As part of Bike Week, local people who cycle our streets share their stories, fears and hopes. Kelly from Belfast gives her experience of cycling the school run with her children and how, despite less than ideal routes and road conditions, cycling has simply become part of life..
I own a couple of bikes – my old faithful mountain bike which I’ve had for a long time, and last year my husband bought me a ‘Real Classic’ bike for my birthday. It’s a modern bike with a vintage styling and I love it. It’s a thing of beauty as well as being practical. I have a child carrier on the back for my youngest son, and he adores it. It also has a basket on the front which makes it really handy for trips to the shops. I’ve cycled for fun since I was a child, but have cycled as a means of transport since my university days, 12 years ago.
My main cycle route tends to be to the school and back. My oldest two children, who are 7 and 5, ride their own bikes and I take my 3-year old on my bike. We are fairly fortunate in that we don’t have too many roads to cross, but because we are cycling at busy times of the day we tend to stick to the footpaths as it’s just far too dangerous for me to take them on the roads. There’s no way I could cycle safely myself and supervise them on the road at the same time.
The kids love it
As I’m sure is the case for most families, life is busy, so getting time to exercise outside of the day to day routine is tricky, so we made a decision a while ago to try to stay fit and healthy as a family. I see the school run cycle as a form of exercise for me and the kids but it is also something we really enjoy. We get a lot of enjoyment from being outdoors together and I believe they are learning valuable skills on road safety and physical well-being during our cycles.
We tend to cycle for leisure at the weekends and during summer holidays too. It’s a free activity during a long summer break, which is always a bonus and the kids love it. Even if it’s just a cycle to the local park for a play, we always feel great after a bike ride and less guilty when we stop for ice cream!
We do have a car – I wouldn’t expect the kids to cycle to school in the rain, as they would have to sit in school all day with wet clothes, but if it’s dry, we are out on the bikes. We will even cycle to the shops if we are only getting a few items. They love getting to lock up their bikes at the bike racks – it’s all part of the adventure for them!
For the most part our cycling is enjoyable, and something I think we will always endeavour to do. People always smile when they see the kids out on their bikes with me, and my own bike has been a great source of admiration for the other mothers at school. I’ve even seen a few other mums cycling over the past few weeks as the weather has improved and I think that’s great.
I am wary of road cycling
I did have one ‘run-in’ with a pedestrian on the morning school run. He was walking his 3 dogs and one of my sons rang his bell to alert him that we were on the footpath behind him. The man turned abruptly and shouted at me and the kids that we should be on the road and not cycling on the footpath. The children were very upset to see their mum being shouted at and I felt very intimidated but did try to explain that there was no way I could cycle on the road with children so young. There are no cycle lanes around the school and the area is very busy with traffic. The irony was that as he was busy shouting at me, one of his dogs ran onto the road and the traffic had to halt. So in actual fact he was the one causing bother. I hope he had a pooper-scooper now there’s a real issue on our streets!
As the children get older, I know I will have to educate them on cycling safely on the roads. I am wary of road cycling myself though, as so many of the cities cycle lanes are blocked with parked cars. I also have a few friends who cycle as a means of transport much more than I do and when I hear some of their horror stories – bins blocking city centre cycle lanes, aggressive bus drivers, oblivious car drivers almost squashing them – it puts me off a little I must admit.
Cycle lanes should always be kept clear
At the moment, my cycling is limited to a very small area. Mainly because my children are so young and can’t go too far, but also because I am apprehensive about negotiating roads. If we want a longer cycle we tend to put the bikes in the car and drive to a cycle path and then we can cycle with a bit more ease, although sometimes our slow pace irks the more adept cyclists. That doesn’t really bother me, the way I see it, we all have to start somewhere and build on our abilities.
I suppose one thing that might be useful is to educate drivers when they are learning on how to be more aware of cyclists and how to be respectful of all road-users. Drivers can often think they have more right to be on the road, and on other occasions they are completely oblivious to the bike that is alongside them. Cycle lanes should always be kept clear, and I do feel that this should be policed in some way, particularly in city centre areas where it is so busy.
Overall I would say that cycling is just a part of life for us. I hope that as the kids grow up they will continue to have a passion for cycling because of what they have experienced in childhood. It would be great to see more families out and about cycling and to know that it was something families could do together safely in their own towns.