Apparently, there’s something to do with bikes on at the weekend
At the weekend we decided to go for a “family bike ride”. That thing that other people think we do all the time, because they see us riding bikes. Most of the time in our house, a “family bike ride” is the school run or a trip to the shops, going on a “bike ride” is something we rarely have time to do.
We went to try out the Monsal Trail and thought we’d cycle from Thornbridge to the L’Eroica Festival, which I’d estimated as a 6 mile round trip and just about doable by a 6 year old. The trail is Derbyshire’s flag ship cycle route, hailed as ideal for family cycling and indeed there were plenty of families out cycling on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Almost all on mountain bikes, helmeted and nearly half with wrap around glasses on!
The Monsal Trail is depressing on many levels. It is yet another railway line that was victim to this country’s short sighted transport policy that means rural areas are almost entirely car dependent. The “redundant” railway line has now been converted to “leisure use”, meaning it is shared use path and full of dog walkers and no-one keeps vegetation under control. It’s clearly not considered as a route that could replace any form of vehicular travel. This is reinforced by the poor quality surface that has been put down - a half hearted attempt at compacted gravel. In some areas ok ish, but in many areas large pieces of loose stone making it down right dangerous.
After a brief glimpse of it a few weeks ago in torrential rain (full of puddles) I realised it certainly wasn’t going to be Brompton friendly, so I took my vintage Raleigh Roadster, thinking that the roadster, designed for rubbish roads and perfectly capable of handling Sheffield’s potholes, would be fine. I was wrong. The Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tyres were skating all over in the gravel and far from being a nice relaxing ride, most of the time I had to keep all my concentration on my steering. (I certainly wasn’t going to risk taking photos)
That was bad enough, but the dust, after a few days without rain, was terrible. The bikes were covered in it, we were covered in it and I realised the wrap around glasses would’ve been handy the amount of grit that kept flying in my eyes. I was glad I was wearing soft contact lenses, with gas permeable ones I wouldn’t have been able to see a thing!
Another thing Derbyshire have skimped on is the signage, which is also poor and hard to see. We ended up adding an extra 2 miles to the trip because of it, which was a bit much for the 6 year old, who really struggled with the last mile back to the car.
The final straw was the end of the route, just outside Bakewell, which ends with cyclist dismount signs because the path becomes to steep. And by steep I mean ridiculously steep. Going downhill was bad enough, but uphill was something else. Youngest daughter could barely walk up it without her bike. Eldest daughter kept sliding backwards pushing her bike up it and I was really struggling. Hardly what you call accessible! The crazy thing was there was loads of room to make a gently sloping ramp, but no, yet more cost cutting and lazy planning.
For me the trip really summed up how poor all cycle provision is in this country and how we are constantly being fobbed off with substandard rubbish. And as if to ram the point home, I got back to see this photo in my twitter feed:
photo by @amsterdamized http://instagram.com/p/pjZwUapzTk/
It just makes me want to cry!
On Saturday, the girls and I attended the family day at the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, there was a “Bike Curious” event for people to see different child transport options, bicycle decoration crafts for children. This was followed by a “Kiddicalmass” family cycle around the Meadows. In the evening there was the first Women’s Cycle Forum.
It all started innocently enough, I received an email from Sally Hinchcliffe saying she was organising the Women’s Cycle Forum with Suzanne Forup as they both were sick of how poorly women were represented at cycle events and discussions. They needed women, please could I come?
Well, how could I refuse. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite that straight forward. Train fare to Edinburgh, even with a family railcard wasn’t cheap (approx £120) and the trains didn’t run late enough to make a day trip. This meant and overnight stay would be required. Accommodation prices in Scotland’s capital are eye-watering even compared to London, so that wasn’t an option either. In the end I arranged to stay with my brother in Glasgow and babysit for them on Friday night as compensation for the bed and board! This meant that the train was even less of an option as it was 3 trains just to get to their house and then another 2 trains from there to Edinburgh. So car it had to be. I chucked the brompton in the boot and put the girls bikes on the bike rack. I did manage to persuade my son to take his bike, but it had a silly octagonal tube which was way too big for the bike rack clamp, so it wouldn’t fit on the rack and we had to leave it behind.
So after a Friday bedtime resembling something out of the Walton’s (but less disciplined) six kids were finally off to sleep by 9.30 and the teenager dispatched at midnight. Like clockwork the kids were up at 7am on Saturday morning and we were ready to go at 9.30. Except we weren’t, because the girls couldn’t find their loom bands. A frantic tidy up later, we found them and set off!
We arrived in Edinburgh at about quarter past 11, a little later than we should have due to a detour via an extra junction on the ring road. The 9 year old’s navigation skills need a bit of working on. We unloaded the bikes and set off through the back streets of Edinburgh. The girls were very impressed that there was cake and I was glad of the cup of tea after the drive! The bike decorating immediately caught the girls eye and they were in their element cutting up felt and ribbons. The coloured duck tape spoke sails proved quite tricky to do on small wheels and I was roped in to help with that.
Then it was time for the family bike ride. There were quite a lot of very young kids and their abilities were quite variable, there were a few falls, but everyone was ok. It seemed to cause quite a stir in the Meadows and lots of people asked what was going on. There were a few envious looks from other kids as we cycled by. Youngest daughter (6) complained it was too easy, but we had plenty more cycling to do that day, so it was probably just as well.
After the bike ride, the girls had a snack while I chatted to some of the organisers. Eldest daughter, after riding my Brompton around then had a go on Sally’s, which she decided she preferred as the handlebars were lower. She didn’t want to give it back! Eldest daughter and I also had a ride on Sarah Dorman’s tandem. I much preferred being on the front of a tandem rather than last time I’d had a go on one sat at the rear. Eldest daughter, like me, didn’t like not being able to steer, but we managed ok and we didn’t have any wobbles.
We were off to the castle for the afternoon and Sarah Dorman kindly offered to cycle with us into the city centre to show us the way. Part of the way was through the Meadows and then along a nice segregated bike path with a Copenhagen style bike counter. The path was on a fair hill and youngest daughter was struggling a little, the bike counter came in handy as a motivator to get her up the hill! We were cyclist numbers 656 and 657 that day. The next bit was a little more hairy as the path ended and then required a couple of crossings before dumping you into the traffic on a painted cycle lane. Sarah cycled on the outside of eldest daughter and I on the outside of youngest daughter. The cycle lane of course wasn’t wide enough for this, but the traffic was patient with us and no-one beeped. On a Saturday afternoon the traffic wasn’t too bad, but it was probably the busiest road the 6 year old had cycled so far.
We chained up the bikes on the main road, before headed off on foot up the hill to the Castle. The weather forecast had been for rain, but it turned out to be glorious sunshine so we were lugging coats around for nothing. The girls had a great time at the castle and after reluctantly paying for them to have a kids audio guide to share (convinced they would immediately bore of it) they both really enjoyed it.
After topping them up with food (and more cake and sweets) for the cycle ahead, we collected the bikes and set off for the venue. Unfortunately, the only route there was particularly cycle unfriendly (over the bridge past the station and then a major road past the shopping centre) not a route I’d be that confident about cycling on my own. So the girls cycled down the pavement and I walked until the pedestrian flow quieted. It was just started to drizzle when we arrived at the Ukrainian club, so our timing was perfect to get inside.
I got the girls settled at a table with the loom bands and to get a drink of juice. The turnout for the evening was very high and the room was full and although the title of the event was the “Women’s Cycle Forum”, it wasn’t a women only event and there were quite a few men in attendance, including Kim Harding, the organiser of the festival. The format for the evening was quite loose, the panelists each introduced themselves and talked a bit about what they did. Others have covered this bit quite well in their reports, so I won’t repeat here. The highlight of the evening was Sue Abbot’s talk about getting arrested for not wearing a helmet in Australia and here court battles. Sue was charming and entertaining and certainly caught both my daughters attention. Apologies to the other speakers, but both of them admitted they hadn’t been listening up to that point and were getting bored.
After the introductions we were asked to circulate and to then choose a speakers table to have a discussion. I went to say introduce myself to Sue and have a chat, only to discover, while I’d been talking, both girls had decided they wanted they wanted to sit a her table! As someone else commented, everyone was so enthusiastic and eager to talk that we forgot about introductions. We really should have done name badges. We all talked about our experiences of wearing helmets or not, non cyclists attitudes towards helmets, societal pressures and press attitudes. Both girls thought the whole debate was crazy. “Why do people need helmets?” and eldest daughter drew a “no helmets” sign on the tablecloth. We discussed how to change attitudes and decided that challenging people and explaining was the only way forward to try to frame the debate towards personal choice.
We had a break for food and I got chance to have a quick chat with Kim and say hello to a few other people who’s names I’ve forgotten now. It was getting late by now and the event had over run. Eldest daughter had fallen asleep. There was a quick summing up from each table and a suggestion that people carry on discussing after. At that point we really couldn’t stay any longer, so I gathered our things up the girls of course left some of their souvenirs behind (thanks to Sally for rescuing them and putting them in the post) and just had time to pose for a quick photo for Kim for the Edinburgh Cycle Chic blog before heading off back. After some discussion with Kim about what route to take to get back to the car, a very kind lady (apologies as I can’t remember her name) said she was cycling back to the school we had been at in the morning and offered to guide us back. I am very grateful that she did as I’m pretty sure I would have missed the turning off the cycle path with the cut through up the hill. The drizzle started up again on the way back, which briefly turned to heavy rain, so I did actually need my coat in the end. Eldest daughter after her nap had perked up, but youngest daughter was really struggling when we got to the hill. She did manage to push her bike up it very slowly and we eventually made it back to the car.
Edit: Here is Sarah Dorman’s blog post about cycling the route up to the castle - as you can see it’s hardly child friendly cycle infrastructure, something transport planners really don’t seem to get
This time we managed to take the right route out of the city (almost). The tyre pressure warning had just flashed up on the dashboard so I had to find a petrol station to inflate the tyres. It was only when we stopped I realised we had missed the turning. Luckily this time we only went a few hundred yards out of our way. The girls fell asleep as soon as I hit the motorway and I managed to get back to Glasgow for 11pm and finally get a glass of wine!
Apparently we can’t afford to build cycle infrastructure like this in Britain.
Segregated cycle lane in Morocco.
Possibly the most adorable child’s bike in the world!
From Alpina a 12in cargo bike
We recently had to buy my eldest daughter a new bike as she’d grown out of her old one and didn’t have one to inherit from her older brother. This is the 5th child’s bike we have bought so we are getting more and more fussy about what we are looking for.
The first child’s bike we bought was my son’s first bike. We went to the local bike shop and bought a 16in Raleigh, because that’s what our parents did and probably almost everyone of our generation had a Raleigh. Unfortunately, Raleigh had just moved all their operations out to the far east and the quality of the bicycle left a lot to be desired, the reflectors all fell off and the pedals fell apart after the month. Although it was a much better piece of kit than most bicycle shaped objects found in supermarkets and big shed stores.
Its main downside was it was heavy and the brakes were too stiff for small hands. There were no mudguards, no stand, no rack, a feeble chain guard and the crossbar was high. So nothing like the Raleigh first bike I had. We weren’t impressed.
After that ironically my son’s 2nd bike was also a Raleigh. It was on sale was his dad’s excuse even though we’d both agreed ti buy something better. A BMX was chosen to appease my son’s desire for a “cool” bike and to avoid the ridiculous fake “full suspension” kids mountain bikes with a gizillion gears that are mostly the same and zap all your effort. My younger brother had a BMX and managed to cycle 26 miles through the Pennines on it, so I knew a single gear would be fine in Sheffield. The Raleigh BMX, unlike the starter bike, was reasonably light. The quality of some of the components was questionable, but it lasted a couple of years.
My eldest daughter was much smaller than my son and was ready for a first bike at 4, rather than 5 do we needed a 14in bike for her. By this time we were aware how important a light bike is at this age and after reading lots of reviews opted for the Ridgeback Honey. For the money it has been a brilliant bike. It has lasted regular (almost daily use) for several years for both my daughters and had now been passed down to my niece.
My main gripes with the bike are the lack of mudguards, as regular use means in the rain and through the mud, which resulted in a lot of dirty clothes! I couldn’t find any mudguards small enough to fit, so I eventually solved the problem by fitting a baby(doll) seat, which stopped all the spray up the back.
The other down side was the brakes. No matter what we did to adjust them, neither daughter could use them properly, especially in winter. The regular cries of “I can’t stop, my hands are too cold” or “I can’t stop, I can ‘t grip with my gloves on” are worrying enough. And if that wasn’t bad enough, having to replace shoes because they’ve worn through before they’re grown out of is expensive.
After this experience, the most important criteria for eldest daughter’s next bike was a back pedal brake!
My daughter had also a non negotiable and the bike had to be blue!
We looked at Isla Bikes, great reviews but:
I didn’t like the lack of back pedal brake and the deraileur gears.
My daughter didn’t like the colours.
Her dad didn’t like the price and the fact the country of manufacture wasn’t clear.
So we bought a 20in Puky Crusader.
The tiny Puky balance bike had been a big hit with my youngest daughter. It was made in Germany, the quality was great and it seemed indestructible! The Crusader appeared to offer the same made in Germany quality and everything you would want on a bike was included in the price:
Hub dynamo powering front & rear lights with stand light
3 speed SRAM hub gear
Back pedal brakes plus front and rear V-brakes
It also had height adjustable handlebars as well as seat and had more growing room than normal.
All this was cheaper than a lower spec Islabike and crucially it was blue.
The Puky has had some minor niggles. The Busch and Muller front light was rubbish plastic and the bracket broke after a couple of months. We replaced it with a higher spec metal one which has been fine.
The chainguard was also plastic and not robust enough to take the abuse of daily use and being bashed in the playground and fell apart. We had to remove it as it kept catching the chain and knocking it off. I’ve yet to find a replacement the right size.
So, onto the most recent bicycle purchase. Eldest daughter hadn’t actually grown out of the Puky Crusader even though she’d had it over 3 years, but youngest daughter had grown out of the Ridgeback Honey. We debated getting her a new bike, it really was her turn, but it seemed silly having two bikes the same size, so we decided she should inherit the Crusader and eldest daughter get a new bike.
So we looked again at Isla bikes:
Eldest daughter still didn’t like the colours. Her dad still thought they were overpriced and they still didn’t do hub gears or back pedal brakes.
We came close to buying a 24in Puky Crusader, but eldest daughter wasn’t too keen on the blue as it was much darker than her old bike. Her dad was less convinced by the quality after the issues we’d had with the other one and there was a big price jump from the 20in to the 24in.
This time we decided to go Dutch. Unfortunately Gazelle seemed to have discontinued their children’s range and Batavus didn’t do any blue bikes in her size. So we bought an Alpina Girl Power.
As far as my daughter was concerned it was the perfect shade of blue and didn’t have any flowers on it! I was a bit worried by the “Girl Power” logo, but managed to convince her that it just meant powered by a girl. Amazingly she didn’t object to the step through frame.
Cheaper than the equivalent Isla and Puky bikes even after shipping from Holland, it has:
3 speed Shimano hub
Built in rear wheel lock.
Fully enclosed chaincase
Back pedal brake plus front and rear V-brakes
It doesn’t have a hub dynamo, but the battery powered LED lights are built in.
A substantial rear rack with 3 bungee cords
After 6 months of regular use it seems to be holding up fine. It is, like most Dutch bikes, heavy, but it seems substantial. Eldest daughter hasn’t had any problems pedalling uphill. Crucially her friends think her bike is “cool” and possibly even “epic”!