For the last couple of days I’ve been staying with Babymother who, finding herself related to a non-award-winning (but almost…) cycle campaigner, felt compelled this morning to finally tackle the school run on two wheels.
She’s written eloquently before why she’s never cycled to school with her kids – not just the fact that the school is on top of a hill (and this is North London which, unlike the malarial swamplands of South London isn’t all that flat) and the fact that last time she attempted it she had to push the youngest all the way, but because it just doesn’t look all that safe to cycle. It’s not that they don’t cycle, but they cycle in parks and (mostly) along the pavement – it wasn’t until they came up to visit us here that either of them really experienced cycling on an actual road, if you can call them that around us. My sister has even got a tagalong, although she hasn’t yet managed to use it. Today, we decided to do a mixture of on foot and two wheels, with me and my sister walking and the girls pedalling, at least in theory. We also decided to allow a whole hour just in case of disaster, so come 8 am this morning with tyres pumped and book bags assembled and last minute forgotten things remembered we set off in the sunshine on a perfect crisp September morning.
Possibly a bit too crisp, as the first thing that happened was the girls realised that cycling without gloves makes your hands really really cold. I had a pair in my pocket for the eldest but the youngest had to make do with wearing my sister’s fleece and pulling the sleeves right down over her hands which she accessorised with a tragic expression. She also basically went on strike at that point and refused to pedal at all, which may put the kibosh on the whole ‘active travel’ thing although my sister did at least get a reasonable workout. I hope she knows a decent chiropractor…
The oldest, on the other hand, was absolutely fine. She was cycling on the pavement, of course, because there was no way she could handle the roads, not without a couple of escorts fore and aft. This is school run time, after all, and the traffic was heavy and drivers distracted, there were parked cars along most of the length of the road which would have meant weaving in and out of the traffic. But she zipped up the hill without much problem despite having to stop at every side road for me to catch up and cross with her. Nobody seemed to mind her being on the pavement despite her rather questionable steering and somewhat cavalier approach to ringing her bell. The only time a driver honked was when a car had stopped at the zebra for us, to let us know we could cross.
It still wasn’t exactly inviting for cycling. Although there is loose talk of forming a peleton of local mums and kids to tackle it together, you really shouldn’t have to be that organised just to get to school – it’s not exactly the sort of carefree, no brainer, joyful way to travel that it ought to be. It certainly shouldn’t be the sort of thing that has people say ‘oh well done you’ to you in the half-admiring half-bemused way that is reserved for impressive but slightly crack-brained acheivements, like pushing a peanut up Everest with your nose. But at least it was a start and I look forward to hearing how they get on for the rest of the term. One day, maybe, that impressive-looking bike shed will have more than a couple of bikes in it on a sunny September morning. One day, maybe, there will be a proper bike track all the way for them to use. Just probably not before they’ve started secondary school, or even got primary-school age kids of their own.
It’s still worth fighting for all the same.