The daily school run by bike and tagalong – a new era dawns

Tagalong and front bike seat on the cycle ride to school each dayEvery day, come rain or shine we do the daily commute to school by bike, heading up the hill to N’s school on two wheels. Well, truth be told three wheels actually, as 6 year old N sits astride his tagalong with flag bobbing around in the wind. Four year old T meanwhile, has pride of place perched up at the helm on a Oxford Leco Top Tube Front Bike Seat so has a great view, even if he does have the misfortune of having to endure my banal chit chat.

Now I don’t know if I’m losing fitness or if it’s just a case of the boys getting bigger and heavier, but tackling the hill up to the school is presenting an ever greater challenge. Of course, the alternative is that I’m as fit as ever, and N is just putting his feet up on the tagalong which, of course, is a distinct possibility. Make note to self – install rear view mirror!

So recently (and after a few evenings of deliberation), I took the brave decision that N would ride his own bike to school rather than use the tagalong, and T would move up the pecking order and get his chance on the tagalong (aka trailer bike). The next question was how would we get there?

Choosing the safest cycle route to our school

There are two routes up to the school.  Both start with a few hundred metres along our quiet suburban roads, which N is used to riding at weekends.

The first route then becomes busy and narrow – it does not lend itself well to bikes at half eight in the morning. Speeds are high and driving careless, even though there are speed cushions along its length. The pavements are not continuous, and are very narrow where they do exist.

The other route also carries a high volume of traffic – much of it on the way to the school. The majority of the route is much wider, and the footpaths are continuous and spacious. Part of this route is along a dual carriage way, but which has a wide footpath alongside it, which we can access without needing to go on the main road.

The decision I made was to go for the second route, which although the slightly longer option, is definitely the easier to ride at that time of the morning, with a mixture of on road riding and wide paths.  It’s a route that N cycles on his Giant XTC Junior mountain bike at the weekend on the way to his football practice, so I know he’s capable of making the distance, and is used to road positioning.

What is so different this time is the traffic volumes at 8.30am on a week day.  

At his age, I am prepared to let N make use of footpaths when needed for safety reasons. We have discussed the need to be courteous if we meet pedestrians; to stop and wait to let them pass before continuing.

Goodbye tagalong – I’m riding myself today!

So togged up and ready to go (what’s with this freezing weather!) we had our briefing session before setting off. We agreed on how we would deal with junctions, our road positioning (N in front, me following behind slightly further from the kerb acting as wing man), signalling and all other occurrences along the way. Our game plan was formulated, the three of us agreed we were happy, and off we pedalled.

As a rider I’m pretty confident (possibly a result of commuting by motorcycle into London in a previous existence), but the feeling of watching your little one take to the road is one of extreme trepidation.  Now N is a very sensible boy with excellent road awareness, but in a situation such as this the parenting protection trigger kicks in, and I had him locked in like a hawk hunting its prey, anticipating his every movement. I know that probably sounds a tad extreme, but it’s just a natural reaction as  a parent, and that comes from a person who isn’t known for over-egging things.

It didn’t take long before we were moving along at a steady pace, making me realise that perhaps my 15 minutes contingency on a 15 minute journey was a tad excessive. However, we’d not done the school run in this fashion before and so I thought it best to build in a ‘take it steady and enjoy the ride’ factor.

Along the way N rode perfectly, sticking to the game plan and listening to instructions delivered on the fly. When we arrived at the school grounds the look on his face was priceless, with it blatantly obvious that he had just had a wonderful experience. After parking his bike in the bike shed, we headed to class where he literally bounced in through the door, inducing a startled look on his teacher’s face as he sailed by grinning like the Cheshire Cat (if only all children had this much energy in the morning!).

So in summary, yes it was unnerving watching my child take to the road, but a) we had a plan of what to do at every stage, b) we’d discussed it in detail, and c) I was there taking the defensive line.

The three of us had a fantastic ride – another new chapter in our cycling journey.

We’d love to hear about the first time you rode to school (either yourself or with your children)

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