Monday, 16 May 2016

Cycling With Children, Part II: A Few Practicalities

If you're reading this it probably means that you read my previous blog 'Cycling With Children, Part I: The Concept' and thought, "Why not?" I hope so. If so, well done! Setting aside the dark considerations of sweat, aching legs and squealing children you are contemplating taking a leap into the saddle and carrying the kids along for the ride. Welcome; years of fun await you.

But before you start along the road to hitting the highway (to mix a coupla metaphors) there are a few essential pre-requisites. To start with, how are you actually going to transport self and child(ren)? You can't do it on your Mum's old boneshaker with the kid tied onto the luggage rack or sat in the front basket. You need a few other bits.

Bit #1
A bike. Obviously. Personal preference is key here but personally I think that something chunkier is better. Imagine having a razor-wheeled road bike loaded down with a child's bike trailer. It'd be a bit like buying a Ferrari to tow your caravan or Chris Froome having to carry along his own spare parts.

Bit #2
A child seat.
Your child will love using a bike seat...
This is the first option. A single child seat can be mounted behind the rider's saddle. It will carry one child weighing up to about 22 kgs and straps and footrests are adjustable to allow for growth. The seat is lightweight, comfortable, can be taken off the bike when not in use and gives the child a good view. The bike still handles fairly normally too, which gives it a big advantage over a bike trailer.
Unfortunately, alongside the fact that only one child can be carried at a time (unless you use a front-mounted child seat as well) there is also a total lack of storage space for essentials such as nappies, wet wipes and drinks so parents may need to wear a backpack which will aid the accumulation of sweat. Also, although you can purchase a special poncho for your little one to wear, there is not so much protection from rain so this is more of a fine-weather option.
The seat is better suited to smaller passengers. When the child gets bigger the bike becomes rear-heavy and you may find yourself doing unplanned wheelies when going over speed humps.
The alternative is...

Bit #3
A bike trailer, which can be attached to the rear axle and pulled along behind the bike.
A bike trailer: Home from home.
- Advantages: Buying a double buggy trailer allows two children to be seated and also has some handy boot space behind the child's seats to store lunch, coats, nappies, etcetera. Gives kids some protection from the elements and is probably more comfortable for them. They can even take a book with them to read on the journey.
- Disadvantages: The trailer is heavier and those extra two wheels don't 'alf increase the friction which makes climbing hills a bit of an effort. Also, because you have storage space the temptation to take more stuff than is necessary can be hard to resist, equalling more weight.

Buying the bits
We went to Halfords for some of the equipment and bought some of it second-hand. Second-hand is cheaper but items will go quickly once they appear on the market - especially trailers - so keep your eyes open and act straight away when something comes up.

Getting started
I don't remember much about Graham's first trip as a passenger on my bicycle, except I think that was the time he fell asleep halfway and spent the second part of the journey lolling dangerously over the side of the seat, head nodding at every bump in the road, looking very uncomfortable but completely out for the count.
In contrast, Isaac's first trip is one I will never forget. Isaac went into the bike trailer alongside his older brother. We thought it would be good company for him. Maybe it was, but it wasn't good company for Graham. We pedalled off, followed down the road by a high-pitched, ululating wail from the trailer behind me, Graham bearing the brunt. Every time we went into a pothole - which was not infrequently - the howling increased in violence. Pedalling fast or pedalling slow, nothing stemmed the flow and we swiftly returned home, defeated.
A little later we tried him out in the child seat. I set off, pedalling very slowly and smoothly, heart pounding. Silence. I tried going a bit faster. Still not a squeak. In fact the whole ride was a rousing - or should that be reassuringly silent - success. We went down quiet country lanes and on busy roads and about the only time Isaac made a noise was when he said 'Moo' to some cows and calves in a field.
The lesson: try your child out in a child seat first to let them get used to the idea. In a trailer they are enclosed, a helpless victim to uneven roads and can't even see where they're going. In a child seat they get a good view and you can swerve around the potholes. Move them into the trailer once they get a bit older and more experienced.

Ready to spin?
Not quite. It's a whole new world out there with the kids in tow. Join me next time when I look at a few of the common problems you are likely to encounter when Cycling With Children. 

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