I first started cycling in Sheffield six years ago after a break of 13 years. I’d always been too scared to cycle in London, but Sheffield didn’t seem quite so bad…
Anyway, I did a bit of research before buying a bike and all the advice I could find at the time seemed to be saying “don’t worry about cycling in Sheffield, modern mountain bikes with lot’s of gears make it much easier to get up hills” - or something along those lines.
So I got my bike and quite frankly was out of breath before I even got to the end of the street. As for all those gears, well even with 21 of the things I struggled up the slightest hill. Still, I didn’t give up and managed to survive being saddle sore, do a 5 mile round trip (with quite a bit of pushing) once a week for several months and finally started to at least manage some moderate hills. I even managed to ride whilst pregnant, but the bump began to get in the way and I had to stop.
A two year break from cycling ensued, until I got fed up with the unreliability of the buses and started again. This time it was easier, but I still got saddle sore and the problems of the mountain bike were beginning to grate. With no mudguards I got spattered even when it wasn’t raining. The chunky tyres seemed to make progress slow when it was dry. With no luggage rack I had to carry a rucksack, which was hard on the shoulders (and made my back all sweaty - yuk). The crouching position was hard on the wrists. The list went on…
So I thought surely there has to be a better way. I remembered the bikes I had as a child. Luggage racks you could put your stuff in, a stand so your bike didn’t fall over, mudgards so you didn’t get sprayed, chain guards so you could ride around in flares, bells, bicycle pumps - all fitted to the bike and not a long shopping list of extras. They were heavy, with no gears, but I seem to remember I got up hills on them. Then there was the riding position. None of this crouching over the handle bars nonsense, that didn’t come until I got my first racer, which was faster, but that can’t have had anything to do with the gears or riding position, as I use to ride as upright as I could and didn’t dare change gears for the first year.
Being pregnant again highlighted these problems even more. I bought an adjustable handlebar and lowered my seat to try and give the bump more room and a bargain bike trailer off ebay to tow my daughter. By this time I had discovered various websites about Dutch bikes, everyday workhorses with all those bits and pieces that my childhood bikes had and more. They extolled the benefits of the upright laid back riding position and getting from A to B in style. But, I couldn’t afford one so I had to make do with the increasingly irritating mountain bike.
I lasted a little bit longer with the slightly improved riding position, but the bump took over again and I had another break form cycling. With two small children, the logistics of trying to hitch up a trailer for the school run was too time consuming, so I abandoned that idea and just used it as a double buggy. However, I still had the problem of transporting two small children.
I toyed briefly with the idea of a Christiana Trike, but it would’ve had the same unweildiness and storage problems as the trailer. Then I discovered “MammaFiets”, or “Mummy Bikes”. Most Dutch bikes can cope with two children, one on front and one behind, but these bikes had been specially designed to make the job a bit easier. More stable, heavy duty stand, larger handle bars to accommodate the front seat etc.
In the meantime, I managed to get some secondhand bobike child seats to attach to the mountain bike. The rear seat was fine, although getting on and off the bike was rather tricky, but the front seat won’t attach to a mountain bike without a special adapter. So I ordered the adapter, fitted it to my bike only to find it was unusable as the seat clashed with the front forks and made it impossible to steer! On my partners bike the adapter wouldn’t even fit around the frame.
Getting a new bike was looking inevitable, but could I really justify the expense when I had a perfectly useable (well sort of) bike already. At this point fate intervened and I ended up changing jobs, so I didn’t need to commute by train anymore, so I saved up the money I wasn’t spending in train fare and finally got my new bike.