The View from the Tank - a non-cycling mum writes

Ahem. May I besmirch the pages of this blog? Just for a minute? I know, I know, I shouldn’t really be here, I don’t have the credentials, because the fact is (pauses, and lowers voice) I don’t ride a bike that often.

[img_assist|nid=2157|title=Riding with Mum|desc=|link=url|url=|align=right|width=240|height=161]Before you kick me off in disgust (or worse, stop reading) let me explain – I really want to cycle more, and I think what the Cycling Embassy is doing is fantastic, and in my head, I cycle everywhere, all the time. I do all my errands on the bike in my head, even when it’s raining, and especially when I’m going downhill. Unfortunately, I’m actually doing them in a tank-sized Volkswagon, with two small people strapped in the back. I am what your last blogger called the hardest demographic to persuade to cycle.

When I was childless and carefree, I did almost as much cycling as driving, nipping through the local parks on my bike to visit the tenants of the housing association I worked for. When I was the mother of one, I either walked, or strapped the one in a babyseat on the back of my bike and wobbled up quite a significant hill to take her to nursery. Not every time, admittedly, but at least half the time, and well into my second pregnancy.

Since the end of said pregnancy, four years ago, I’ve admitted defeat. School is 1.7 miles away up a hill. We went without the car once – it took a whopping 45 minutes. If you’ve seen our household on a school morning, you’ll know that we just don’t have 45 minutes to spare (current journey time is 15). Not only that, but on our experimental trek to school (wisely undertaken on a Saturday) the four year old was on her bike and I had to push her the whole way. Up the hill. (Come to think of it, that was the day before I did my back in.)

[img_assist|nid=2158|title=School run as it should be|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=240|height=180]The eight year old is good at cycling uphill. What I’d like to do is buy a tag-along for the four-year-old, then we can whizz along with ease, probably cutting our travelling time in half. The problem is, I’ve done this several times in my head, from the safety of the inside of the tank, and I have my doubts. I wouldn’t feel very safe cycling on the pavement with the tag-along – I don’t think pedestrians would either. But if I cycled on the road, apart from being nervous myself, I’d be separated from my rather nervous eight-year-old on the pavement by a row of parked cars, which she wouldn’t like, and how would I help her across the intersections? and no I do not want her to cycle on the road with me here in London. My imaginary cycling is therefore quite a painful exercise, and I continue to chug along in the tank, feeling like a stupid, unfit eco-terrorist.

So when I saw the video posted by my cycle ambassador sister, Sally, from her visit to Assen, it nearly made me weep. Apparently in this Dutch town the school run is undertaken entirely by bike. Parents’ bikes with babies on board, kids sharing parents’ bikes, kids cycling alone, kids cycling with parents alongside, sometimes giving them a helpful hand on the back, on a cycle path wide enough to be an airport runway. Well, if that cycle path ran past my house, we would be on it, hill or no hill. The fear of traffic would be gone; we could cycle together; I could provide a helpful parental hand if the older one flagged; we’d be all fit and athletic and I could leave the tank rusting on the street somewhere.

Yes, what I’d really like is the cycle path. Can you please arrange that for me? If you’re organising a demonstration in my neck of the woods, just tell me which bit of road to lie on and I’ll do it. In the meantime I may nervously try the tag-along solution, and come back here to report in due course, if I am spared. But I’d prefer the cycle path. Also, perhaps you could put a word in with the council about levelling that hill?


Chocrogers also blogs at Babymother once in a blue moon…


Great stuff. Great post. It’s exactly what we need to do! To reach out to the not-yet cycling community to really understand what’s going down (remember the findings of Understanding Walking and Cycling…).

We sometimes joke at the Newcastle Cycling Campaign to rename ourselves to Not-Yet-Cycling Campaign or Cycleways Movement. As all cycle campaigners know, they are asking for much bigger things to be sorted in our society… fairly-apportioned public space for safe and inclusive use by Everyone.

Yes, those cycleways can be arranged! But… there’s a hitch: only with YOUR help. EVERYONE’s help.

but how do we form a movement of the ‘not-yet cycling’ ?

AKA TownMouse