Cycling to dorset
With government subsidies for cargo bikes, better train design, and more bicycle friendly roads, family holidays can be more fun, more affordable and less costly to the planet.
It was on a Hackney Playbus session that I chanced upon a Carryme Bikes mobile library. I previously came across them through a poster I saw in one of the children centres/activities, and all I could remember is that they try to encourage families to get into cycling. At first I thought to myself, “why would I approach them?! I’m already a cyclist, and so are my children (both under six), and we already have two child bike seats.” But I soon realised I was wrong. It turned out Carryme Bikes, a Community Interest Company (CIC), lends out all kind of bicycles and accessories a cycling family might need.
Within less than five minutes of chatting to them I was offered a trailer to try for a month, for free. I couldn’t think of a better time to have such an offer. It was mid-July and school holidays were fast approaching. I had already booked my two sons for swimming lessons, but was worried about how to shuttle them around without getting them exhausted by cycling their bikes to and from the pool, swimming, and having fun playing in parks and adventure playgrounds. The trailer came in handy. Having it meant that we were more mobile and our playtime was maximised.
Equally exciting, if not more relieving, was the possibility of borrowing a cargo bike for our camping trip in Dorset, booked for the end of July. As keen cyclists and big believers in public transport both my partner and I didn’t want to hire a car and wished we could afford to buy a cargo bike. A good cargo-bike can cost a fortune! Again, planets aligned! After trying the trailer on my bike and seeing the thrill in my three-year-old eyes, I came back to the stall to continue the conversation with Alix and Richard from Carryme Bikes. Alix told me about the Hackney Family Cycling Library, an exciting project co-run with Hackney London Cycling Campaign and funded by Cycling Grants London and Transport for London, and mentioned they lend out cargo bikes for a week. I couldn’t hold my excitement. I immediately said I would love to borrow one for our camping trip. At first Alix wasn’t sure about me taking the bike on the train all the way to Dorset. But with a little-thought, she got excited and suggested a potential cargo bike from her fleet. Her choice was Urban Shorty (about £3,700), which could possibly fit on the train, has a big storage capacity, is powered by a Bosch battery, and can take a rear-bike seat.
Two-days before we set off I went to collect the cargo bike. I’ve never ridden one before, and although I consider myself an experienced cyclist who cycled to central London through two pregnancies, I felt a bit nervous. When I tried it out I felt straight-jacketed. I couldn’t see the front wheel, felt unbalanced, couldn’t move my neck, or look behind. The ride home was nerve-racking. After practicing for a bit I felt more and more relaxed. The bike glided and felt effortless. However, I still felt uncomfortable about cycling a loaded bike and a child on the back seat all the way from Hackney to Waterloo, then from Weymouth to the camp site. But my partner, who has experience riding cargo bikes, was happy to ride it. “It felt like a dream,” he said. He was so impressed by how easy it was to cycle up steep hills, without feeling out of breath.
Having sorted our transport, we were still nervous about the train and whether we would be able to fit both the cargo bike and the trailer on the train. Phoning railway customers service wasn’t much help. The staff didn’t know what a cargo bike is and we kept getting contradictory messages whether we need to book a space in advance for the bike. Taking no chance, my partner thought he should try it out himself. So a day before we set off, he cycled the Urban Shorty all the way to Waterloo. The bike fitted just about and left hardly any space for other bikes in the carriage.
And the rest is history! It was thanks to Carryme Bikes that we all had a memorable summer in Dorset. The weather was amazing and hot all week long, the company was great, and the scenery was breath-taking. The children had the time of their lives running about, feeling free and connected to nature and friends. With the company of their older friends, every evening they went foraging wood for the fire, helped start the fire, and enjoyed listening to crackle and watching the shooting stars.
We felt proud that we could just put the kids on the bike seats, load all of our camping gear on the cargo bike and the trailer, cycle off through central London, and the rolling hills of Dorset, and have an affordable holiday with minimum damage to the environment.
The trip just made it clear that support for cargo bikes should be part of the government low-emission scheme. Just as grants are offered to car owners for replacing old pollutive cars, the same should be for cargo bikes. Better design for trains to accommodate them should also be taken into consideration, not to talk about continuing the important and live-saving work of incorporating bicycle routes across the city.