Oxford is supposedly a cycling city, yet there have been a number of cycling deaths in city in the past years. I hasten to add, not cyclists’ faults from what I can gather from the news and folklore.
The cycling network is haphazardous: On the road, then on the pavement, then it just stops. Or even worse the road narrows, as a traffic calming measure, so cars have to encroach on the cycle lanes.
Dadonthebrink has been knocked off his bike couple of years ago, when a car decided to turn ahead of him without indicating. Thankfully neither he nor the car was going fast, so aside from bruises, ruined trousers and shoes he was shaken, but fine. Cautious of cycling in Oxford, even though he, as a Dutchman, was practically born with a bike between his legs.
For me it’s been a four year recovery: Just as I was getting back to cycling after having two children, a cyclist decided to stop last minute, screeching brakes of bikes, a pile up, a knock from the back and I was lying in the middle of the road screaming.
I am grateful to God, fate, or whatever may have had a hand in it that there was no car coming just behind us at the time: The accident happened at one of those traffic calming spots, with a traffic island in the middle of the road, so the car could not have avoided running over me. I was carried to the pavement, paralysed from pain, I screamed in agony holding my knee till the ambulance arrived and I took loooong, deeeeep breathes of nitrox gas. It still hurt, but my conscious mind disconnected from the pain with each intake of gas.
Over the following days I was to learn that I had torn most ligaments in my knee at least partially, a couple totally and had damaged the cartilage severely, ensuring a knee replacement will be on order for 10 years’ time. Zimmer frames, crutches, hobbling and two operations followed, months apart. Lots of pain, lots of physiotherapy and a psychological fear of getting on a bike, or straining my knee with other forms of exercise.
Angelina and Hugo started cycling in this time.
They slowly graduated to proper bicycles from balance bikes, each funnily, had a brief time with stabilisers. I was keen not to impart my fear of cycling on them and reflected on the immense freedom cycling had given me as a child instead. I used to love it!
The kids were nagging about cycling. Driving, the traffic was stifling at times; I hate getting in the car to drive the 2 miles to school.
We said we’d cycle to school. The time slipped from September to spring to the start of the summer term and never happened.
I was afraid! I needed the right bike and I had all sorts of other excuses.
At the beginning of the summer my father in law bought a new bike and offered us to buy his bike at a family rate. I pondered for a second and accepted the offer: 5% of the price of a new bike of this caliber.
We bought it back with us from the Netherlands two weeks ago. I hadn’t tried it over there, before we loaded it onto the swanky new cycle rack Campy had acquired. I had all sorts of excuses: It’s too wet, I’m too tired, it’s too hot, it’s almost meal time.
Then last Sunday, a beautiful sunny day, it was time.
I psyched myself up, Dadonthebrink adjusted the bike to my requirements and I went for cycle around the block. A car came up behind me, impatiently revved on a quiet side street on this quiet Sunday afternoon. This made me shake a bit, but also strengthened my resolve: It is not right for society to rush by in fuel guzzlers, shoving people off the roads.
Next round, I readied the kids on their bikes, we attached the cycle trailer with double flags to help indicate to cars to give us a wide berth and we went for a ride. Angelina and Hugo tried different positions- on the pavement, beside me, behind me on the road, in front of me on the road.
We jumped in at the deep end: We tested a route to school and then carried on. In total we cycled 16 km (10mi).
Tuesday afternoon we went for another cycle to school, trying another route, and back. It went well, without a hitch.
On Wednesday morning, in rush hour, we jumped onto the saddle and we cycled off to school. This time Dadonthebrink came along- me up front with Max in the child seat on the rack of the bike, Hugo, Angelina and then him rounding up troops. It was hair raising! Hugo almost got bumped off his bike at an intersection, where we were totally in the right, obeying rules of the road.
On one of the main roads a white van driver, going the opposite direction, shouted out to us:
The only reason I could see for this was the fact we were cycling with kids on a main road, which has a cycle path partly on the pavement, partly on the road, the kids on the pavement section.
Was he right? I have pondered this over and over again this past week as we have continued to cycle to school and back.
In the meantime we’ve met others we didn’t know lived and cycled from near us, been introduced to different, safer routes, and the kids and I have gained confidence.
Hugo on his little dinky bike has made huge efforts to keep up with us on steep hills. Moaning:
” My legs are sleepy!” , but persisting and catching up with us.
Angelina is really starting to get it: The roads, the cars, traffic.
You just can’t teach this to then, unless they are in it! We’ve talked about it so much from the enclosed space of the car or while walking, but little learning was evident. This past week has been amazing for what awareness they have started to demonstrate.
I’m so proud of ourselves for doing our first week of cycling to school!
We have a long road ahead to carry it through, not the least reassess the kids’ bikes, our gear, our waterproofs, but we are off on the right track.
Do you cycle to school or work?
I found Openstreetmap.org very useful to decide on routes. It has a cycle route over lay and gives routes you wouldn’t necessarily expect or even know about. It’s updated by users.
We watched cycling safety videos on YouTube. This video about cycling safety by Bournemouth council is very informative and sobering. I let my 5 and 7 year old watch it to bring home just what cycling means and how they have to really listen to me and traffic.
I’m linking up with country kids, follow to find more parents having fun outdoors. You don’t have to jump on a bike, just get outdoors, even to your local park.