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Encouraging others

Cycling with children - part 1 (aged 0-3)

Philippa's story of how she carried on travelling by bike after the arrival of her daughter, Caitlin.

Cycling has been my main mode of transport for all local journeys since I was 18.  At that time I was a student at Hull University and I lived in student accommodation, 3 miles from the university.  If you can cycle against an east coast headwind you’re doing well...

So, more than 20 years later when I found out I was pregnant it wasn’t surprising that I wondered how I’d be able to continue cycling after becoming a parent.  The one thing I hadn’t prepared for was that some people would be surprised that I was continuing to cycle while pregnant.  I found that getting around by bike was much easier than walking when I was pregnant so it seemed obvious to keep cycling.

After my daughter, Caitlin, was born in July 2012 I didn’t cycle as much, but I started to walk everywhere instead.  I found that walking with a baby in a pram was the easiest way to get around. I must have walked more than 20 miles some weeks.  I really enjoyed travelling more slowly and enjoying the time that I had on foot.  

Even though I enjoyed walking everywhere with Caitlin I always knew that I wanted to start cycling with her.  One thing that I’d never thought about was that we would only be able to cycle to places where either Caitlin could crawl or where I wouldn’t need to carry her about, such as toddler groups.  She didn’t walk until she was 18 months.

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Caitlin’s first bike ride in a bike seat was when she was 10 months old.  To make it easier to get her on and off the bike I fitted a double kick-stand on my bike.  To help me see what was going on behind me I fitted mirrors to the handlebars on both sides – she would often fall asleep on the seat behind me and it helped to know whether she was awake or asleep.  We started to cycle to lots of places, friends’ houses, toddler groups, the nursery.  I’d forgotten how quickly I could get everywhere by bike.  We still did lots of journeys on foot as well though. 

Our first family bike ride was to Loch Lubnaig from Callendar, a route I’d cycled a lot before I had a child.  It was a lovely way to celebrate Caitlin’s first birthday.

My partner and I fitted bike seats to each of our bikes.  We got one bike seat from Freegle and the other one from a friend.  I’d been told that small children get cold easily on bikes because they’re not moving around, so we bought a bundle bean blanket which was great because we could tuck Caitlin in to that to keep her warm and snug.

However, for active travel, the best thing was that I could now cycle wherever I needed to go, with or without Caitlin.  I would take Caitlin to the nursery and then cycle on to work. 

Caffe Nero in Stirling was a good destination as we could cycle into town and then carry Caitlin into the cafe where she would always insist on keeping her helmet on, making us look like parents who took health and safety a little too seriously!

I returned to work when Caitlin was 18 months old, so taking her to nursery on the back of my bike was great.  We did the journey throughout the year, even when it was cold and dark.  The route to the nursery was on a traffic-free path so I wasn’t worried about being on the roads when the weather wasn’t great or when it was dark.

The only difficulties that I faced were that because there weren’t covered cycle racks at work, I had to put a bin-bag over her bike seat so that she didn’t get a wet bottom when I picked up her up from the nursery.  Another option would have been to take the seat off and leave it in the office all day – one of the teachers at Caitlin’s school used to do that and I guess I could have left the bike seat in the storage hut at the nursery.   In the winter it sometimes felt like having a large sail on the back of the bike, particularly when cycling round some of the more exposed parts of Stirling.   The other thing that happened in the winter was that the nursery was always roasting hot so arriving in full cycling gear usually meant that I had to strip off my various layers so that I didn’t overheat! Despite these minor issues, it was great to be able to commute by bike and still be able to drop my daughter off at nursery.   The nursery was down a dead-end road, so the car traffic in the car park was always chaotic so being able to bypass all of that by bike was fantastic.

Time for a balance bike

fullsizeoutput_34d7.jpegWhen Caitlin was 2  we gave her a balance bike.  I have to be honest, she wasn’t that keen at first.  I can see why – when walking is so easy, why would you bother learning a new skill?  We persevered and kept taking the balance bike out with us.  It wasn’t long before she was using it really confidently.

We now had a new way to get to nursery.  She even wanted to go on her bike in the dark in the middle of winter!  It was great that the nursery had an outdoor storage shed where parents could leave pushchairs, scooters, bikes etc. 

We carried on with a combination of balance bike, pushchair, and child bike seat for quite a long time, although we found that we used the pushchair less and less once Caitlin was walking and we could go everywhere by bike.  We found that Caitlin could cycle the mile into Stirling on her balance bike, although coming back home uphill did take a while!

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When going to work via the nursery, it was great having the choice of walking, cycling with Caitlin on the back of my bike or riding my own bike with Caitlin beside me on her balance bike.