Life on bikes

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Maths was my favourite subject as a kid (and I still love it now). One of the interesting problems I remember learning about is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The premise is this: you and a pal are suspected of wrongdoing. You are taken into separate rooms and questioned. If both of you say you didn’t do it, you both serve a short sentence. If both of you say you did do it, you both serve a medium length sentence. But if one of you admits to the crime and the other does not, the one who talked goes free and the one who didn’t fess up gets locked away for a really long time. What should you do?

The mathematically correct answer to the dilemma is this: if each prisoner acts solely in their own interest, they will always turn each other in, even though they would be better off if they both kept quiet.

Sometimes I think that the choices people make around transport modes are a kind of prisoner’s dilemma. Except the losing option if we all act solely in our own interests is “large parts of the planet become uninhabitable”.

“There’s so much traffic on the road that I wouldn’t feel safe riding a bike.”

If everyone who could ride a bike to get where they were going chose to do so, the roads would feel a lot safer for all of us.

“I drive a big car because I feel safer around the rest of the traffic.”

When I walk my children through car parks I have to remind them to stay extra close to me around SUVs, because the drivers are so high up they might not be able to see them.

“There’s no space for dedicated bike infrastructure on our roads because they are too narrow.”

I agree, our roads are narrow in places. If I were queen for a day I would bring in legislation around bringing down vehicle width. When I’m on my bike, I really feel the difference between being overtaken by someone in an SUV or someone in a smaller lighter car.

SUV Share of registrations: 2021: 50%, 2022: 57%, 2023: 60%

I gave you the mathematically correct answer to the prisoner’s dilemma above. However, I’ve always felt that the actually correct answer is to associate with the kind of people who won’t turn you in. I also reckon the morally correct answer (leaving aside the issue of the crime committed at the opening of the problem) is to be the kind of person who is willing to do what’s right for your friends.

We are in a climate crisis. I know you all know this. I do think we see more and more bikes on Reading’s roads as the years go by. I’m grateful to all those people who make the sometimes difficult choice (I know we don’t have the best infrastructure yet) to travel this way. The more people make that choice, the easier it will be for others to do the same.

So, Dear Reader, if you want a new year’s resolution but haven’t yet settled on one, how about this?
When you travel, look at the options reasonably available to you and consider as a factor the impact that your choices make on other road users.
When your car reaches the end of its life maybe a car with a smaller footprint would be sufficient to transport your family.
Perhaps public transport is viable for your commute.
Maybe some of your journeys could be moved to active travel.

And if, after all of that, you sometimes find yourself on a bike in Reading, do pop by to join one of our rides.

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.

Life on bikes


Has your child outgrown their old bike or never had one? Would you struggle to be able to buy a new bike? Would you regularly use a child’s bike to cycle as a family?

Then our workshop is for you! Kidical Mass are excited to be partnering with Avanti Cycling and Stumbles Cycles to offer 6 children, and their carers, the chance to learn how to build a bike! 

On Saturday 25 November, from 1:30, we’ll be running a 3-hour workshop at the Weller Centre in Caversham, where children will learn how to put a new bike together. They will also learn basic skills, like: repairing punctures, tightening breaks and adjusting their saddle height. Participants will learn how to check bikes and the basic bike fixes, as well as being involved in building their very own bicycle.

We’ve got places for two 8-9 year-old and three 10-11 year-old, who do not have bikes and will use them. The cost of the session will be £30. If you fit in with the criteria yet cannot afford this, then please contact us.

When you’ve grown out of your bike, or if you don’t end up using it as much as you thought, then get in contact with us and we’ll help unite it with another child who will use it.

We’d love it if the bikes could go to families that might not otherwise be able to afford a bike, so if you know someone who would fit this, then please share with them.

Avanti will also offer a free post-workshop training session to families who come, so they can learn to cycle together safely as a family. Of course they’ll also be invited to Kidical Mass rides, to meet other families that cycle. We really want to be able to help as many children cycle as possible, so please do tell us what else we could do to make that a reality. 

If you’re interested in being involved, email and we can send you the booking form and details. Please let us know if you can’t make it any more, so we can make sure another child can get a bike.

Life on bikes

Why being a cyclist is like being a woman

I would hardly be the first to observe that being a cyclist in a car space is a bit like being a woman in reality. The world isn’t really designed with you in mind, and you are a bit more vulnerable that those around you, often in ways that they don’t realise. As someone who identifies both as “woman” and “cyclist”, here are five similarities I’ve noticed between the two.

1. We worry about our friends…

When my husband goes out riding late at night I ask him to share his location with me. This is mostly so I can see how far away from home he is and have an idea of when he’ll get back, but there is also a little voice inside my head that thinks, at least I’ll know where to send the ambulance if he gets hit. Women do this for each other too – tell me where you’re going, let me know when you get safely home.

2.…Because we know someone who has been hurt.

Some years ago my husband was knocked off his bike by a car that turned straight into him from the other side of the road without looking. He got off relatively lightly, but still had to make major adjustments to his life for months of recovery time. We know it’s a risk, but we still get on our bikes and live our lives every day (with sensible precautions) because the alternative is unacceptable.

3. We are expected to move around in spaces where we are very vulnerable

Yes, not all men. Yes, not all drivers. But still, when I’m on the road I don’t know which drivers think that getting to their destination thirty seconds faster is more important than my life – so I have to cycle defensively and position myself protectively on the road around all of them. Many drivers don’t recognise that the actions we take are for safety reasons, they think we’re just being awkward.

4. If something does go wrong, everyone will ask what I was wearing

No helmet, black clothes, and killed by a car? Guess what the narrative in the media would focus on if that happened to me. What would actually make me safer as a woman and a cyclist is a change in culture and infrastructure, not a bigger focus on how I can “make myself safe”.

5. We still need to look out for other, more vulnerable groups

It’s easy to notice situations where you have been disadvantaged, but sometimes it’s harder to recognise situations where it’s you that has the upper hand. As cyclists, we (rightly, I think, given the climate crisis) are asking motorists to make space for us – but we also need to make sure that we are treating pedestrians with caution and respect. Just because we’re a vulnerable minority doesn’t mean that we’re the most vulnerable minority.

On that note, we’ve said before and I’d like to take this opportunity to reiterate that, regardless of your ethnicity, religion, gender, sex or sexual orientation, you and your family are welcome at our rides if you want better cycling infrastructure for children in Reading.

Aside from women and cyclists having a lot in common, women who are cyclists can face additional barriers, especially around cycling in the dark. Together with Reading Cycle Campaign and Avanti we are hosting a Glow Ride on Friday 10th November at 6pm, meeting at the Thames Lido (see the Facebook event). We hope to draw attention to the issue of safe cycling at night. The ride will be at a comfortable adult riding pace and will not be marshalled. Come and join us for the ride and please do stay for a drink afterwards.

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.

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.

Life on bikes

We’re off on an adventure

One of the “comforting” things that lots of people say to you as a new parent is:

As soon as you think you know what you’re doing then the kids will change and you’ll be totally lost again! Hahaha it’s so funny!

Whilst it is true that the game keeps changing, and of course all children/families are different, for our family we found that the “terrible twos” were much easier than coping with the endless sleep deprivation of a newborn. A “threenager” who could now communicate effectively was easier again than an irrational two year old, and I haven’t worked out yet why people use the phrase “fournado” (though my wildfire youngest is still three).

Cycling for logistics as a family has been a bit the same. It changes constantly. The solutions that work with a three year old and a baby are quite different to the solutions that work with a six year old and a three year old. It has, however, by and large been easier and more fun with bigger, more independent and cooperative kids.

This was bought home to me recently when we went on our now-traditional annual car free holiday to the New Forest. We take our bikes (including my husband’s bike, two children’s bikes and my long tail electric cargo bike) on the train from Reading to Brockenhurst, along with luggage for a week’s stay in self catering accommodation near Lyndhurst. We pack as light as we can, because the most difficult bit of the logistics is getting the bikes on and off the trains and through the stations. We’re careful that the trains we choose have bike storage we can use.

Here are five things I noticed this year that were related to the kids being older.

  1. We could pack a lot lighter for kid entertainment. Their attention span for playing with a particular toy is much longer, and they can now make a game out of household items (pots/pans/cushions) without me worrying they’ll break something.
  2. More bikes, fewer pushchairs. Last year when our older child rode his bike it was walking pace for us and little one was in his pushchair. This year it was bikes for everyone and we left the pushchair behind (but on the uphill bits littlest and his bike were carried on our bikes).
  3. Mr 3 is more reliable. Last year when we were in train stations loading bikes on/off the train, he went in the sling to stop him running away. This year he loaded his own bike and managed it through the stations.
  4. Mr 6 is more patient. He understood that when Mr 3 is riding with us on the forest paths then we let Mr 3 lead. I credit some of this attitude to Kidical Mass rides, where we always try to go at the pace of the slowest rider. (Oh, before I forget, Dear Reader, I should tell you that the next opportunity to ride with Kidical Mass Reading will be at 12pm from Reading Cycle Festival on 10th September).
  5. Everyone has more stamina. I remember last year letting Mr 6 (then Mr 5) ride his bike on the road from Brockenhurst to the woods and it feeling like a long slog for him. This year it was trivial.

Riding through the woods with the kids was a real joy, though sadly even when they weren’t tired we carried them on many of the roads which were difficult, even as an adult, on a bike. It’s a bit strange for a place which sells itself to tourists as a great place for a cycling holiday. Perhaps they need a Kidical Mass group to encourage them to make it more accessible.

Life on bikes

In which our local bike shop does a very good RAC impression

My husband, Simon, has been a keen cyclist all of his life. He’s so keen that I’ve sort of become a cyclist by osmosis. In our second year of uni, not long after we’d got together, he taught me how to ride a bike well enough to get to my lectures. In the years after uni when we lived in separate cities, he would ferry me around on a second-hand tandem when I visited. After we’d settled down in the same city (hi Reading!) and had our first kid (occasionally referred to in this blog as the older Kidical Mass Intern) a bike seat was added to the back of the tandem. For a brief while, when the younger intern was still “in Mummy’s tummy” the tandem carried all four of us. However, it was a setup we were clearly outgrowing, and besides, whenever I went anywhere without Simon I had to walk or take the bus.

Simon started trying to persuade me that I needed a electric cargo bike of my own. Obviously I told him, very clearly and firmly, absolutely not. I’m not very fit and I was worried about being able to get up hills without him on the bike as well (that’s what the battery is for, he argued). I thought I wouldn’t be able to balance a heavy bike and with our children on the back I didn’t want to fall over.

Then he noticed that Reading Cycle Festival was coming up. Have I mentioned, Dear Reader, that Kidical Mass Reading returns after the Summer with a ride from this year’s Reading Cycling Festival on Christchurch Meadows at midday on 10th September? AW cycles, a Caversham-based independent bike shop, were going to be there with some electric cargo bikes. I agreed to go along and test ride one, but I warned my husband that no way was I going to like it.

Well, Dear Reader, if you’ve been reading this blog for more than about a week, you can guess how this goes. We went and spoke to Rob, who owns AW cycles and is the most enthusiastic person about bicycles that I’ve ever met – and a lot of my friends help organise Kidical Mass rides! I test rode a Tern GSD for about a minute round the field then came back and told Simon we had to get one. We ordered through AW cycles a few days later, and we’ve been very glad both about the ordering and about it being through our local bike shop. Here’s my favourite AW cycles story, which illustrates how supportive they’ve been.

One Friday night, we had both batteries stolen off my bike (that’s not what I like about this story). The mounts were damaged by the thieves. It happened on our local high street, so I posted in a local Facebook group to ask if anyone saw anything. We were annoyed about the cost of replacement, and really worried about being without transport for who knew how long.

One of the mechanics at AW cycles (Lewis, God bless him) saw the post and took it upon himself to check they had the stock in to fix it, then texted us that night to say we could bring it in on Saturday morning. They had us back on the road by Monday morning, and sold us the only battery they had in stock at cost. We were very grateful.

Not everyone who wants to cycle wants to or can do their own maintenance on their bike. If you get a flat tyre by the side of a busy road with a kid on your bike it may not be safe to stop and fix it. Society isn’t properly set up (yet) for people who use bikes as their primary form of transport. Quite apart from the issue of safe infrastructure the idea of a “courtesy bike” if yours goes in for service hasn’t generally caught on, and next day turnaround on urgent maintenance can be hard to find.

I think in the future, as cycling becomes more prevalent, we will see cyclists being able to acquire the equivalent of the breakdown cover that motorists have. I’m grateful that, in the meantime, AW Cycles have us covered.

Life on bikes

The right tools for the job

There’s more than one way to cycle with kids (anyone who has come along to any Kidical Mass rides will certainly know that!). Young children might be on a bike seat, or in a trailer, or a purpose built cargo bike. As they get older they might transfer to a tagalong or tandem, or ride their own bike (or sit in the amazing sort of halfway house permitted by the follow-me-tandem, where they sometimes ride independently and are sometimes hitched behind an adult’s bike).

There’s different approaches to it too – some people might ride with their kids for fun on a Saturday afternoon, others might do the school run by bike on a sunny day, and some people choose bikes as their main form of transport. We’re in the latter camp, which means we’ve gathered a large collection of bicycles (lovingly referred to by my husband as “The Fleet”) each of which performs a particular job for us.

If you’re new to cycling with children and overwhelmed by the amount of choice there is, I highly recommend the Facebook group Family Cycling UK as a place to ask for advice. I’ve directed many friends who have asked me for advice to this helpful (and large) group. If you explain your family shape, route issues (hills/narrow gates etc), storage options and budget then there is almost certainly someone with similar constraints who can share what works for them. This is much more effective than just asking one person, who can only ever really tell you what worked for them and won’t have tried the full range of options. Of course they might have completely different needs to you, making it a completely useless exercise.

That aside, Dear Reader, let me tell you what works for us!

I would describe our situation as follows: we have two children, six and three, both competent on bikes but not yet able to ride independently on most of the routes we do as the danger from traffic to an inexperienced cyclist is too high. The terrain around us is very hilly (we live by the river and our oldest is at school at the top of Caversham). My husband is very fit and I am definitely not. Both of us need to be able to transport both children. We have secure bike storage covered by CCTV. Bikes are our primary form of transport, so we consider our budget for this to be what we would otherwise spend on a car.

My “family car” is a long tail e-cargo bike, specifically a Tern GSD (shout out to AW Cycles in Caversham who stock them, we’ve seen a few around Reading now, which is really great – I think when we got ours we were the first). Both kids fit on the rack at the back (Mr 6 is on a bench seat and Mr 3 in a bike seat). The centre of gravity is very low so although the bike is heavy it’s the most stable bike I have ever ridden. The e-assist helps me up to about 15mph (after that I’m on my own), and can be set to variable levels, meaning that even with my fitness if I turn it up to max we can always get up the hill.

My husband rides a triplet, specifically one of the Circe Helios ones. This was an upgrade recently from our tandem (much loved and bought second hand in our student days, Daisy is the only bike in the fleet who we’ve given a name that has stuck). The kids were starting to argue over who got to ride on longer journeys and who “had” to sit on Mummy’s bike, so we figured they should both be able to. We have to be careful though, as the little one wants to ride even when he’s so tired he’s obviously going to nap! We haven’t tried it yet, but the triplet breaks down into three and can be packed into bags, which we’re hoping will make combining bike and train logistics on longer trips more straightforward.

Then we have various single bikes, including for the kids. If we want to take their bikes with us (but not have them ride en route) I can either haul them using the kid’s handholds and pannier bags on my bike (referred to as “bag and drag” this method involves lashing the handlebars on, putting one wheel in the pannier and letting the other trail behind) or my husband has special panniers (bakkie bags) which will do a similar job on his bike.

With this bike setup, we can run our daily logistics, and regularly do day trips as far afield as Stonor to the North or Bracknell to the South. Most importantly, the kids love being on bikes. Despite all the time we already spend on bikes they love to use the space near the garages where they can ride around safely on their own bikes (though I often don’t love being begged for “just five more minutes” at the end of the day when I’ve already been stood there for half an hour!). Ah well, such is parenthood.

I wish everyone the best of luck with the Summer holidays!

Life on bikes

Why we’re loud and proud

Kidical Mass rides are now on hiatus for the Summer (we’ll be back on 10th September at Reading Cycle Festival) but this blog is not. Many (but by no means all) of us in the organising team here are car free, and I thought I’d take the opportunity of this quiet period (ha! with the kids home from school!) to write about some of the ways that we make this work, and some of the tricks and tools that help us.

But, before we get into all that, this week I thought I would talk about WHY we talk about it at all. I know that there is a bit of a stereotype around cyclist activists sometimes being, well, to put it politely, insufferable gits. There’s a risk that when we talk about being car free that it comes across holier-than-thou, or judgemental of those who don’t have a decent alternative to car usage. Given that, why bother? Why not just quietly make our choices without feeling the need to shout about them?

I feel that parallels can be drawn here to other forms of environmental activism – many people are vegan for environmental reasons, or feel strongly about being zero waste. Our family are neither of those, and I don’t see us going that way anytime soon. But we have friends in both camps, and we hear them talking about it, and I think even though we haven’t followed suit, it does impact our choices.

We might not be vegan, but we do have a meal plan now that involves no regular consumption of red meat, and regular vegetarian meals (many of which are very tasty and recommended by friends). We might not be zero waste, but when I have recently seen someone sharing something on plastic waste I am probably more conscious of the packaging I choose when I am shopping.

For us being car free has almost become like a game now. We try and do as much as we can without resorting to hiring a car.  We’re privileged to have the resources (both in terms of energy and finances) to work out and acquire the kit that makes this possible and comfortable (more on that in a later article). I will add, though, that even a top of the line cargo ebike is cheap compared to most new family cars, so let’s not overlabour the financial privilege here.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing though. The impact of twenty people who cut back, say, ten per cent of their car trips has a greater benefit on our streets than one person who cuts car usage entirely. Often the first ten per cent is the easiest to cut – short journeys without luggage or small passengers – and being out on a bike can be a bit addictive once you start. If a family decides that they can manage with one car rather than two that is a huge win.

This is why one of the main goals of Kidical Mass is to campaign for safer cycling infrastructure. Safe infrastructure makes it possible for a much greater number of people to take those first steps (pedals?) into cycling. It takes more people out of the bucket of “don’t have a decent alternative to car usage”. And who knows where that may lead? (If you’re very lucky, you might end up writing blog articles for a local cycling group of your friends on your day off! And right now I wouldn’t have it any other way.)