[ Shared by Bike Lights in the Fruit Bowl]
Cycling has been relatively high profile in the media of late, and not for all the right reasons. The Cities fit for Cycling campaign (run by The Times newspaper) and the unfortunate injuries of both Bradley Wiggins (the winner of this year’s Tour de France and more) and his coach, Shane Sutton, in separate collisions with motor vehicles whilst cycling this week both remind us of the dangers of cycling. Queue reports of cycle campaigners worrying this will cause strife for the nation’s love affair with cycling, before it has chance to start going steady.
It seemed like a good time to share my experiences of cycling with a toddler in tow, in particular our regular commute. I also managed a short ride with little M today for the first time in ages (whilst Martin babysat during the biggest nap little L has had for months – jammy or what!) which reminded me of how much I love cycling, especially nipping about the city. Given the title of my blog there has been a bit of a dearth of cycling posts!
We bought our bike seat when little M was ten or eleven months old, in time for us to have a bit of practice before I went back to work after maternity leave and we started to rely on using it as part of our commute. We use a Hamax bike seat that goes on the back of our bikes (ours is in the far left in the picture above). We chose a rear mounted seat because, knowing her temperament, I had a feeling little M would be too distracting sitting in front of me. Your child may be less likely to stick her fingers up your nose, fiddle with your hair, chat incessently and demand you look at everything she does. Plenty of people get on well with a seat mounted in front of the adult rider but it wasn’t for us. Even on quiet roads, which we generally use, it’s best to have all your whits about you when cycling in London.
We chose this particular seat mainly because of Martin’s peculiar aversion to pannier racks (and mud guards for that matter?!?) – it fits on a small bracket that fixes onto the pole below the seat post (sorry bike-geeks – don’t know the proper name for it!) so no need for a rack. To be fair it’s quick release mechanism has worked a treat for us. We each have a bracket on our bikes and we swap the seat easilly between the two bikes as needed. Generally one of us would drop little M off at her nursery, which is quite near to our home, and then cycle onto work leaving the bike seat in the nursery’s buggy store. Then the other one of us would pick her up in the evening, pop the seat into its bracket and carry on home. It works a treat. And little M always loved it.
And where did you put your stuff…what did you do when it rained…and didn’t you stink when you got to work? I hear you say. Well I’m getting to that! I often carry a laptop for working at home or meetings. I have a basket on the front of my bike for this and whatever else I need. I don’t generally carry lots of other stuff, just a waterproof and some lunch. My commute is only about 20mins and mostly downhill so, at my pace, I don’t get into much of a lather on my way to work (although there are showers there should I feel the need). Martin always used a small rucksack for his gear (usually just a change of clothes), which little M never seemed to have a problem with. When it rains, unless it’s reeeally bad we kept on cycling. The rain cover we bought that was specially designed for the bike seat was rubbish. An all-in-one waterproof for little M worked much better – she stayed dry whilst we faffed with the bike seat straps which we always had to do outside because taking a bike loaden with a toddler up or down the steps into our flats just isn’t possible.
I think commuting by bike is the brilliant. And being able to carrying on doing so when little M arrived made our lives so much easier. When I felt it was time to stop cycling a few months before I had little L, our commute and nursery run seemed to turn into one endless kerfuffle. I had to make arrangements to leave work much earlier as the bus journey took longer and, more significantly, was much less reliable. Nursery pick-up time is not negotiable! With me using a pushchair to transport little M and Martin using a bike things got very complicated. We had to switch to a system where one of us did both pick-up and drop-off on the same day, alternating the days we were on nursery duty. Which was fine until one of us needed to work late, or get to work for an early meeting on a day when we were due to do the drop-off. We really missed our stress free, flexible system!
No matter how much I love cycling, I would never say that safety isn’t an issue. Some of the publicity in recent days has highlighted accident rates. A really signficant insight for anyone considering cycling in cities (with or without children) is that far, far fewer cyclists die in collisions with vehicles on minor urban roads than die on major rural ones. Good news for urban cycling commuters who know their backstreets well. And how do you find yourself a quiet commute? Get yourself some of the brilliant, free, cycling maps produced by Transport for London (and many other councils outside of London too). These maps show official cycle routes AND routes through less busy streets and greenspaces. They help you avoid emerging, unexpectedly onto a snarled up nightmare, make it easier to side-step nasty junctions, and generally introduce you to the nicer side of London – I’ve found some beautiful backstreets following these maps. In my view these types of maps are essential, and given the accident statistics probably save lives. It would be nice if cyclists could safely cycle on every road but we’re definitely not at that point yet!
What works for us might not be the best set up for you. There are all sorts of options available now for getting your family and stuff around by bike and more appearing all the time. The Donkey Bike, a British designed load carrying bike came to my attention this week. It’s designed for carrying stuff, rather than kids, in urban areas. Looks great and has a sensible price tag! I’m sure it can’t be long before it gets adapted to carry children too.
I need to start doing some proper research about what set up would work for our family now that we are four. I’ve spotted a couple of options already whilst out and about (see the pictures below). One of the main challenges we face is lack of storage space. We’re bursting at the seams with 7 bikes stored in our shared hallway already. Wouldn’t it be great if there were secure on street parking facilities for bikes? I reckon you’d get about half a dozen bikes (if not more) in your average car parking space – to me that means the maths work!