Trike review: 4.5 months in

Some time ago, before L was born, we bought a Christiania cargo trike, which we used for the first time when he was about 5 wks old. How is it working out now he’s nearing 5 months?

It has been absolutely invaluable for middling-local trips: to the shops (a mile away), the library (ditto), the breastfeeding drop-in cafe (1.5 mi). All of these are walkable distances but a mile is a long way to go when you’re carrying a baby plus books/shopping, and have dodgy knees. It also makes the whole thing quicker, and it’s fantastic for putting lots of shopping in.

It’s also been great for going to swimming classes (about 3 miles), but for now that’s about the furthest we can go.

The main issue is bumpy roads. Understandably, L does not like the bumps (the trike doesn’t have suspension, and while his car seat is padded, it must still be a bit surprising to bump around in it), and it turns out that the roads round here are fairly bad. We now take bumps very slowly, and as long as he’s in a good mood, he copes with them.

Regardless of the bumps, though, his tolerance is limited. It definitely pays to feed him before setting off, and if he’s grumpy to start with or it’s late in the day, we’re more likely to have problems. I have done several roadside feeds, and walked home, pushing the trike, with L in the sling, a couple of times. (I’ve also cycled at walking-pace halfway along the Thames Path with a grizzling L in the sling, when he refused point blank to go back in and I got desperate and achey, on the way back from the Royal Festival Hall. I wouldn’t recommend this, but I don’t think it was seriously unsafe given the speed I was going at.) Having said that, he’s also fallen asleep in it a couple of times, and if put into it when already asleep, stays asleep quite reliably.

He prefers to have the hood down (so he can see whoever’s riding it), which is fine when it’s not raining, and even if only raining a little if I cover his legs with a blanket. It gets pretty hot in there with the hood down, too, which he doesn’t like. As a result, we leave the hood down unless it’s proper tipping it down.

From the point of view of the adult rider: it is still not a speed machine! And it’s moderately hard work. I’d like to get a better saddle, too. You get considerable attention when riding it, but almost all of it has been positive.

If you’re considering getting one, bear in mind that you do have to carry the baby when you get out. Not a problem for us as we use slings rather than a pushchair anyway, but I doubt you could get a pushchair in there (certainly not a suitable for < 6 months one). General conclusion: awesome and well worth the money, but we haven't been able to use it quite as much as I hoped in the early months (I was faintly hoping to be able to do the 8 mi down to my parents' house, rather than taking the train, for example, and right now that's not feasible). I am, however, hoping that L will tolerate it for longer as he gets older -- he's certainly getting steadily less bothered by the bumping around already. On the upside, I have a good excuse not to cycle a 35-kg bike + 7kg baby + carseat + misc bits and bobs any further than 3 miles down the road, which is perhaps a good way of building those cycling muscles back up.

activism, permaculture

Potatoes, babies, and tricycles

I decided to plan for a very low maintenance allotment this year, given that I also have a new garden and (rather more time-consumingly) a new baby to deal with. Over the winter, the main beds have almost all been mulched with a double layer of cardboard to reduce weeding. The next stage was to plant potatoes (low-maintenance but tasty!) through the mulch. So, only a couple of weeks late, we headed down to the allotment last weekend to get planting.

The mulch is doing its weed-reducing job where it’s been put down, but around the paths and edges the dandelions are in glorious but weedy profusion. I ignored them in favour of getting 50% of the potatoes in the ground before the baby got too grouchy. (I should note that I did not actually plant anything but was instead acting in more of a supervisory/baby-feeding capacity. Many thanks to my glamorous assistant doop.)

The trip also provided the opportunity for the first test of our baby-transporting device, chosen after researching seats and trailers/cargo bikes: a Christiania trike with a car seat strapped in. Glorious success! Leon slept peacefully all the way there, and observed thoughtfully most of the way back, until a cobbly patch near our front door upset his equilibrium.

The Christiania in action

Baby in a trike!

the garden project

Cargo bikes, fracking, and raspberries

I have been writing things in other places!

UK Activists Tell Energy Companies To Frack Off.

Kids and cargo bikes. (Since writing that, we’ve decided to go ahead and get the Christiania trike. I am inordinately excited, though we won’t be ordering it for a month or so.)

In ‘garden’ news, yesterday I transplanted 6 raspberry suckers (4 autumn raspberries, 2 summer raspberries) from the allotment to the western garden fence. I’m unsure how they’ll get on with the clay (I dug in a little sand and compost), but as otherwise the suckers would have been snipped up and put in the compost, it’s worth the experiment.

activism, writing

Babies on Bikes!

I have a post today on putting your baby on your bike, over at green parenting blog Peas and Love. Head on over there to read about how old your small passenger needs to be to get started, the advantages and disadvantages of front and rear seats, and a few general safety tips.

Off this morning (after dropping my fixie at On Your Bike for a new headset & new, higher, steerer to accomodate my growing bump) to check out cargo bikes and trailers at Velorution for the next installment in the babies+bikes series. Rumour has it you can put a car seat in one of those…


Cycling in snow & ice

In the cloakroom queue after seeing Leftfield last weekend, while London was still covered with snow, another punter spotted my bike pannier.

“You’re cycling?” he asked in tones of mingled surprise and enthusiasm. “Wow!”

“I’d far rather that than hanging around for the night bus,” I said.

“Nice one!” he said with a grin that indicated he still thought I might be a little deluded; and I went off to start layering up for the ride home.

But really, the weather has to be really pretty dreadful for public transport to be a better bet than cycling. (Even more so when, as on Friday, the public transport option is two night buses and a very chilly 20-minute wait at Elephant & Castle, watching inebriated revellers throw up into the gutter). There are a few precautions that are worth taking first.

Wrap up warm

Perhaps an obvious one, but cold hands don’t operate brakes well, so find yourself some long-fingered gloves. Woolly gloves are better than nothing, but the wind tends to blow right through them; really you want gloves that are at least windproof and preferably waterproof as well. If, like me, you have really rubbish circulation, consider glove liners as well.

A Buff is useful as a scarf/hat; alternatively, if you’re wearing a regular scarf, make sure the ends are safely tucked into your jacket and can’t get caught in any of the moving bits of the bike. If you’re suffering from chilly feet as well as chilly fingers, waterproof overshoes are really helpful*.

Check over your bike

Letting a little bit of air out of the tyres is a good bet if riding on slippery surfaces like snow, slush, or ice, as it increases the amount of contact surface with the road. If you want to take the really hardcore route, you could switch to studded tyres (or do your own DIY version either with screws or with cable ties!). Tyres with tread may be a good idea if you normally ride on skinny smooth tyres.

You should also clean your bike a bit more regularly, as grit and salt splash up onto the frame, and are bad for the metal if left there. Your chain might need a slightly heavier-duty oil than in the summer, and will probably also need oiling more regularly. If you’re nearly at the point where you need to replace chain and/or cassette, it’s probably worth waiting, if you can, until the spring, as they’ll wear much more quickly in this weather.

Make sure that your brakes are working well — slippery rims will slow your braking down.

Riding in snow

The most important thing to remember is not to make any sudden moves. Stop and turn more slowly and carefully than you normally would, and don’t corner too sharply or your back wheel may come out from under you. Brake well in advance, and gently.

Be more aware of hazards like metal access covers, which get very slippery in rain, snow, or ice. Watch out for black ice, and if in doubt, it may be worth getting off and walking for a bit if the surface is particularly treacherous (minor local roads may not have been gritted well or at all). However, if you find yourself already riding over the ice when you notice it, just stay calm, keep pedalling, and don’t turn or brake if you can avoid it. (If you have to, brake very gently.)

Stay well out of the gutter, which is where all the snow and slush will have been pushed by the cars. Of course, you should always be riding well out of the gutter to maximise your visibility, but in poor conditions you may want to ride even further out. You’ll be more readily seen, and you’ll be more likely to be able to stay on the dry part of the road. Where possible, choose where you’re riding to stay on the dry patches, but be careful – don’t put yourself in danger by riding over on the wrong side of the road unless you’re very, very certain that it’s safe to do so. If in doubt, get off and walk until it’s safe again.

If it’s dingy, foggy, or actually snowing, put your lights on to increase your visibility, as well.

In summary: take it carefully, allow more time to get where you’re going, wrap up warm; and you’ll be sailing merrily past all the bus queues despite the weather.

* This year I’ve been wearing bike sandals and waterproof socks, instead of switching to my lightweight bike shoes in the autumn. (I confess that a significant driver for this is the fact that the dog chewed both velcro and laces off the bike shoes back in April, and I still haven’t sorted that out.) Somewhat to my surprise, it turns out that thick socks + waterproof socks + sandals has kept my feet warmer than my closed-toe shoes ever did. The overshoes are good if it’s below zero (when I’d need them anyway). I think this is probably because wearing two pairs of socks in my regular shoes doesn’t leave enough room for my toes, reducing circulation and thus making them cold. This doesn’t happen in the sandals. Of course one is then wearing sandals with socks, but I am less bothered about that than I am about having cold feet!


Small luxuries

Yesterday evening, whilst picking raspberries and blackcurrants at the allotment, I was thinking about small luxuries.

One of the things I appreciate most about the summer, these days, is the ability to eat raspberries by the handful. I’ve always loved raspberries — we had them in the garden when I was a kid — and for years I could get only the tiny, expensive, and often tasteless punnets that the supermarkets sell. Now there are twenty canes of them in the allotment (ten summer, ten autumn), and more raspberries than I can eat from June till September. A glorious luxury, with the only outlay (I think we’ve long since earnt back the £20 spent on the canes four years ago) the time it takes me to pick them, which is a pleasure in itself.

When I was cycle touring, eighteen months ago, my self-indulgence was that after the sun went down, I would light up the stove again to make a mug of tea, then crawl into my sleeping bag and lie there snugly in my tent with tea, a couple of chocolate biscuits, and an episode of Stargate (I have a fondness for dodgy SF TV) on the netbook. I remember thinking at the time that the only thing that could make the experience better would have been the ability to knit at the same time (the tent, sadly, was too small to sit up in, and knitting whilst lying on my stomach gave me cramp in my hands).

Since I’ve been home, one of my favourite small luxuries is to go to the library, then take my lovely new library books across the Blue to Adam’s Café, and read over a plate of chips and beans with a coffee. Costs around £3, feels fabulous.

It makes me immoderately happy, just to appreciating these little things.


Cold frame from scrap (pt 2)

Last week I finished my small cold frame for the balcony.

It took very little extra work, in fact: I just had to cut an appropriately-sized chunk off one of the 2m2 pieces of polycarbonate I brought home on my bike trailer a fortnight ago:

(Another demonstration of the truth of my long-held belief that you can transport pretty much anything with a bike.  Six miles — albeit quite slow ones — from Dulwich to Bermondsey and I didn’t have to stop and retie it even once.  I was very pleased.   NB: the polycarb wasn’t touching the ground at the end when the trailer (a Carry Freedom Large — fantastic piece of kit) was properly attached to the bike.)

The jigsaw went through the polycarb with no bother at all, and I taped the edges up with gaffer tape.  To get some air into the frame,  I’m using part of one of the planks I cut up for the slanted top: the polycarb lid just rests on it at the back.  I haven’t bothered to make hinges; I’ll rethink that if the lid doesn’t stay put.

Next plans: slightly bigger cold-frame for the table of herbs outside on the balcony, and much bigger one for the allotment.  Currently in the allotment there are three rows of various sorts of greens under mini-cloches (cut the top off a one-litre juice bottle), so the cold frame needs to be built before they outgrow the cloches.


Bikes and public transport

And the first proper post is a very practical one.  I spend a lot of time cycling, and when I go longer distances by train, I like to take my bike with me.  This can on occasion be a screaming nuisance.  Broadly speaking, local trains don’t require booking (and will usually have some variety of bike-space, of greater or less usability), but long-distance/Intercity trains do require booking.  Booking these days is free, but most of the online ticket sites don’t have a bike-booking option, which means either booking in person, booking by phone, or phoning up after you’ve bought the actual tickets (which can be… complicated, depending on who you speak to).

But!  There is good news amidst the confusion.  National Express East Coast have an online ticket-booking service which does allow you to book your bike on when you book your ticket.  They sell tickets for all trains, not just the ones they run, and the system, whilst Javascripty, is actually very usable.*  Highly recommended when you and your bike want to get somewhere.

Whilst on the subject of bikes and public transport, two questions:
1. Is there a good reason why the old-fashioned guard’s van (with lots of room for bikes and other bulky objects) can’t be brought back on modern trains?
2. Whilst in San Francisco a few months ago, I noticed that MUNI buses have bike-racks on the front (explanatory video also available).  This is a genuinely awesome thing.  I find myself wondering: are these things fittable post-hoc?  Could London’s buses (and other UK buses) be fitted with them? 

* I can’t comment on disability-usability issues – would be interested to know if anyone else can.