Tackling the School Run

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.

setting off to school

Cycle chic, North London style

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.

bike to school 3

“Mummy, you’re not pushing!”

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.

bike to school 2

Safe and inviting?

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.

empty bike shed

At least you don’t have to worry about parking

It’s still worth fighting for all the same.

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14 Responses to Tackling the School Run

  1. Would’ve been a whole lot easier if you’d thought to take your Brompton with you from Scotchland.

  2. disgruntled says:

    I know! I shall never leave home without it now

  3. What a great introduction to the school run – such a pity there are not more children enjoying it.
    We too have been caught out by cold fingers this week – autumn definately here at 8am in the morning.

  4. disgruntled says:

    I always carry a pair of gloves – never risk getting on a bike without them!

    • It’s got to that time of year hasn’t it! As always, it’s a struggle to find a pair of warm, waterproof gloves for the little one who sits in a front seat. Battled with a pair of kids sized gloves this morning, but just made him look like a clown!!

  5. Bob says:

    While I applaud you’re valiant attempt at making this excursion as entertaining as possible considering the time of day and temperature, I’m afraid the overwhelming sadness of the whole thing does tend to spoil the whole tone.
    In that second picture, I see a wasted boulevard (that useless grassy bit next to the carriageway) that could very easily be transmogrified into an acceptable bike lane. Of course, that would take some vision on the part of the local council. They have no clue.
    Keep trying, and good luck.

  6. Luv 2 Cycle says:

    I agree with Bob. Whilst I loved reading the post and found it terrific the little ones were actually cycling to school, I also found it so sad, that what should be simple, normal behaviour warrants a blog post.

    I am in no doubt though that one day in this country all children will be able to ride safely to school and it will become the norm for the majority of children to do so.

    The government, councils and vehicular cyclists are all fighting against real infrastructure but it will eventually come. They are fighting a battle they can’t possibly win. Society can’t take the dominance of the car for much longer.

    Up the revolution, lol.

  7. AuPair says:

    I’m currently au pairing in Germany and all the kids here ride to school every day. I wonder if they will keep on doing so once winter gets here.

    Props to you for trying it out. 🙂

  8. disgruntled says:

    It was the thought of these two getting to school that spurred my involvement with the Cycling Embassy. It just shouldn’t have to be a great adventure …

  9. The route to school on your photos doesn’t exactly look inviting and I wonder what the scene is like outside the school gate at school run time. Also in North London, we are starting a campaign calling for a safe route that links 6 schools and parks or playgrounds in our local area.

    You might be interested in our campaign page. http://www.facebook.com/TufnellParkCyclesToSchool

  10. babymother says:

    I’ve finally read this post starring my daughters… with the road playing the part of the villain, boo, hiss…and I am proud to say that since that decisive Wednesday school run we haven’t got in the car once to go to school. We did scooters on Thursday and on foot subsequently – as the younger one cycles at walking pace anyway it made no difference to the time. I can’t always use bikes to get there because some days of the week I’m forced to use the car to take the girls (and other kids at times) onto after school activities, and we can’t easily throw the bikes in the boot. BUT I feel incredibly pleased not to be pumping out petrol fumes every morning, and the extra exercise has been really invigorating. I know the next step is to get in touch with cycle campaigners in this borough, Enfield, and approach the council about making cycling to school a normal undertaking rather than a revolutionary statement. (Possible it may be, on the pavements at least – inviting it ain’t.) I noticed that day, that as the school cycle shed filled up, apart from our two bikes, it was all scooters. Thanks Tufnell Park – I will check it out!

  11. disgruntled says:

    Hurrah!

    I’d just like to add as a postscript that I have got your cold … which serves me right I suppose

  12. […] mobile phone  (it’s still hanging in there though) and did my first, and possibly last ever school run – oh, and became a community councillor (with special responsibilities for delinquent […]

  13. […] to its ancestral home. The reason for bringing the Brompton is to help Babymother revive the bike-borne school run, as apparently this needs a Cycling Aunt, presumably of the Wodehousian variety. Obviously that […]

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