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.