It is hard to imagine now, but my relationship with cycling got off to a very slow and rocky start. I inherited my sisters Raleigh-20 when as a teen she decided she was too cool to ride. It sat in the shed rusting as I could not ride a two wheeler and had no one to teach me. Occasionally I’d take it out and push it around the footpath. That was until – at the advanced age of ten – a kindly friend of my Mum’s took pity on me. It was probably my knees knocking against the tricycle handlebars that inspired her. That was my first taste of freedom – I could ride to school, around the neighbourhood and to the shops. It felt like flying.
I didn’t get too cool for my bike (I never got cool), but I wasn’t allowed to ride in high school. Years later I borrowed bikes, but had no idea how to change gears, and the riding position of the racing bikes popular at that time (10-speed no less!) terrified me. In my early twenties, my partner and I were given a ‘hybrid’ bike by a friend moving overseas. We lived opposite a cemetery, and it was there that I slowly gained confidence and learned how to change gears. When my husband discovered mountain biking, the hybrid became my bike. I hardly rode it. I was more interested in riding horses and driving powerful cars; I was a rev head.
We lived in Sydney, starting point for the popular Sydney to the ‘gong [Wollongong] charity bike ride, raising money for Multiple Sclerosis (MS). When my Mum was diagnosed with MS I was inspired to take part. My training for it was minimal – mostly riding to cafes. Upon completing the short version of the ride I was exhilarated and inspired….. I had the bug…. the cycling bug!
I rode more: 5 km to the shops, 10 km to a favourite cafe, 15 km to a scenic spot. By joining rides organised by my local Bicycle User Group (BUG) I found new places to ride, helpful advice and great cafes. I did the full ‘gong – my first 100km ride. As I rode further I got fitter, and as I got fitter I was able to ride further and discover more scenic places to ride and yummier cake. Yes, cafes are a huge part of social riding!
I was ready to try cycle commuting, and a fellow BUG member showed me the best route from home to my workplace. It was such an eye opener: via back roads and cycle only routes I was able to get to work faster by bike than by train or car. I arrived fresh headed ready to start my day. No need for gym membership or lunchtime jogging. It began to dawn on me that bikes could really take you places (other than cafes).
My next goal was to complete a cycle tour. An organised and supported one seemed like a great option for a beginner. Despite an overuse injury to my knees and about a year off the bike with my knees taped; I made it back onto the bike and focused on a training plan to get me ready for touring. In 2004 I completed Bicycle Victoria’s Great New Zealand Bike Ride, around New Zealand’s south island. We were a mobile tent city of 1000 cyclists. It was the ultimate way to travel. Listening to my fellow riders exclaim over the scenery I felt like I was seeing my home country for the first time. I quickly signed up for the Great Tasmanian Bike ride in 2006.
2006 turned into our big year for cycling. Together with my husband and four other guys we organised and completed our own cycling adventure in Vietnam. Cycling meant we could explore the country slowly, off the beaten track, and interact with wonderful locals. We found that a bicycle starts conversations even if neither party can speak the others language. We loved the immersion of touring without the barrier of glass and metal. Later that same year – when my husband was made redundant – we took an extended trip to Europe. We bought folding bikes and toured in Scotland, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Slovenia. By the time we reached Slovenia we were ready to become ‘real’ cycle tourers and carried a tent and bed rolls so we could camp.
In Europe we saw how bicycles were just part of everyday life. People didn’t put on lycra to go cycling. Instead of panniers they strapped their little suitcases to the rear rack or used a basket for their shopping. Children, dogs and groceries were carried by bike. The bikes they rode were sensible, comfortable, and functional. When I got back to Sydney I was inspired to cycle for everyday tasks such as shopping, visiting the library and friends. Whilst pregnant I kept cycling, inspired by accounts of women who had done just that, (and with the blessing of my obstetrician). My husband joked that I should cycle to the hospital for the birth.
At seven months pregnant with my first child, we made our ‘big purchase’ for our baby. Everything else for baby was begged, borrowed or second hand; but not our cycle trailer! After careful research we purchased a double Chariot CX trailer, and a baby sized helmet. We were ready for parenthood!
For most of our son’s first year the chariot made an excellent buggy and stroller (we’d bought both kits, of course!). Once he was able to sit independently we strapped him in, popped on his helmet and took our maiden voyage. We took a weekend away with the bikes and trailer, exploring new places. We were ready for adventure….. Of course life has its twists and turns…. I went back to work, we moved back to New Zealand. For a while, life became about survival rather than adventure. We used the Chariot to take our son to and from his caregiver, and I continued to do so right up till the birth of our daughter.
Once number two was old enough we slowly began to get out more and explore further with both kids in the Chariot. My son moved onto two wheels and could be towed on his own bike using a TrailGator. We took our towing aids to Napier and explored the amazing trails there. After hearing about the Central Otago Rail Trail, we teamed up with cycling friends from our Sydney days, who now also had two kids, and completed the Otago Central Rail Trail. Our son rode on the TrailGator and daughter on a hired WeeHoo. Finally we were touring again, with kids!
Now, via this blog I will share advice, tips, and stories from my experience of cycling with kids. Welcome aboard, enjoy the ride.
As well as this blog I am working on a book about Cycling with Kids in New Zealand, I have started a Charitable Trust called Bikes Welcome, and I am advocating for the law to be changed so that children can cycle legally on the footpath. I am passionate about getting kids active and giving children the opportunity to enjoy the fun and freedom of riding a bike as part of their everyday lives. I also am a keen advocate for active transport and everyday cycling.