Saturday, 27 April 2013

Pedal power for all: cycling for all ages

Cambridge is still the UK's cycling capital

According to a recent article in Cambridge News, Cambridge has retained its crown as the UK’s cycling capital. This is not an idle boast by biased residents – Cambridge was awarded National Cycling Town status in 2008, while £7.2 million on cycling improvements were earmarked for Cambridge and surrounding villages for 2011-2. Cycling events are organised throughout the year to introduce families and residents of all ages to cycling, culminating in Bike Week, a nationwide celebration of cycling on 15-23 June 2013.

Cycling, alongside walking, is the cheapest, healthiest and most environmentally-friendly way of travelling. It saves time and money – and parking is free. Research shows that cycling four miles daily reduces the risk of heart disease by 50%. It’s also good aerobic exercise and doesn’t strain joints or muscles, so if you have arthritis, are unfit or suffer from asthma or bronchitis (cycling improves lung function), cycling can do wonders for your wellbeing. And for seniors with mobility problems, electric bikes and trikes can offer a big boost.

Cycling with my daughter when she was a preschooler

On your bike!

It’s true that you never forget how to ride a bike, but if you lack confidence because you haven’t been cycling for years or are struggling to teach your child to cycle, help is at hand through two local schemes: Bike It and Bikeability.

Bike It aims to increase the number of school children, parents and staff cycling to school. The scheme, which includes bike rides, cycle skills sessions and even maintenance classes, has proved successful by raising the number of children cycling to school from 23 to 40%. Maya Stratton Brook, Sustrans’ Bike It officer for Cambridge, comments: “Sustrans has been working with Cycle Cambridge to encourage children to get to school under their own steam since January 2010. Cycling has so many benefits for children, including improving their health, confidence and concentration. Not to mention the positive effects it has on the environment.”

If you are new to cycling, buying a bike might seem daunting - there are so many brands with prices varying from a few hundreds to over a thousand pounds. Stephen Poulter from Station Cycles’ Histon Superstore, advises: It is important to spend as much as your budget will allow. There are many different styles of bike to suit different styles of riding. Think about what kind of riding you will be doing and where you will be using the bike. This will ensure that a sales advisor can help you choose the right bike.”

Cycling with young children

Many parents in Cambridgeshire are using bikes for school or nursery runs. Cycling with a young child involves buying a child bike seat, trailer or special attachmentsThere is a huge variety of child bike seats on the market - most models are rear mounted, meaning they fit behind the saddle. They are designed for use from six-nine months, when a child can sit up comfortably and wear a helmet but only a few can go up to four-five years of age. Most seats have a weight limit - commonly 15kg. 

We used Britax Jockey Child Bike Seat because it's sturdy and its weight limit is 22Kg. Other things to look for in a child bike seat include:
  • good padding, foot support and five-point harness, for comfortable and safer journeys.
  • a padded headrest - your child might fall asleep on a ride.
  • the BSI number BS EN 14344:2004, which is a safety standard mark for children’s products.
Trailers, also recommended from around six months, are attached to the rear of a bike and can carry one or two children. Some models are so versatile they can be converted into a pushchair once you reach your destination. And then there are Dutch bikes, which are very popular in Cambridge because you can carry up to three children and your shopping too! These are purpose-built bikes with the trailer fitted at the front and incorporated in the bike’s frame.

If your child is four years of age and can cycle, you can purchase a special attachment to link their bike to yours or buy a tag-along trailer bike, an attachment that turns your bike into a kind of tandem, with the smaller bike behind.

Whichever product you buy, you will need to readjust the way you cycle to cope with the extra weight. If you opt for a trailer, don’t turn abruptly or ride aggressively over bumps as lighter models might tip over.

Buying your child’s first bike

Michela on her trike

I learnt to pedal with a trike and so did my daughter, but in the past few years balancing bikes have become very popular. These attractive, wooden bikes have no pedals and aim to teach your child good balance, so that they might not need stabilisers when they are ready for their ‘proper’ bike. Balancing bikes are suitable from two up to six years and some come with detachable/attachable pedals so you can fix them to the frame when your child is ready.

If you are buying a bicycle for older children, it can be difficult to decide which one is best. Sustrans’ Maya Stratton Brook advises: “It’s important to choose a model that has some room for adjustment as your child grows, but don’t be tempted to buy a bike for your child to ‘grow into’. Avoid cheap flat-pack bikes from catalogues - it’s worth paying a bit extra for a bike from a shop so that you can be sure that it is set up correctly.”
Michela with her first bike

Station Cycles’ Steven Poulter agrees: “Unfortunately, children do grow out of their bikes quickly. However it is important not to buy a bike that is too large hoping they will grow into it, as a bike that is too large for your child can be dangerous to ride. There are many different wheel sizes of children’s bikes, relative to their size and age. As a rough guide, we recommend a 12in wheel for ages 2-5, 16in wheel for ages 4-8, 18in wheel for ages 6-9, 20in wheel for ages 8-12 and 24in wheel for ages above 12 until they can fit comfortably on a 26in-wheel bike. This is only a guide and you should pop into your bike store to choose the right bike for your child.”

Is cycling dangerous?

In Britain there is a fatal cycling accident for every 31 million miles cycled, but of all road accidents, only around one in 28 deaths involves a cyclist. So cycling is much safer than driving.

Safety is still very important, though. Juli Abensour, of safety cycling accessory company, offers four top tips on road safety:
  • Be visible and vigilant - make sure you can be seen by motorists. Those who drive the same routes daily can be subject to ‘inattention blindness’, which means a motorist doesn’t notice a hazard in plain sight. Cyclists also need to make sure they’re given a second look on roads, wear high-visibility gear and use night cycle lights.
  •  Wear a helmet - if you fall off your bike, a serious blow to the head on a pavement or road can be fatal. Encourage your child to wear one too, even if they are strapped safely in a child bike seat. Wearing a cycle helmet is important as it reduces the risk of head injury by 85% and the risk of brain injury by almost 90%.
  • Maintain your bike - faulty breaks, worn tyres, slipping chains can lead to accidents. Pop into your local cycle shop every six months and get your bike serviced. Bicycle maintenance is a must.
  • Follow road laws - respect red lights and use cycle crossings on busy roads.
Other safety recommendations from community-interest company Get Cycling include:
  • Cycle assertively but politely – watch out for pedestrians stepping out, they can’t hear your “engine”.
  • Use cycle lanes but do not ride too close to the gutter – this way motorists will be able to see you and won’t try to overtake you when space is tight.
  • Learn to look behind with confidence, or use a mirror. Signal when you want to turn left or right using your arm.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open - watch out for car doors opening and cars coming out of drives.
  • Do not overtake lorries or buses on the left at junctions because they have a blind spot.
Cycling down King's Parade

Ready, steady, pedal!

Now you are all kitted up and raring to go, which are the best routes and itineraries? New cycle maps are available from the Cambridge Tourist Information Centre at Peas Hill, including central Cambridgeshire, Cambridge to Saffron Walden and an updated Cambridge cycle map. Or you can use the online journey planner, which covers the whole of the UK.

If you’d like some tried-and-tested recommendations, here are a few suggestions from local parents. VizzKids’ Juli Abensour is a fan of cross-country cycling: “Cambridgeshire’s flat landscape is a great place to get into cycling. There is a wonderful new cycle route courtesy of the National Trust called The Lodes Way. This nine-mile, scenic cross-country route runs from Wicken to Bottisham passing Anglesey Abbey. Some of the bridges are narrow, so cycling with trailers might find it a tight squeeze.”

Hermione Eccleson, mum of Bronwyn, 7 and Jago, 4, plans to cycle with her children from Grantchester Meadows in Newnham to Grantchester. “It is a nice, easy ride through and there are beautiful views across the river and fields. And, of course, tea at The Orchard as an incentive!”

Genevieve Guetemm, mum of three-year-old Florence, agrees: “If the weather is nice, I like to cycle to Grantchester. Cycling in the other direction (to Fen Ditton) is not as pleasant - it's too narrow and too busy, especially in the weekend. Overall, I prefer cycling when there is a dedicated cycle lane, so the recent improvements carried out in Gilbert Road are very welcome.”

Ailish Meadows, mum of Caitlin, 3 and Shannon, 1, says: “Last weekend Arthur and I took our daughters on the back of our bikes along the cycle path beside the guided bus route, from Arbury to Impington. It was a really nice and easy ride and we could cycle side by side - the path is very wide so we could chat to each other as we cycled along.”

My vote also goes to Grantchester and the delicious scones from The Orchard. This summer we want to ditch the car and cycle to Milton and Wandlebury County Parks, where bikes park for free.

Parking your bike and keeping it safe

Crime figures show an increase in bike thefts in Cambridge. The Police publishes a booklet called Stop taking your bike for a ride, which can be downloaded from

Here are three top tips on how to keep your bike secure:
 Do not leave your bicycle in isolated places. In Cambridge two large free cycle parks are located at Park Street and Grand Arcade car parks. The Grand Arcade cycle park, accessibile off Corn Exchange Street, also has a cycle shop and hire facility. If there is no bike park at your destination, use sturdy street furniture like trees, lampposts and railings (don’t do this if there is a notice forbidding cycle parking).
Always lock your bicycle through the frame and lock wheels and detachable parts. Remove lights and quick-release saddles and take them with you. Invest in a sturdy lock – the lock should cost 10 per cent of the value of your bike. Using two locks is prudent - one should always be a D lock.
Take a photograph of your bike, note its frame number and register it on, the national property register, which can help to identify your bike if it’s stolen and recovered. If your bike is stolen, contact Parkside police on 0345 456 456 4.

Product reviews: Britax Jockey Child Bike Seat & VizzKids’ safety cover 

The Jockey might sound expensive at RRP £129.99 but is suitable from around nine months to four years of age – and from 9 to 22kg in weight. This is quite a long life span – most seats last only a year or two because of lower weight limits. 

Features include a reclining option, a reversible, washable cover and a comfortable harness system with child-proof plug-in-buckle.

VizzKids’ neon yellow seat cover straps to any child bike seat and has bold text on the back that reads ‘CHILD ON BOARD’, alerting motorists of your precious cargo. 

An additional cycle light can be slotted into the PVC pocket built into the back of the safety cover, while a mesh zip pocket provides storage for small items, such as a puncture repair kit. It is manufactured in the UK and has a RRP of £23.99.

Useful websites 

Bike shops in and around Cambridge

Avenue Cycles, 100 Stretten Avenue, CB4 3ER. 01223 322716 
Ben Hayward Cycles, 69 Trumpington Street, CB2 1RJ. 01223 352294
Bicycle Ambulance, Park Street, CB5 8AS. 07838 162572
Billy’s Bike & Skate Store, 15 Burleigh Street, CB1 1DG. 01223 568368
Blazing Saddles, 110 Cherry Hinton Road, CB1 7AJ. 01223 415367 
Bridge Cycles, 22a Magdalene Street, CB3 0AF. 01223 361411 
Cambridge Cycle Centre, 8 Botolph Lane, CB2 3RD. 01223 307114 
Cambridge Station Cycles, 7 Station Road, CB1 2TZ. 01223 307125
Station Cycle Superstore, 9 High Street, Histon, CB24 9JD. 01223 232182
Cycle King, 195-197 Mill Road, CB1 3AN. 01223 214999
Halfords Ltd, 442 Newmarket Road, CB5 8JL. 01223 454280
Howes Cycles, 104 Regent St, CB2 1DP. 01223 350350
King St Cycles, 82 King St, CB1 1LN. 01223 367275 
Kingsway Cycles, 8 City Road, CB1 1DP. 01223 355852 
Lensfield Road Cycles, 69-71 Lensfield Rd, CB2 1EN. 01223 323559
PRIMO Cycles, 5-7 Jesus Lane, CB5 8BA. 01223 500502
The Bike Man, The Market Square, CB2 3QJ. 07850 814186
The Cambridge Bicycle Doctor, 07964 427151
The Electric Transport Shop, Hope Street Yard, CB1 3NA. 01223 247410
The School Run Centre, Hope Street Year, CB1 3NA. 07772 738899
Townsends Light Blue Cycle Centre, 72 Chesterton Road, CB4 1EP. 01223 315845
University Cycles, 9 Victoria Avenue, CB4 1EG. 01223 355517

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Tuscany travel guides....and not missing homeworking!

Gaiole's main square by Tubantia
Would you like to get away to sunny, warmer climates? I do after such a long winter! However, I have started a new job so I need to choose my holidays very carefully. I can't just book at the last minute or take days off at a whim.
Homeworking allowed me to be flexible with my holiday arrangements, although if I got suddenly busy, holidays had to be postponed to 'slower months'.
I don't miss homeworking, though. I worked from home for about four years exclusively, then started temping here and there when I had childcare available. The biggest change happened when my daughter joined the after-school club full time in September last year. My temping assignments/inhouse contracts just got longer.
Thanks to my partner's support I was able to apply for permanent jobs and when I got my current post, he stepped in to look after our daughter during the Easter holidays. I guess when he gets busy again we will have to consider holiday clubs too. He is trying to make homeworking "work" for him, but it's not easy. Somehow the idea of a man wanting to work from home to take a bigger share of childcare is still alien in some sectors.
But back to the reason I am posting these photos... my next holiday is months away, but in my spare time I write about holidays... specifically about Tuscany, a very popular Italian region with British and American travellers. Here are some photos I'm planning to add to the Tuscany blog I am writing: enjoy! All photos below are by F. Gren.