to sit still for many hours a day. Like us, they will have to become a lot more intentional about making time to move their bodies.

Our current school run is about a 10km round trip. When my husband is taking them, he uses an acoustic triplet, which means the kids are able to be active too. I am less strong, and less confident in balancing them if they wriggle, so I ride an electric long tail with a super low centre of gravity, where they are just passengers. But Fridays are special – we have a bit more slack in the schedule and Mr Seven is allowed to ride his own bike to school if he’s ready early enough. We never have to nag him to get going on a Friday morning!

I’m hopeful that when they are teenagers getting about by bicycle will be second nature to them.  We’re taking a multi pronged approach to safety – they will have been riding on our bikes and observing our road positioning for years, we will help them plan the safest way between the places they want to go, and we are campaigning (through Kidical Mass) for better connected cycle routes across Reading.

And, who knows, maybe one day they might have little people of their own and find themselves struggling to meet everyone’s basic needs with a newborn around. Perhaps they will be grateful to find (from the other side) that a bike ride is a great way to get a baby to nap whilst its parent also gets some exercise.

Life on bikes

Topics to avoid at the dinner table

Somewhere along the line growing up I learned that there are some topics that it’s impolite to discuss in casual conversation – most notably religion and politics.  To those weighty items I would also add that I am reticent to discuss my feelings as a cyclist about road safety. I have STRONG feelings on the subject, and I do not want to subject my (lovely, well meaning) driving friends to a breathless tirade. So, Dear Reader, I thought I’d subject you to it instead (since you are here voluntarily and can leave when you like).

  1. Remember how vulnerable cyclists are. The best visual I ever saw explaining safe passing distances first showed a hand being slammed down hard on a table close to a hammer, and then showed the reverse. 🫱🔨 Only one of those things made me wince, and I bet you would have the same reaction. The cyclist is the hand, your car is the hammer.  Don’t risk our lives just because it feels safe to you inside your car to be that close to us.
  2. Be a bit more chilled out about cyclists when you’re driving. I particularly hate pulling up Peppard Road going away from the Last Crumb. The road there is not wide enough for a car to safely pass a cyclist (you can tell this, Dear Rider, because the separate bike lane doesn’t start until a little further up). The number of drivers who CANNOT BEAR to wait twenty seconds to get to a safe passing place is ridiculous (I am better now than I used to be at road positioning to stop this happening). Yet, when it is other cars (instead of bicycle traffic) causing the (much longer!) delay coming down that road they all manage to queue nicely without trying to rear end each other.
  3. If you are in a SUV and you cannot generally give safe passing room when overtaking cyclists, then get yourself into a narrower car. There’s no need to hog that much of the road. Same goes for the drivers coming down Peppard Road who feel the need to keep one set of wheels permanently in the bike lane, thereby making it unusable. Almost all of our road space is allocated to cars, stop stealing the little that isn’t.
  4. Always, ALWAYS look all around you before pulling away from stationary. It gives me a little mini heart attack every time I see a car lurch forward then stop just before hitting something as the driver clearly decided to do their mirrors check AFTER they started moving. That should never happen.
  5. Stop parking your car on pavements and in bike lanes. ESPECIALLY on Henley Road where all the houses have massive driveways and many schoolchildren commute along the path. If you don’t have the fine control of your car to manoeuvre it safely into your driveway please turn in your driving licence immediately.

I suppose I don’t say these things to my friends because they are all lovely, well meaning people. However, I also suppose every driver who has ever close passed me, or undercut me on a roundabout, or parked their car in a bike lane or on a pavement is probably in most circumstances a lovely, well meaning person with lot of friends. Perhaps if it became more acceptable to talk about these things we would see less of them.


The people behind KM — Alex

What is your current family bike setup?

I’ve got a couple of bikes. For a long time I used to ride a Charge fixed gear bike I bought on eBay, but as my commute has changed (and my fitness has declined!) and includes more hills I’ve invested in a geared touring bike.

When the kids were very little I used a Burley Bee cycle chariot and a front seat to take them both to nursery, but as they’ve got older and we live near their school I no longer have that set up. It’s a shame as they used to enjoy the journey and it was very satisfying cycling pass the cars going nowhere in the rush hour traffic jam on the Reading road, and the slightly unorthodox set up was always a talking point with parents in the car park.  

How does cycling fit into your life?

I use a bike to commute to work and for local journeys. As both myself and my wife work, this allows us to only own one car, which is a big plus given that we don’t have any off road parking at home. 

The kids cycle, although we live within a short walk of their school and so don’t need the bikes on a day-to-day basis. 

Why did you get involved in Kidical Mass?

I started cycle commuting (and subsequently got more into cycling) when I moved to Reading in 2010 and have been a member of the Reading cycle campaign (RCC) since then. A few years later we moved to Wokingham and I got involved with the Wokingham Active Travel Campaign (WATCH).

It was at a RCC meeting that I heard Kat talk about Kidical Mass and how she wanted to set it up locally, I was really impressed with her drive and enthusiasm and the idea of Kidical Mass, as a way of getting a broader cross section of people (beyond the Lycra MAMILs) out on bikes and so got her details. I helped marshal some of the early Reading rides and really enjoyed the fun and support that can sometimes be absent at cycling events (not all!) I have attended in the past.

WATCH had been looking for a cycle event we could put on in Wokingham and after chatting with Kat, we agreed that we would run a Wokingham ride every other month under the Reading (and Wokingham) Kidical Mass umbrella. 

What is your role in Kidical Mass?

I am one of the organisers of the Wokingham KM events and try and help out with many of the Reading events as I can get to.