Cargo Kids

When we had one child, we got a bike seat. Brilliant inventions. We got to ride as a family at the weekends. My husband took Danny to nursery on the bike. Brilliant.

Danny’s first bike ride. Clearly not in Edinburgh.

But our family wasn’t complete. We always planned to have two children.

I’m not sure anyone with one child really knows what they are letting themselves in for when they have a second. If they did then I think there would be far more only children in the world.

We had Ellen when Danny was two years old. Now, instead of managing one small, demanding and often highly unreasonable person, we had two small, demanding and often highly unreasonable people.

This had an obviously huge impact on all areas of our lives. Including cycling.

Once Ellen was old enough, we could get a second bike seat and go out all together again. However, one adult and two children seemed to me an impossible ratio for a bike. There are bike trailers but I didn’t feel comfortable with these. To me they seem very low to the ground (the traffic) and I wouldn’t be able to see what the children were up to in there without looking around.

Fortunately for me, my husband is more of a bike geek than me. He had heard of cargo bikes.

Spectacularly fortunately for me, he had a friend who was thinking of selling his cargo bike as his children were now wanting to ride their own bikes instead of travelling in his.

We became the proud owners of a bakfiets cargo bike.

If, like me two years ago, you have never heard of a cargo bike. This is a cargo bike.

It is basically a town bike with a wooden box between the handlebars and the front wheel.

In my opinion, cargo bikes are incredible things. Even better than bike seats.

Great things about cargo bikes:

  • The children are at the front and can see all around them. I can chat to them about what they see and what they have been doing.
  • I can see and sort out arguments between the two of them (I once had to sort out an argument about whose turn it was to throw the imaginary ball to the imaginary dog).
  • I get to ride a bike and look after my children at the same time.
  • Home to school takes 15 minutes, regardless of traffic and the availability of parking spaces.
  • We save around 40 miles of driving a week, just on school and playgroup transport.
  • We decided we now only needed one car instead of two – a huge financial saving.
  • It’s a great form of sustainable transport.
  • There’s room for the children and all the stuff that seems to need to be transported with them.
  • You can fit all sorts of things in a cargo bike – two children or a week’s grocery. The man who sold us the cargo bike cycled to our house with his road bike in the box so he could get home again. There are lots of photos of Christmas trees on cargo bikes at this time of year.

It even has a rain cover. Essential in Scotland.

With thanks to our local library who allowed me to bring the bike in when Ellen was sleeping.

I should probably add that we are very fortunate to have a good cycle path network in Edinburgh. I do use the roads, but minimally.

For all that I am a big fan on cargo bikes, they also have down sides.

Not so great things about cargo bikes:

  • They are slow – I average 8 mph on a good day.
  • They are really expensive (although cheaper than buying and running a car).
  • They are very distinctive – I quickly became “that woman with the bike”.
  • They take a lot of space to store.
  • They have the turning circle of a cruise liner.
  • You can’t put them in the car and take them on holiday.
  • Hills – anyone who has ridden a cargo bike up a hill will know what I mean.
  • As the children get bigger, the cycling gets harder.

Lots of cargo bikes do now have electric assist. As my children are getting bigger, I often wish I had this. That said there is a part of me which feels righteously ‘hardcore’ as I struggle up a slight incline at slightly lower than walking pace.

One of the best things for me about cargo bikes is that they really do seem to be catching on in the UK. When we first got ours, it was ‘the only cargo bike in the village’. People would stop me to say they had seen me somewhere else they had been There are now at least three in the local area.

But there is one thing even better than this about having a cargo bike.

Not once, but several times, I have had high school children speak to me or shout comments at me. I kind of expected teenage scorn, but no.

“Cool bike”

“Where can I get one”

“That’s such a smart bike”

“Wow, look at that”

I am in my early 40’s and, thanks to my cargo bike……I am cool!

Well, sort of.





Manners Maketh Mummy

I was brought up to have manners and to treat others with respect. Please and thank you were drummed into me from an early age.

I like to think that I cycle courteously. I like to think that I respect other users of the roads and paths as I would like them to respect me.

But it’s just not that simple.

See, when others give way to me, I thank them. When I give way to someone, I expect thanks. It’s basic manners.

I appreciate that the cargo bike is fairly big (albeit smaller than even the smallest car) and very slow. I don’t like it when cars squeeze past me so I pull in to let them pass if they are going to be stuck for any distance. When I do so, I expect thanks. It’s basic manners.

I appreciate that cycle paths are shared spaces and every other user has a right to be on them. When people allow me space to pass, I thank them. I wait when other people need time to move their children or dogs or whatever to one side to allow space for me to pass. When I do so, I expect thanks. It’s basic manners.

I’m sure you get the idea.

It depresses me that in the majority of these situations, I do not get any thanks. I don’t want a medal, just a simple wave or smile is fine.

What depresses me more is that I am gradually responding to this lack of courtesy by becoming discourteous. I don’t bother to let cars pass before a narrow stretch. I don’t thank others for giving way when it’s my right of way.

I am becoming just like the people who annoy me.

I am becoming the kind of person I do not want my children to be.

I am teaching my children to be rude and inconsiderate because I am being rude and inconsiderate.

Oh no, yet more mummy guilt.

If my 4 year old told me that he was rude to someone at nursery because they were rude to him, what would I say to him?

I would tell him that I understood why he reacted like that.

I would tell him that he must try to be the better person.

I would tell him that he has to create the kind of world he wants to live in. If he wants to live in a world where people are polite and kind and thoughtful then he has to be polite and kind and thoughtful. Even when others around him are anything but. Even when he feels angry about that.

Sometimes, I don’t realise just how much I am asking of my children when I give them advice.

Sometimes, I forget to practice what I preach.



How failing to cycle might make me a better mummy

It’s become a bit of a family tradition that we go away for a long weekend for my birthday and for my husband’s birthday. Nothing too complicated. A caravan and a swimming pool and the kids are over the moon.

We are just back from my birthday weekend. We all had a great time but for me there was also a tough reminder about empathy for my children.

Here’s the thing – I wanted to cycle to where we were staying. I really really wanted to cycle there. It wan’t too far. The weather forecast was fantastic. The others could drive and I’d meet them there.

It wasn’t to be.

I went in the car.

The bike stayed at home.

I was disappointed. I was actually more disappointed than I have been about anything in ages. (I think the last time I felt this disappointed was when I realized that breast feeding just wasn’t working out.) I cried. I struggled to let it go. Every time I saw a bike on the road it set me off again. Every time I thought about how perfect the weather was it set me off again.

In the absence of any other form of solitude and exercise over the weekend, I took to walking. This gave me the space I needed to think this one through.

What a realisation I came to.

I realised that this is how my 4 year old feels.

When he sees something he really wants and I tell him he can’t have it, this is exactly how he feels.

I know that the toy is cheap rubbish that will fall apart before we get home. I know that it’s going dark and the dinner needs cooked so we can’t go to the playpark right now.

But all my 4 year old knows is that he really really wanted it and he’s disappointed. It doesn’t actually matter how absurd what he wanted was. He’s disappointed. He can’t help feeling disappointed any more than I could.

I try my hardest to be a patient parent, but I really find it hard to deal with the crying and whining that 4 year olds can produce when they really want something ridiculous. My patience really wears thin when I think we’ve moved on and he starts all over again, sometimes hours later.

As a parent, I often deal with my 4 year old’s disappointment in the following ways:

  • Distract him
  • Explain (again) why the answer is no
  • Get cross and tell him to stop whining

When I felt disappointed, would any of these approaches have helped me?

  • Distraction – the disappointment would still be there. It just kept coming back no matter how much I disliked it.
  • Explaining – I already knew all the reasons why. They were the reasons I felt disappointed in the first place.
  • Anger – That would just make me angry as well as disappointed.

Oh no, I’m a horrible parent. Bring on the mummy guilt.

It took a fair bit of walking to work out what could of helped me when I felt like this. Nothing could make me feel less disappointed. I think that all I really needed was for someone who loved me to tell me that they understood and to give me a big hug. I would still feel disappointed but I would also feel loved and acknowledged.

So, I need to rethink how I deal with my children when they feel disappointed.

They feel how they feel and it doesn’t matter if it seems ridiculous to me, it’s serious to them.

Sounds simple.

If only they didn’t feel that way quite so often because I still really really find whining hard to deal with.

But if I can just remember how I felt this weekend, then maybe failing to cycle this once, might make me a better mummy.