Cycling in the Nearly Rain

I don’t usually take M cycling in the rain. I don’t mind for myself, but I do like to get warm and dry afterwards. So it was unfortunate that the first opportunity we have had to go for an actual cycle ride, somewhere new, rather than just ‘transport’ on our regular route, it drizzled the whole time. Luckily M is still of a size to have a onesie rainsuit to fit her…

Since May we have upgraded the bike trailer for a Weehoo. For those unfamiliar with this relatively new tagalong, it features pedals but also a strap-in armchair seat, so is suitable from age 2-9 for children over three feet tall. The fact that M is not yet a pedal bike rider herself makes it exciting from her point of view, to be able to pedal and signal and have her own bell to ring, but I have found it rather challenging to pull!

The two-wheeled trailer we had acted as a big dead weight behind me, steadying out any wobbles from either of us, especially mine when in bottom gear uphill. The Weehoo, by contrast, amplifies every slightest error and is therefore subject to some interesting passenger-affected manoeuvres. However having only the one wheel, and the potential for passenger help up the hills (this is Derbyshire!), after a bit of practice I am finding it easier to pull despite being virtually the same weight overall.

The other big difference between the trailer and the Weehoo is starting and stopping. I have found a kickstand to be an essential piece of kit as, while I can just about manage to straddle the trailer bar to do up the straps for M, turning around without dropping my bike requires a level of gymnastic ability that I no longer possess. It also requires a very flat and stable area of ground. Luckily undoing the straps is easy and something she can almost do by herself before climbing out of the seat – provided she is awake! I have returned more than once with a sleeping passenger and have been sorry I could not simply leave her where she was, like I could with the trailer!

So for our first leisure ride, we had the opportunity to cycle the Monsal Trail in Derbyshire’s Peak District. I have walked a few sections, but a few years ago the six tunnels were reopened and cyclists have been able to ride a 8.5 mile stretch from near Bakewell to the railway junction outside Buxton, where trains still run. It is a slow ride! It can be pretty busy, even on a damp day, and the Weehoo makes fast changes in direction tricky; even with the flag flying it was pretty invisible to walkers who assumed a nimble solo rider on a touring bike could get round them easily. Also starting from the Bakewell end, the trail is gently uphill almost the whole way, with a fairly rough surface – but even on the return journey there were too many people to go at more than about 10mph. The Buxton end has a different surface, which sprayed mud and surface water a lot more – the crud-catcher on the Weehoo, which always scratches or digs into my legs when holding the bike upright, remained completely clean thanks to my mudguard, yet the pedal area and passenger still managed to get a good coating. The Weehoo’s wheel could also do with a mudguard, as it flicks mud all over the place including the back of the seat up to the passenger’s head, and onto the tiny panniers that fit it. Yet another thing to sort out for next time!

There are several potential places to stop along the trail, with benches or even picnic tables, facilities and ice creams, but sadly the weather was not conducive to us taking advantage. Instead we enjoyed walking through one of the tunnels and eating an emergency rations chocolate bar in the dry.

I would love to say M’s verdict was big smiles, and that is what she gives me most of the time, but on this occasion I had a contented sleeper for the last three miles instead – and memories of rain. I guess we will have to go back and do it again when it is sunny!

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Cycling On

To live in touch with the Earth is to be aware of our impact upon it; one aspect of that is transport. For many years my bike was my main mode of transport, with occasional car or train use for longer distances. I was never particularly fast, so we bought a tandem when we started riding as a couple. It has carried us over the Pyrenees and the Alps, and with more difficulty over Yorkshire’s challenging hills. However, I haven’t been doing much cycling in the past few years, for various reasons, and then when I tried again I discovered I was pregnant. Not the best time to restart!

Now nearly three summers on, I have been keen to get my bike out again. Most of my journeys are around 5 miles, although being Derbyshire it is very hilly! Some investigation of options for cycling with small children followed, and a few test rides to shock the system. I didn’t want to mess about and miss this summer as well though, so after proving my bike worked and I could ride a short distance (three miles), I got out my trusty pendulum to dowse for what would be best for both M and me: a weatherproof trailer.

Bought on a Friday evening, we test rode it the following morning on a trip to the nearest town. I had the great idea that if my husband pulled the trailer I could watch to pick up some riding tips, and he might be slowed down enough that I could keep up. No such luck – we went slowly down the first hill, and then I didn’t see them again until he stopped to wait for directions. If we want to ride as a family, we’ll have to dust off the tandem…

After an even shorter test ride with the trailer myself, I spent the next two evenings checking out possible routes to the parent and toddler group. (The hours are flexible enough that my arrival time there wouldn’t matter.) While the first mile and a half had to be along the main road through our village, after that there were numerous options. I tried the cycle track route first – but some of it was so muddy that it was impassable on my bike, let alone with a trailer; I had to stop to scrape out the mudguards with a stick. The final part was a pleasant smooth tarmac, but when trying to exit the cycle track onto roads on the way home, I discovered that the posts across the entrance were too narrowly spaced to allow a trailer through.

Day two I attempted to retrace my route along the back roads, and promptly missed an unsigned turning. Glad I didn’t have the trailer on when climbing back up that hill! Having corrected my mistake and got to the place successfully by road, I then tried to come back using a popular ‘green road’. Fine for mountain bikes, but not my tourer and trailer; the combination of worn out concrete overlaid with worn out tarmac didn’t make for an easy ride, the potholes having pretty sharp edges to avoid. Very pretty though between the hedges, and lots of birdsong so one of the best evening rides I have ever enjoyed.

I’m glad to say that the day of our maiden voyage was lovely and sunny, and not too hot. (Why would I expect anything less?) Given no route that I had test ridden was any good, I followed another possibility I had checked out on Google maps. It was the prettiest yet, taking us down a well-surfaced footpath alongside a large duck pond, a quarter mile link that I would happily walk regularly were it not for the difficulties of manoeuvring a bike with trailer around a wheelchair-sized kissing gate at the far end. We returned along the road.

So now I have ridden there and back with M twice. It is hard work, and my lowest gear has been not only used but really needed as I twiddle up the steepest hill, but it is also really enjoyable. There is just something about the speed of a bike which I really love – I’m the one with the silly grin on her face when riding in the pouring rain. The traffic is less of a problem with a trailer than when solo, but I just trust I am doing the right thing and most drivers have been exceptionally courteous. As for M, she hops in and out quite happily, and then sleeps really well!