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Life on bikes

A bicycle made for two

April’s ride featured two councillors from different parties riding on our tandem, Daisy. Daisy is the only bike in our family “fleet” that has a name that’s stuck. She’s been with us longest, and, although (or perhaps because) she was bought second hand about two decades ago when we were both fresh faced students, she’s probably the bike I’m most emotionally attached to.

It’s been a while since I rode on her – at the moment “my” seat is usually configured to bring the pedals high enough for a four year old, which means if I tried to ride her it wouldn’t be very comfortable! Seeing two adults on her bought back memories from our earliest days of cycling together, when there were only two of us, and I was rather less keen.

Hilary and Simon looking young and in love

It was the early 2010s. My then-boyfriend had convinced me to try out camping (a first for me, I came from a decidedly indoorsy family). He had found a suitable campsite in Dorset and suggested we get there by a combination of National Express bus and bicycle. I nervously agreed, on the basis that he would be in charge of logistics and route planning.

Travelling by coach with the tandem was an…interesting…affair. The bike had to be dismantled and the pieces wrapped in bubble wrap before it could be loaded into the coach hold, which added a fair amount of time to the journey. Even more interesting, however, was the route between the coach stop and the campsite.

I suppose I should have been concerned when my partner showed me his printed out map and explained his plan. “Look, it’s suggested three cycling routes. The first is long and flat, the third is short and hilly, and the second is somewhere in between. But LOOK there is another route which it hasn’t found which is even shorter so we’re going to do that.”

(Yes, Dear Reader, this is the man who currently plans the Kidical Mass Reading routes. I promise he has developed some common sense in the last decade and a half).

I think my favourite part of the journey (at least now that it’s just a fun story from the past) was when, having just pushed the bike up a long 17% hill on foot, we stopped in a village to check directions for the rest of the journey. The lady looked at us, and, like a character in a sitcom, just shook her head and said, “Ooo, I wouldn’t have come this way.”

Simon and the 2 boys on the tandem

Nevertheless, both we and (spoiler) our relationship survived the trip. We had a lovely holiday, and amended our bus ticket home to go from a stop closer to the campsite. After that experience, any bicycle camping we have done with the kids have been (a) actually glamping, not camping, (b) combining trains+bikes not buses+bikes and (c) had me on my cargo e-bike. But, hey, maybe as the kids get bigger we’ll get more adventurous.

For now the tandem mostly gets use ferrying Mr 4 to and from his Friday afternoon Kindermusik class. But one day, when the kids are bigger, it will be converted back to two adults permanently. I imagine my husband and I will still have a use for good old Daisy long after the kids have left home and the newer, shinier, kid carrying bikes have found a new home.

I don’t, however, think I will ever again agree to a tandem bike camping trip in Dorset.

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Life on bikes

The grass is always greener

Here at Kidical Mass Reading we are unequivocally in favour of cycling as a way of transporting children. It’s environmentally friendly, it models and encourages healthy habits, and cycling is simply great fun.

Lots of people think there are physical problems with having children and not owning a car, but products exist to solve all of them that I’ve found. Hills? E-bike. Multiple kids? Cargo bike. Rain? Waterproofs. Distance? Trains. That one journey every two months that is really hard without a car? Car club. (If you have a particular problem that isn’t listed here and you don’t know how to solve, I recommend asking in the Facebook group Family Cycling UK, which is a fount of useful information).

However, and I’m going to be honest here and hope you will think kindly of me, there is one element of car life that I envy. It is the fact that the family car is a portable, private space which is usually in your vicinity. In it you can legally and safely restrain an overtired, overwhelmed and overstimulated small child (yes, I do mean one that’s screaming like a banshee) and get them home, whether they want you to or not. Being a car free family forces us to do more of our parenting in public.

I recently found myself about three hours from home (by a mix of walking/public transport) with two children, including one that was very suddenly FINISHED. Hungry, tired, 50% trying to drop to the pavement, 50% trying to run away, 0% trying to cooperate. He wasn’t being particularly quiet about his distress either (and boy do I love getting those looks from passers by). I had a few hairy moments of wondering what would happen if I couldn’t calm him down enough that we could safely acquire more food, until I remembered that I had a slightly stale sandwich in my bag from the day before. He ate that, and sufficient harmony was restored that I could get us onto a train with more food. All hail the stale sandwich.

On the school run when my youngest is in a particularly contrary mood, he occasionally decides to throw his weight around. He’s big enough now that I don’t feel safe riding when he does this, and I have to pull over and wait until he agrees to stop, or walk the bike home. I’d love to make the consequence of doing this that he has to walk home himself (which I think would be a big enough deterrent if done once to turn that “occasionally” into a “never”), but I can’t safely manage him and push the bike when he’s in that mood so that isn’t an option.

I guess, in theory, I think it’s better for our kid’s emotional growth and resilience that when they hit meltdown we help them to find a way to control it and make a better behaviour choice. In practice, I would sometimes welcome the ability to remove all their choices by strapping them into a car seat.

You might be wondering why I wrote this blog post – I’m partly wondering that too. Overall, I obviously love being a family that bikes. I really, really don’t want to put anyone off. Those meltdowns were easier to handle physically when the kids were small, and they’re rare now the kids are older. I think that’s down to a combination of more adult responses from them, and better planning from us to avoid getting to the point where they are that hungry and tired without a plan for dealing with it (there were reasons, that day, why that wasn’t possible).

I suppose I’m hoping for two things from writing this. Firstly, if you have little ones and you travel in public, and you have had bad days that look like my bad day, I hope you feel a little less alone. Secondly, whether you have little ones or not, if you see parent carrying a screaming toddler like a potato sack (whether that’s towards a bike or a car), please be kind to them. They’re having a really awful day.

P.S. we know travelling in a car with a screaming toddler is also hard. Actually, we know some parts of parenting are just hard, whatever options you choose.

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Life on bikes

Hello! Bonjour! Guten Tag!

My four year old has a gift for starting conversations with everyone. No one he does this to seems to mind, but my inner British person cringes a little whenever he bypasses Proper Social Protocols and does something completely unsanctioned like talk to a stranger on a train.

To bring him a little bit more in line with normal behaviour I have taught him an acceptable opening sentence. “Hello-my-name-is-Sebastian-what’s-your-name?” tends to come out in one breath, sometimes so fast that it has to be repeated, but at least the proper introductions have taken place before he starts demanding to know what the person did that morning or similar.

We recently went to France and it transpires that “Bonjour-je-m’appelle-Sebastian-comment-t’appelles-tu” also works perfectly well for making friends, even if that’s all the French you know. Kids in general often surprise me with how effectively they communicate even if there isn’t a shared language. I suppose it shouldn’t be that unexpected – after all, we all start off with all of our communication being non verbal. One year olds can perfectly well make themselves understood through a combination of noises, gestures and facial expressions.

🇧🇪 🇫🇷 🇩🇪 …

From the outset, Kidical Mass Reading has had a good representation from multi-lingual families. Many European countries are rather more advanced than the UK is in terms of cycling infrastructure. When people have grown up knowing the impact of good cycling infrastructure campaigning for the same here seems to be an easy sell. The predominant emotion that I’ve heard from them around this is sadness that they aren’t yet able to offer their children the same freedoms and independence that they enjoyed so much themselves.

Our boys’ first “Kidical Mass friends” were the children of one of the other organising families, two wonderful girls who are very similar ages to our kids. The family is German, and late last year an opportunity came up for them to relocate to Bonn (which is much closer to their extended families) which they (sadly for us) took. Unfortunately (for us) they seem to be very happy there and show no signs of coming back, so when my other half’s work took him that way recently over half term we took the opportunity to go out with him and visit them.

The kids hadn’t seen each other for about six months, and we wondered on the way over how long it would take them to rediscover the friendship they’d had before. The answer was that within twenty seconds of reuniting they were halfway up a tree together. Kidical Mass friends really are the best friends.

We enjoyed hearing all about their Kidical Mass experience in Bonn – a very well attended affair, with hundreds of riders and police marshals closing down junctions for the ride to pass through. We were a bit envious, but at least we could boast about our Father Christmas ride (their rides don’t run through Winter).

The cycling infrastructure in Bonn is much more advanced than it is here – my husband’s observation having been there a few times for work is that you can cycle in the direction you want to go and mostly it just works. Meanwhile, here in Reading, our route planning sometimes involves Google street view. Still, our friends were able to point out plenty of things that could use some improvement – I guess a cycle campaigner’s work is never done. 

If you too would like to help campaign for better cycling infrastructure in Reading (and possibly make some new friends whilst you’re at it) please do join us for our next rides on 20th April.

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Life on bikes

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

My Dad likes to play the long game. I don’t remember this, but I know (because he tells me at least once a year) that the first thing he said to me after I was born was, “In eighteen years you are going to leave home, and I promise that both you and I are going to be ready for it.”

I’d like to think that I’m a bit better at living in the moment than my Dad is, but I understand the sentiment and why he thought it was important enough to say to a newborn. It is our job as parents to help children grow into competent adults, and that’s not something that happens overnight when they turn eighteen. Freedom needs to be given to them gradually, in baby steps, as they are ready for it.

🧒👦📮

Our kids had a small milestone recently. They are seven and four, and I asked them if they wanted to go out together without a grown up to post their letters to their friends. The post box is a two minute walk away. We live on a quiet street, with footpaths connecting the houses and a small communal garden. Cars are relegated to a road around the edge, away from the houses, and there is no through traffic. After agreeing some ground rules (hold hands, the older one is in charge of deciding when it’s safe to cross the road, look both ways, don’t run) they decided they were up to the challenge. They came back having safely completed their mission and absolutely delighted with themselves.

The space we live in shapes how we live. We know many of our neighbours because we see them heading out on errands, gardening, or walking their dogs, and the boys stop to ask questions. Where are you going? What are you planting? Can I stroke your dog? The space is pleasant to be in, and peaceful, and encourages conversation. It won’t be long until the boys can go out and play in the communal area without me hovering next to them.

🧒 🚙 🚚 🚗 🚙 🚗 🚐 🚗

One of our Kidical Mass friends lived on a side road off Oxford Road, and her experience of life outside the front door could not have been more different. There are cars parked down both sides of the street, often blocking the pavement. There is nowhere to encourage neighbours to linger and socialise, and nowhere for children to play. The traffic on the main road is fast, and there aren’t traffic free alternatives. (In unrelated news, she’s recently moved).

How many years does an environment like that add to the point when a child can have some freedom and independence? Measures to bring down the speed and volume of traffic in residential areas would make a huge difference to the safety and quality of life of our kids.

On 20th April Kidical Mass Reading and Wokingham will both be running rides. These tie in with two very important action events, an international Kidical Mass one and the UK based Safe Streets Now. We want to raise our voices to make a clear statement. Our kids deserve safe bike infrastructure. They deserve safe streets. Allowing them to experience independence when they are ready for it should be a priority.

If you agree with us, do come and join us for a ride.

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Life on bikes

Proportionate policing please

Back in November, one of our number messaged in the Kidical Mass WhatsApp group (where all the cool kids hang out) to say that they had been surprised to find a strong police presence outside Caversham library that morning. Five officers had been present. It’s great to see officers out in the community, and he asked them if they were there for a particular reason. They said they had been sent there because of complaints about cyclists riding on the pavement and ignoring red lights.

Now, I will be clear that I do think everyone including cyclists should follow the rules of the road. And, as a pedestrian, I understand the frustrations around having cyclists whizz past you on pavements that aren’t shared paths (though, as a mother, I’m not going to judge another family who decide that their small children are safer riding on the pavement than on the road).

However, do you know what else happened in Caversham in that same spot in December? A crash involving six cars and a van, in which five people were injured. The consequences when people in control of fast, hard, heavy chunks of metal are reckless on the roads are far, far worse than they are for cyclists. Despite the fact that cyclists and pedestrians are often forced to share the same spaces, between 2012 and 2021 98% of pedestrians who were killed or seriously injured in a collision were injured by a motor vehicle rather than a bicycle.

I do think it’s antisocial when riders of illegally overpowered e-bikes (often working for delivery companies) whizz through pedestrian spaces at inhuman speeds. I know that many of these riders are in very precarious situations, and that the delivery companies make it very difficult to make a decent hourly rate. To get paid, riders take more risks in order to take on more jobs.

It’s like that age old ethical conundrum: riding what’s effectively a small motorbike antisocially is wrong, but if you have a choice between that and watching your family starve, which is the greater evil? For me the blame here lies squarely with the delivery companies who are happy to incentivise these behaviours and then hide their head in the sand about the consequences whilst raking in the profits. And, mostly, I think those riders endanger themselves rather than others.

Do you know what else makes pavements and bike paths difficult to navigate? When cars are parked on/in them. This forces pedestrians and cyclists (often young ones) out into traffic they shouldn’t be having to navigate. It can block routes entirely for wheelchair users and make life very difficult for families with pushchairs. Those cars often aren’t just there momentarily when passing through, they can be an almost permanent hazard (e.g. on the shared use path alongside Henley Road).

I’ve tried reporting pavement parking in Reading. The council has a website where you can submit photos but when I’ve tried it for the Henley Road bike lane I’ve got a (very quick) form response letting me know that the council have no power to enforce anything there, and the police have no resources. However, it seems the police have managed to find resources to conduct an operation to seize a few souped-up e-bikes in the town centre.

I know there are some really good people in policing – I love seeing some of them out on their bikes and we were delighted with the pair who joined our ride from the cycle festival in September. They aren’t the ones making the decisions about where their time is spent.

In a world where policing resources are so limited, can we not focus traffic enforcement on vehicles that do the most harm? We have an election coming up for the local Police and Crime Commissioner, who has the power to set the priorities for road safety enforcement. If you’d like to see a change, make sure you let the candidates know that what’s important to you and use your vote on 2nd May.

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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.

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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.

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Life on bikes

Build-a-Bike

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 admin@kidicalmassreading.co.uk 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.

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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.

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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.