Canal paths and cargo trikes

Last week I took the Christiania (without baby) over to Three Mills to pick up a stack of recycled scaffolding board. Contrary to the doubt of the chap who loaded them up (“they’re really heavy, you know, will you be able to get them home on that?”) the Christiania dealt admirably with the load. But I noticed something about roads and paths.

On the way there, I took the path along the Limehouse Canal. I thought this would be pleasant, especially on a slow-moving trike, and it looked more direct than the road.

In practice, what I found was a rough-surfaced (sand/gravel) path, heavily cambered towards the river. On the trike, with its slight tendency to drift down the camber, this makes for difficult riding. (The bike path along Cable St, while tarmacced, also has an awkward and variable camber which is harder going on a trike, but at least there I’d go into the kerb not the canal if I lost concentration.)

Even worse were the mini-‘steps’ (lines of stones on their ends sticking out of the path, possibly to give better grip for pedestrians but extending across the whole path leaving either no, or very little, smooth part for bikes) at intervals. There was no warning of these. I just suddenly found myself bouncing alarmingly over them with no option to avoid. I was genuinely worried I might damage the trike (happily it’s tougher than that), and if I’d had L in the box he’d have been proper upset.

But wait! There’s more. A very steep bridge over the canal, which advises cyclists to ‘get off and push’. Fine, it’s a steep bridge, I wouldn’t want to build a new one; but again, there are mini-steps all the way up and down to bump the bike, or in this case the 35kg trike, over, and no smooth part to help you along.

This path should be great both for leisure cyclists and for actually going somewhere. But the stone bumps would put me off taking a regular bike on it, or going for a ride there with a young child on a bike; and given all of the above issues it’s very unlikely that I’ll ever take the trike (especially with L in) there again. It’s a desperate shame. This is exactly the sort of path that should be a lovely ride, happily shareable by cyclists and pedestrians and enjoyable for both.

I took the road back — a longer route, and with 30+ kg of scaff board in the box — and knocked 10 minutes off the journey. Bah.


Baby & trike: the next stage!

I’ve just realised that I have nearly no photos of L in the trike over the last 6 months; perhaps because we just use it as a transport option without thinking to take a photo.

However! As of this week, L-transporting in the trike has gone from this:

Red cargo trike box with rain cover, baby in car seat inside

to this:

Baby sitting up on box seat of a cargo bike, smiling at the camera and playing with a book

He seemed very happy to be making a more upright journey, and much less bothered by the bumps. (Which makes sense; sitting in a bumpy thing is more comfortable than lying down in a bumpy thing.) It is kind of terrifyingly old, though — a whole 7.5 months, no less. Scary.

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!

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!