Yes, please!

Homebase CargoWhen I saw this at Homebase yesterday, I knew I would need to write something on it. Now, I normally prefer not to go to the big chain hardware stores, but sometimes I need to get something my neighbourhood shop doesn’t offer…like a giant tree planter. I’m glad I went. Not only did I find the planter I needed, but I discovered this brilliant cargo bike scheme, too. All you need is proof of address (utility bill, etc.), photo ID (driving license, passport, etc.), and a refundable £50 deposit, and you can borrow the cargo bike for 24 hours.

This scheme may very well influence me to shop more at Homebase. I only wish the supermarkets would catch on. My wife and I have discussed buying a cargo bike for years, but haven’t due to the significant barriers:

  1. The price. They start at about £700 or £800 and about three times that if you want power assist (for those hills in North and South London)
  2. Where to store it. Most residences in London don’t have a secure place to lock a cargo bike
  3. Which one to get. Two wheels? Three wheels? The big box of a Christiania? The sleek, compact pod of a Trio? The classic long john?

Even though this scheme doesn’t solve the issue of taking my four year old twins via bike to and from school, to the park, to museums, etc., it does provide me and other car-free-by-choice people in London with the option to buy things larger than a laundry basket.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d love to see Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA, and other supermarkets begin to offer a similar scheme. Most of the time, we’re shopping ad-hoc from the Tesco Metro down the road, and occasionally doing a big online shop from ASDA or Sainsbury’s and having it delivered for a pound or two, but I’d gladly bus or cycle to the local superstore to shop if I could truck it home in a cargo bike.

I don’t know what the response has been to this Homebase scheme and I don’t know if there would be enough interest amongst supermarket customers to make it economically feasible for the big grocery stores to do it, but I know I’m on board. In my opinion, anything to get people out of their cars and get them active and reduce air pollution in this city, can’t be a bad thing.

Why I think it’s important for my kids to be interested in cycling

IMG_1129This is a pretty easy question for most cyclists to answer, at least on the surface: “I love cycling because…

It relaxes me.

It keeps me fit.

It’s a quick way to get around.

It doesn’t cost anything.

It’s fun.”

These are all the same reasons I want my kids to do it, and it’s something we can do as a family. However, I think there are deeper reasons we want this for our children and why we were drawn to it initially, ourselves. In much the same way some people gravitate to motorcycles, or sports cars, or horses, or extreme sports, most of us were drawn to cycling because of the freedom and independence it offers us. In the case of my children, my wife and I decided they would get their first balance bikes on their second birthday (they’re twins). We had gone back and forth for a while trying to decide if scooters would be more appropriate at such an early age, but if we had any doubts, they were completely erased when we saw their faces and heard their squeals of pure joy on that sunny September afternoon. Obviously, there’s no right or wrong time to get your kids started with cycling, but since we had had them on the backs of our bikes since they could hold their heads up, they were more than ready to get started cycling at two.

Now, it’s two years later and they’re both riding proper pedal bikes. We decided to wait till their fourth birthday to get them 16-inch pedal bikes with no stabilisers, and I have no regrets. First of all, since they had been on balance bikes since they were two, it only took them a couple of days practicing to get the hang of pedaling and balancing simultaneously. Secondly, and this is just down to the financial reality or raising kids in London, we avoided the purchase of two 14-inch bikes that the kids would outgrow in a matter of months. A bit of developmental leapfrogging, but I felt they were ready.

As I see the joy on my kids’ faces as they pedal down our alleyway (we’ll wait a bit to get them out on the streets), I think about those deeper reasons I mentioned earlier. Not only are our kids getting a real endorphin rush from developing a new skill that has an element of danger to it, but also they’re doing it with our help. Because of their age and the relative magnitude of what they’re learning to do, this event will probably be their first imprinted memory. Maybe not the instant I let go and they pedaled the bike on their own, but I’m sure they will carry for their entire lives a vivid image of riding up and down that alley in much the same way I have memories of playing basketball on hot summer nights in the alley behind my neighbor’s garage.

Obviously, this is huge for us, too: this is the first really tangible skill we’re teaching our kids. Walking and talking are milestones we try to help with and create an enabling environment for, but for the most part kids figure these out on their own through mimicry and trial and error. Maybe it’s because we have such a big stake in helping our kids succeed that we put such importance on this event. I know for me, when my son got frustrated and said he couldn’t do it or my daughter told me not to let go of the bike because she was scared, I felt their anger and their fear and when they fell, I felt their disappointment. So, I guess what I’m saying is that it’s the parent-child bonding and the desire to be what we perceive to be a great dad or mum that drive some of us to get our kids into cycling and fall in love with it the way we have.

How would you improve London’s bikeability?

IMG_0256What would you do to improve bikeability in London? Aka mayor for a day.

I am posing this question, in a general sense as a cyclist, but also more specifically, as a parent cycling with children in London.  Of course, there are two ways to approach this question:

  1. the conservative, practical way, so as to ruffle as few feathers as possible, and…
  2. the pie in the sky, ideal situation, gloves off, do whatever’s necessary way.

I believe Mayor of London is implementing half measure cycling policies that reflect the former approach. I would like to propose the latter approach as a way of making lasting changes that would put London on the path of becoming a true cycling city, not one that makes concessions to the motorist lobby.

Here are some ideas off the top of my head:

  1. Convert more roads, especially narrow ones, to cycle and pedestrian only.
  2. Restrict parking to only one side on narrow roads.
  3. Create truly continuous cycle paths throughout the city, especially along the Thames.
  4. Eliminate bi-directional cycle paths.
  5. Build step-down segregated cycle paths along the busiest roads.
  6. Install separate cycle traffic lights.
  7. In general, make it more difficult to drive in London.
  8. Limit HGV traffic in London.
  9. Require better mirrors for HGVs.
  10. Encourage more businesses to use cargo cycling as a means of delivery.
  11. Target non-cycling motorists for cycle awareness interventions. Promote “Indicate early. Indicate often.”
  12. Require cycling awareness and on-bike experience as part of motorist training and testing.
  13. Encourage an open line of communication between cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists, via open forums that address preconceptions and prejudices on all sides.


Hello My Name Is…

Bird on a bike…Tony. My name is Tony, and if you’ve read my profile, you know that I’m an American who’s been living and cycling in London since 2009. You would also have gathered that I’m frustrated with the current state of cycling in the Capital, but I’m not interested in setting blame on any single group of road users, or even the government, though I do believe their approach, and that of the Met Police, to make London safer for cyclists is ill informed and misguided. I will address this further in my next post.

I would like this blog to become a forum for sharing ideas and discussions on cycling in London, and how to make the city a better, safer place for cyclists, and a friendlier place for all road users. Rather than this being a space for angry cyclists and motorists to rant about why the other is in the wrong, I hope this can become a space for understanding how both sides can share the blame for what is wrong, and work in tandem to improve it for everyone. Sorry to sound so hippie-ish, but I truly believe that productive dialogue involving all sides of the debate is what’s needed to stop so many cyclists being killed on London’s streets every year.

Thanks for reading and I hope you return to join the discussion.

An attempt at understanding London's road users