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For years I've suspected that most people think I'm weird. Probably for a variety of reasons, but at least one of them is that I've cycled with my children from a young age. "Surely that's not too weird" I hear you cry. "I've seen a lot of families out on a sunny summer Sunday cycle (try saying that quickly!) along our local bike path. What fun it looks - nothing weird about that".
But I have a confession to make - I cycled with my kids from an early age to get them places we needed to go, every day of the week. As did my husband Chris. "Hmmm - that's a bit odd" you may be thinking at this point.
We started off with our eldest child in a rear seat on the back of the bike and used to cycle him to play dates, doctors appointments, trips into the city centre, playgroups etc.
"Why didn't you just take the car like normal people?" quite a lot of you may now be thinking.
Then, when the second one came along we got a bike trailer, and used to haul them both around everywhere we needed to go. "A trailer - isn't that one of those things with a flag that you haul behind your bike? Hmmm - getting weirder now."
Then they got too heavy to pull in the trailer. "What do you expect? Sympathy?"
We weren't lucky enough to own a cargo bike - "Phew - that WOULD be weird - those are only meant for use in Holland didn't you know" - so we moved to having the eldest on a tagalong on the back, and the youngest on a little bike seat at the front.
"OK, forget my last comment - that's not normal!"
Between Chris and myself we used either the trailer, or the tagalong and front seat combination, to do the preschool / school run every day for years. Until our eldest learnt to ride on the road himself.
"Every day? - what about during winter? Or raining days?"
"Weird!...... just a minute. What about snow?"
"Absolutely stark raving bonkers."
At this time (2010 - 2014), we were living in Chester, a city that had, between 2009 and 2011, over £4.4m invested in it as Cycling Demonstration Town.
"Well that explains it then. You'll have been cycling on safe, segregated paths all the way to the school, away from the traffic. Maybe you're not quite so weird after all - expect for the snow.... and rain".
Sadly not - our entire journey had to be made either on road, or on road with stretches on the pavement, depending on which route we took. (The reasons for which are explained in detail in Chester Cycling's blog on the result of Cycling Demonstration Town investment).
"OK - back to weird. Actually, don't you think it's downright irresponsible? Holding up the traffic, while all those poor people in their cars, in a hurry to get to work and school, have to wait to overtake you? Plus, surely you know how dangerous it is cycling with your children on the roads. If you'd had an accident you'd have expected sympathy wouldn't you? I do hope you were all wearing helmets".
We were - but let's not go there.
However, this Easter holiday I had a moment of fabulous realisation. I'm not weird. We're not weird.
"You are". We're not.
"Are". Not! I've got the proof. There are tens of thousands of people cycling with their kids every day.
"I don't believe you you" Take a look at this fabulous picture.
"You've obviously been cycling in Holland - look a cargo bike with no helmets on a segregated cycle path, with bikes with bike seats in the background!"
Quite right, I was lucky enough to spend time in Amsterdam and Groningen with Chris and my boys over the Easter holiday, where we rented bikes. And I've realised that it's not inherently weird to cycle with your kids. What a feeling of relief!
"Three bike seats together - is that outside a nursery or playgroup?"
Not - it's two doors down from the airbnb apartment we rented in a residential neighbourhood. All over Amsterdam we saw bikes with front and rear seats - lots of people use the seats for transporting kids, but the rear one's are also popular for carrying rucksacks once the kids have outgrown the seat!
"Guess you'll say the same about seeing kids bikes all over the place?"
We saw less kids bikes than we expected in the centre of the cities - it seems that parents carry their kids on their bikes - in a cargo bike, or on a front or back seat - until they're much older than in the UK. Because there are so many cyclists, children need to be able to cycle confidently in group situations before being able to ride in the city centre. In fact, I'll be writing more about that in another post soon.
Here's an example of a girl on the front seat of a bike, and you can just see a rear seat on the bike in front of them, which is also designed for an older child than the seats we saw above.
"Aha - look at that though - there is a car on the cycle path - so much for safe cycling!"
You'll notice that the car has waited until the cyclists have passed by before pulling out across the cycle path. One of the strangest things about cycling in Holland was relaxing, and trusting that the traffic will give you priority. It's so unlike anything I've been used to in the UK.
"So if the kids are being carried on their parents bikes, does this mean they don't get to cycle themselves?"
Not at all - when we headed out into the parks and residential roads we saw lots more kids cycling.
"That looks like a safe place to cycle"
It was - we really liked the fact that in both Amsterdam and Groningen the cycle paths often diverted from the main road along a traffic free route. However, if you needed to follow the road, then the safe infrastructure was there too. Also, note the street light in the background - just because it's away from the road, doesn't mean you can't use it at night, or in winter.
"You just had to get in another cargo bike, and cyclists with no helmets, didn't you?"
Yes - I like this one, as it shows how people can just cycle along, chatting, with their kids, with no fluorescent clothing, protective helmets or huge flags. Just a normal trip out - this one was taken on a Sunday, so the roads are a bit quieter. I just wish I could look that stylish and relaxed on a bike!
"I can now see why you didn't feel weird - it looks a great place to cycle with kids."
It is! When the whole family can arrive on bikes (and one of the them is a tandem) at a playground in early April and no-one bats an eyelid, it's a wonderful moment. You realise you're not weird because virtually everyone else has done the same. In fact, you're not only not-weird. You're normal. Average. Common. Part of the crowd. In fact, the weird thing was coming home to UK and starting to cycle in the traffic again.
"Isn't this the point at which you start going on and on about investment in cycling infrastructure?" Haven't you noticed I already have been?! I could now do a comparison with the situation in the most of the UK, but I've written enough for today. Suffice to say, there are little pockets of the UK where local authorities are just starting to see a different future. A future where the car is not king.
Just take a look at this great video I'm just going to pause to think how wonderful it would be if we could all cycle with our kids like this, every day, here in the UK.
Other posts you might like to read whilst you're here:
This post was first published in April 2016 and updated in October 2018 to fix some of the broken links.
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