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From Kidical Mass Reading, with Love

With the international action weekend for Kidical Mass coinciding with the coronation weekend, it occurred to me that many of the things we stand for – a greener future, inclusivity and international cooperation – are themes which King Charles might appreciate. So I thought I would write to his office at Buckingham Palace and let them know about us.

King Charles as the Prince of Wales was no stranger to environmental activism. The press reported that as King he would step back from that a little publicly (though I noted that his first official engagement post coronation was related to a climate-relevant research laboratory in Cambridge). We have the advantage of being able to be slightly more outspoken than the monarchy. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign I saw many articles claiming that her hat/broach were a clear statement of her views. Here’s a clear statement of our views:

“Reading’s children deserve safe cycling infrastructure”

I wanted our letter to the King to look beautiful. I raided my children’s stamp collection to decorate the bottom of the letter with bikes (outlined in paint pen), and I put out a call in the Kidical Mass UK Facebook group for some additional photos from other rides. I saw many beautiful images and I’m particularly grateful to Kidical Mass Guildford and Kidical Mass Bridgwater for their pictures of, respectively, a huge number of cyclists and a very patriotic individual. I included these with the letter and a few pictures from our ride.

3 year old posting the letter

The younger of the Kidical Mass Interns (my three year old, who was delighted by the spectacle of the coronation) was really excited to help me post our letter to the King. I did however, have to correct a few misapprehensions. No, we weren’t personally going to visit His Majesty to hand over our letter, we would put it in the post box. No, one of the King’s guards wasn’t going to come to the post box to collect it, our friendly local postie would pick it up. The intern remained buoyant despite these set backs, as a trip to the post box is always a fun outing.

The invite extended to the King and his family at the end of our letter (full text below) is a genuine one, despite the vanishing unlikeliness of him being able to accept it. I would like to extend an equally warm invite to you, dear reader, as you too are always welcome on our rides – especially if you share our vision for a more child and climate friendly Reading.

Dear Sir/Madam

On the weekend of Their Majesties' coronation 20 "Kidical Mass" rides took place across the United Kingdom, from Inverness to Portsmouth, involving over 1500 cyclists of all ages. Our ride here in Reading was joyful and involved crowns, flags and sceptre-themed cake pops.
As the Prince of Wales, His Majesty was known for caring about our planet and seeking to safeguard it for future generations. Kidical Mass rides are organised and marshalled by volunteers. We seek to build confidence in young riders and create a community of cycling families, with the long term aim of reducing car usage.
I found one of the most beautiful themes of Their Majesties' coronation to be that of inclusion of all groups of people. The rides hope to draw attention to the need for cycling infrastructure which is inclusive of and safe for everyone, especially this country's youngest citizens.
I know the Royal Family does so much for the reputation of this country abroad. I hope it would please His Majesty to learn that so many of us used the long weekend given to us by the coronation to take part in the rides, which were part of an international action weekend. To tackle climate change, we must all work together.
Though I appreciate His Majesty's schedule will likely make this impossible, we would like to invite him and any young cyclists in his family to join us at any Kidical Mass ride here in Reading. The enthusiasm and determination of the children involved is truly inspiring, and gives me much hope for our future.
Yours faithfully,
Hilary Smart

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Dee Caf Kidical Mass

A few months ago, the lovely Tina from Dee Caf Community Cafe reached out to Kat Heath, our intrepid leader. To start with I got most of these conversations second hand, and there was clearly a level of escalation to them.

  1. Tina was considering getting a cargo bike for the business.
  2. She had one, but had some questions about it.
  3. Tina LOVED her bike and wanted to run a Kidical Mass Ride from Dee Caf. Could we help?

Well, the answer to that was a resounding yes, though there was a bit of groundwork to be done on finding a suitable route! It was a challenge to avoid busy roads and steep hills whilst still being on routes suitable for a big group of cyclists with some rather large bikes.

It was a delight to turn up to the ride and find a really good turnout from the Dee Caf community – there were 35 riders there, almost all new to the rides. The “Kidical Mass regulars” were not many more than the team who helped organise the ride. Tina led the ride on her big business bike, and clearly personally knew most of the families there.

Tina had also invited Mayor Rachel Eden and the Mayor’s Escort (Councillor Richard Davies), and they not only came but also rode with us. I did have a moment of confusion just after the ride had started when someone radioed through that there was a delay because the Mayor had lost her chain.

“How did she manage that?” I asked, thinking it had looked pretty secure round her neck – and was told that it was not the ceremonial chain but her bike chain. She got it back on herself (a feat I’m impressed by, my strategy for bike mechanical failures is to make my other half fix them).

Cllr Davies regularly uses his bike to get around town. I was able to have a pretty detailed conversation after the ride about the issues I see around cycling access from Caversham to the new secondary school being built by Rivermeads. I think he really understood my concerns – it does make a difference when our elected representatives are themselves users of cycling infrastructure.

🧁🧁🧃🧃

After the ride Dee Caf kindly offered free cake and juice to everyone, and the kids set to work with chalk brightening up the pavement with artwork and several hopscotches. It was really special to feel that the ride was built around an already existing community, and to have the hub for that community as the start and end of the ride.

The children seemed to enjoy the ride – several of the families asked when the next one would be. Dee Caf is on the other side of Reading to most of our usual volunteers. We will need some locals to help marshal if we are going to run rides there regularly. Do let Dee Caf know if you’re keen to help – no prior experience required.

Finally, it took me most of the way through this article to realise that Dee Caf is in fact a play on the term decaf. I hope you were a bit quicker on the uptake than me!

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A cycling celebration

On the bank holiday weekend of 6th-8th May there were two very important national celebrations. As I’m sure all of our readers are aware, it was an International Kidical Mass action weekend. Here in the UK over 1500 riders took part in 20 rides, 55 of them here with us in Reading. The more alert among you will also have noticed that King Charles III and Queen Camilla were crowned that weekend.

It was a cause for celebration all round! Several of our riders wore crowns (despite the difficulty of combining these with bike helmets) and our recumbent tricyclist decked out his bike in flags that he had previously used when riding to Henley to celebrate a royal wedding with friends. Steffi, our lovely star baker, and her two young assistants went above and beyond on the cake front, with crown shaped biscuits, red white and blue meringues and sceptre themed cake pops.

Both of Steffi’s daughters cycled the ride completely confidently – I remember on the first Kidical Mass ride her youngest did a small part of the route on a balance bike and most of it in their box bike (the rides are a bit too long to just scoot). My three year old son now rides on the tandem with my husband, and he used to sit in a bike seat. One of the real joys of being involved in Kidical Mass has been seeing the kids’ skills and confidence develop, and having new young people join us.

Of course, developing confidence in young riders and community between families are two of the main points of Kidical Mass rides. The third is to try and campaign for improved cycling infrastructure, and for that we need the rides to be visible. The route we used was the same as the one we took last time through the town centre, and many people noticed us. As the back marker (the person at the back of the ride who makes sure no one gets left behind, and tells the leader if they need to slow down) I had several conversations about what we were doing and why. I hope some of you can join us for future rides. Do bring your friends!

Speaking of friends, one local family had invited some friends visiting from Cambridge. After the ride we had a chat about what drives differences in cycling rates between the two cities. Of course cycling infrastructure in Cambridge is well ahead of Reading, and the topography probably helps too (though with an e-bike all hills are possible, even for an unfit middle aged woman hauling two kids. Don’t ask me how I know).

The Cambridge residents mentioned that they thought driver attitudes in Cambridge are probably more cycling friendly too. Cycling is so common there that drivers are used to dealing with us and are often cyclists themselves. There’s a real virtuous circle, the more we can normalise cycling the easier it becomes for new people to join us.

Part of campaigning for better infrastructure means engaging with our councillors, who make the decisions about what to prioritise in Reading. There were local elections on 4th May and we reached out to all those Reading councillors who had been elected/re-elected to invite them to see our ride. Of course they will all have been very busy with their election campaigns and perhaps looking forward to a quiet weekend, but we were delighted that Anne Thompson of the Liberal Democrats came to see us off.

Anne said

It was lovely to see so many children (and adults) heading out on their bikes today. It was a timely reminder to me as a councillor that we need to keep pushing for joined-up cycle routes in Reading. The current provision is nowhere near enough. Safe cycle paths have to be a priority for our town.

We couldn’t agree more.

If you also agree and you would like to come and join us for our next ride, we will be meeting at the same place (the bike racks by Thames Lido) at 12pm on 10th June, to ride to the climate festival in Forbury Gardens. We hope to see you there!

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May 2023 ride

A very nice ride today, with 55 people enjoying a bit of sunshine on this rainy, coronation weekend. Here are some picture with a lot of bikes, and just as many smiles!

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People

The people behind KM — Simon

What is your current family bike setup?

We have two primary “family bikes”. My wife and I share the Tern GSD, a long-tail cargo e-bike which can carry both children and lots of luggage. We also have a tandem which I have adapted to take a child who is pedalling, as well as having a child seat.

Additionally I also have a couple of standard bicycles and we have a collection of various child-sized bicycles.

How does cycling fit into your life?

I started cycling as my main mode of transport aged 16 — I loved the freedom that it gave me, and I still feel that way every time I get on a bike.

As an adult, bicycles have always been my main way of getting around. This is especially true now we’re in Reading, which is such an unpleasant and slow place to drive in. I couldn’t imagine family life any other way.

Why did you get involved in Kidical Mass?

Although my children are currently small, and travel mostly on my bike, this won’t be true for very long. And the time that they will want the freedom to get around by themselves (that I enjoyed as a child in Cambridge) will come very soon.

Reading is a fairly hostile place to cycle until you have quite a lot of experience, and preferably some from the perspective of a driver. I really want to try and drive change such that this is no longer true when my children are teenagers.

Above that, the rides are great fun. The children love the opportunity to ride with other children and on the road, and it is wonderful to meet so many other cyclists from the area.

What is your role in Kidical Mass?

I take primary responsibility for planning the routes that we will cycle in Reading, and I lead the majority of the Reading rides.

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Singing

Kidical Mass Reading Songsheet

If you’re reading this blog you probably agree with me that humanity needs to change how we do transport. Active travel and public transport must replace a large proportion of private car journeys.

If you’re human you probably agree with me that this isn’t going to be an easy task. Kidical Mass Reading campaigns for infrastructure that will help make active travel a more viable option for families in our area.

We also aim to build community with existing cycling families, and to normalise cycling as a mode of transport with the next generation. It is with these latter two goals in mind that we offer you the “Kidical Mass Songsheet”, in which we have rewritten well known nursery rhymes to be all about bikes. We hope you (and your kids) enjoy singing them!

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Kidical Mass Reading First Birthday Ride

🎂

Kidical Mass Reading launched in April 2022. This means that if it were a person it would now be old enough to sit in most child bike seats, even the ones without extra suspension. An exciting milestone to be sure (less importantly it might also be thinking about walking and talking soon, and there’s some walkie talkie news further down this post).

About 35 people gathered at Thames Lido for the ride – despite the fact that many of our “regulars” were away for the holidays. Before setting off we were reminded that the rides aren’t just “cute little fun rides”, they are also a statement that the next generation deserve space to move safely in our cities, and a chance to learn from other cycling families. Not going to lie though, we were also pretty cute and fun – my favourite was the passerby who said wonderingly, “Wow, it’s like a parade!”

🎧

On previous rides we’ve made use of a few helmet communication devices – one on the leader, one on the back marker and one on the ride coordinator who then moved through the ride instructing marshals. My husband Simon, who plans and leads the Reading routes and really loves a gadget, decided it was time for an upgrade. He acquired a large set of walkie talkies and every marshal was armed with one for the ride. It meant that as he approached pinch points he could call for extra marshals up front and they would appear almost immediately (thanks guys, you’re all amazing – special shout out to Nick with his cowbell which was great at grabbing attention and caused many smiles).

This was pretty handy, because it was our most complicated route yet. Kat Heath, our fearless leader, has been clear from the start that she wants the rides to be very visible – they work far better as a campaigning tool that way. However, safety is paramount. It is only now that we are a rather more experienced organising and marshalling team that we felt comfortable leading a ride through the town centre. If that’s not a clear sign that infrastructure needs to change, I don’t know what would be!

🚦

We were grateful to the bus drivers parked on Station Road who were all very polite to the marshals and smiled and waved as the group rode past. We used the bus lane under the railway bridge to swing through to the Caversham side of the station (only possible going North), where I saw two reminders that change is possible in Reading.

The first is the traffic light where I used to have to wait on my bike for a taxi or bus to join me before it went green. I reported it, and it was adjusted so that it can now see me. The second was the station tunnel, which the council has voted to open up to cyclists. We very much look forward to taking a ride through there as soon as it is legal to do so.

🚲

The award for Most Gratifying Kid On The Ride goes to the child who asked at the finish line, “Can we do that again?” We happily told him the date for the next ride (Sunday 7th May, 2pm, meeting by Thames Lido) but it transpired that he actually wanted to go again immediately. Sadly he had to settle for cake and playing with the other children on the nearby grass, but I hope we’ll see him (and you, dear reader) next time.

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April 2023 ride

Today was our 12th ride, and our one year anniversary! Remember when we started it back in April 2022? We do!

We tried a new route today, going through Reading town centre, to add a bit more visibility and fun.
Have a look at the pictures below, and join us for the next one!

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People

The people behind KM — Stefanie

What is your current family bike setup?

We have two adult bikes that my husband and I share: his regular bike and an Urban Arrow family cargo bike. Our daughters (4 and 6) both have bikes with pedals.

We also own a trailer and a bike seat although we use both very rarely these days and prefer the cargo bike.

We have a special pannier bag on the cargo bike that allows us to attach kids bikes if they get tired, increasing the range for all-family cycling trips.

How does cycling fit into your life?

Years ago, when I started university, I didn’t like cycling much, rather preferred my inline skates. During my time at the university I gradually used the bike more and more, to the point when I used it for almost everything in my daily life.

Once I actually got frustrated with my husband when he recommended I should not cycle any more on the icy roads using my half-broken bike at the time, while being pregnant with our second child and towing a toddler in the trailer. (Retrospectively I absolutely see his point but back then, it felt like he was taking away my freedom).

Long story short, since then we moved to the UK and I needed to look for a new bike. At the beginning of the first COVID lockdown, we decided to buy a cargo bike. At that point it felt like we got our freedom back. We were able to go on cycle tours and with very few cars on the road, we felt safe even on lengthy cycling tours on country roads.

We now use the bike every day for school runs. It’s nice being able to pass all the cars waiting in traffic – making the commute time a lot more predictable in the morning.

Why did you get involved in Kidical Mass?

Since lockdowns ended, we could see a steady increase in car traffic and felt less and less safe on the roads. Our kids would love to cycle themselves to school more often. But having them this close to heavy traffic is a stress factor for me, in particular along the horrendous Shinfield Road.

We learned about Kidical Mass from friends who organised the first Reading Ride. Thanks to our great marshals, I can relax and enjoy a bike ride together.

What is your role in Kidical Mass?

I have since joined the organiser team as the regular baker, making sure the kids (and adults) have a little treat at the end.

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The people behind KM — Hilary

What is your current family bike setup?

We have a Tern GSD, an electric long tail cargo bike which can carry both of our kids (aged 6 and 3). This is mostly my bike.

My husband has his single bike (with one child seat) and a tandem. The tandem is set up for a child stoker and has a child seat on the back, so he can carry both kids on that.

The 6 year old has a bike with pedals and gears now, and the 3 year old still rides a balance bike.

How does cycling fit into your life?

We don’t run a car, though we do have co wheels car club membership for longer distance weekend trips where train logistics don’t work. So we use our bikes for pretty much everything on a day to day basis – school runs, music classes, trips out to Henley/Beale Park/Bracknell etc.

For logistics the children are mostly on our bikes as there usually isn’t provision for them to ride their own bikes safely on the roads, but they both enjoy stoking the tandem when they get the chance, and riding along the river to the local park.

Why did you get involved in Kidical Mass?

We got involved in Kidical Mass because we intend to carry on doing our family logistics by bike, and by the time the kids are mature enough to go places on their own we don’t want them to be limited by the quality of the cycling infrastructure. It’s been easy to stay involved because our kids really love the rides and look forward to them each month!

What is your role in Kidical Mass?

Ride write ups, back marking and (very) occasional marshal