Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Selling cycling to an eight year old girl

My son, Matthew (5) is mad on cycling, ever since I bought him a running bike aged around 2 and half he has taught himself how to ride and has fabulous bike skills. It probably helps too, that I will happily lark around on bikes near home pulling wheelies, and playing follow the leader and popping down to the local pond.

Matthew (5) leading the way around Carsington Water

My daughter, Abi (8) can cycle well too, but has been lacking in the enthusiasm she once had a few years ago. Cycling was not something she wanted to do anymore, and she always opts for walking in preference. I eventually tracked this down to one comment from her: "cycling is boyish". She had a point. Perhaps it was pulling wheelies and leaving for work in hi-viz that did it.

Once I had opened my eyes, the inspiration was in our village. The teenage girls of Cottenham are mostly cycling around on fabulous Pashley style bicycles with baskets, flowers, and normal stylish clothes. I started to point out girls on bikes going everywhere. Girlie cycling. Cycling Chic.

Fast forward another six months and we have just got back from a short break at Carsington Water, on the southern edge of the Peak District National Park. It has a 9 mile cycle route and we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try a longer family cycle.

Abi (8) who hated cycling still grinning after 8 miles.

Abi protested at the thought of a cycle but was eventually persuaded with bribes of the play area, shops and ice creams. Setting off we knew that a third of the route was not particularly flat and decided to tackle that first. Its was actually much harder than we had expected.

The route was on hard packed gravel, with a few loose bits, with short sharp hills that had most cyclists walking. The children had single speed bikes which made it really tricky for them and so we ended up pushing their bikes up the steeper hills at the same time as pushing ours. That isn't easy when one of the two bikes you are pushing has the handle bar down near your knees. We didn't take any pictures here as nobody was smiling.

The downhills were not any easier either. Matthew zoomed off downhill over confident and I found out later he was only using the front brake on gravel, and Abi being a Fen Edge girl, was not used to using brakes to keep a controlled speed and gravity in check. Confidence and skill grew over the day though.

Motivation came in the form of biscuits and breaks, then lunch on a hill overlooking the reservoir. Abi described this 30 metre high hill as a cliff(!) in her diary that evening. It's amazing what a bit of food and a view can do for morale. I hadn't forgotten Cycling Chic either so we started to pick and attach flowers to Abi's basket which she loved.  I think the giant group of teenage Girl Guides helped too.

Luckily, the worst hills were over, and the route went flat on the western side. Now we were zooming along at an effortless 14mph, chatting and laughing all the way to the visitors centre for ice creams.

As it turns out, this cycle was boyish enough for the boy, girlie enough for the girls, and a great family cycle - whatever you wanted it to be.  Cycling, most definitely sold.  And I think quietly, they were proud of themselves for making it past the tricky parts, especially when I pointed to the other end of the reservoir some 4 miles into the distance and they realised how far they had gone.

The flat open section of cycle route at Carsington Water

This safe route around Carsington Water is exactly how the majority of British people cycle. Its a relaxing past time only to be done in complete safety away from dangerous traffic. The last photo, has a road in it on the right hand edge. That 50 metres of separation makes the world of difference to the safety and noise levels.

Whilst driving around the Peak District, on a summer school holiday weekend, it was stark how few cyclists there were on any road with two way traffic separated by a central white line.  I am not surprised.  There are constant undulations and blind corners that drivers hurled themselves round assuming nothing would be around the corner.  These roads are effectively motorways with cycles banned.

But, there is hope. On small single track roads, cycling was popular. We stopped at Wetton Mill which is part of National Cycle Network 54, and it was teeming with cyclists.  The lack of car parking and man-made tourist attractions meant car traffic was low, and thin single track roads meant the traffic was forced to go at 20mph and negotiate their way past cyclists rather than barge through.  Perhaps a small sample of what could be achieved in our cities.

1 comment:

  1. Daddy i hated the hills and the bumps you still
    have not given me my £2.50 for doing it.
    Abigail (Abi)