Pride and petrification

Our tandem transformed the school run, because I could take the 8-year-old Cutester on any road I feel confident to cycle on myself, without fearing for her safety. (You have to be pretty confident to ride the 1.7 mile route to her school, on roads designed to terrify anyone who dares to travel outside a car.)

It’s been working really well and I didn’t envisage any change of plan for the foreseeable future until…

“Mummy, can I ride my own bike to school next week?”


The school run until three weeks ago (balloons optional)


It was my own fault. We did a nice park-hopping ride at the weekend with another family, and when the Cutester – now 10, by the way – said she wanted to go on the tandem I talked her out of it.

“It will be loads more fun on your own bike!” I said.

IMG_3088 (1)

What could be nicer? Freedom and friendship

I was right – it was, because her friend was on her own bike too.

But this was through parks connected with very quiet roads and off -road paths. The school run is another matter altogether for a spindly little 10-year-old on her own wheels.

“So can I go to school on my own bike?”

I agreed, with misgivings. Apart from the road skills, there’s the small matter of the Cutester being allergic to hills. She can cartwheel on any surface but walking or pedalling up the slightest incline has traditionally resulted in tears. And while she’s been riding behind me on the tandem for the last two school years, I’ve had my suspicions about how much exercise she’s actually getting. How come while I’m puffing and panting uphill, she’s singing the soundtrack to Moana without missing a note?

Anyway – she did it, and I’m bursting with pride.


We made it!

It was also, at times, absolutely petrifying.

As we set off on that first morning, I realised I’d given her zero instructions. One of the first questions over her shoulder (having cycled recently in Holland) was, “Which side of the road is it again?”

Our route from Palmers Green to Southgate, where her school is, takes us along a narrow winding rat run called Fox Lane. It’s the sort of road where you often see post-collision debris, and every so often an impatient Mercedes driver will honk at you for riding in the correct road position. I pedalled along behind her, breathing down the back of her neck and instructing her within an inch of her life. She was excellent – she understood about the door zone and got up the steep hill without even being out of breath.

At the end of Fox Lane you come to Bourne Hill, a fast, unforgiving thoroughfare into Southgate Circus. It has a nice wide pavement that you rarely see people using. So we rode on it side by side, chatting and pretending we were back in Holland. Frankly, it ought to be a cycle path or at least shared space, so I make no apology.



Cycle with fast traffic, or on a wide deserted pavement? Hmm…

This road takes you to two zebra crossings over the roundabout at Southgate station, and from there we could cycle to her school. I marched into her classroom and told her teacher to present the Cutester with a giant gold trophy at the next assembly.

We’ve done it for about three weeks now and it’s starting to feel normal. But it can still be petrifying. The instructing from behind thing doesn’t always work, for a start. She’s quite fast, and at one point for instance she was whizzing ahead of me towards a junction with a main road.

“Check! Check! Check!” I shouted, panting to catch up with her.

Without even looking, she turned straight into the main road.

“Cutester! WHAT were you doing?!” I said when I caught up (she’d been lucky with the traffic, thank God and all his angels…).

“Oh, I thought  you said, ‘Go – quick'” she told me nonchalantly.

And then there was the time I shouted ‘Left!’ and she went right… that was not a good moment to realise her directions are not too hot. Now I say “in” and “out” and it works much better. I’ve also sat down with her and used cars made out of erasers on a pencil-drawn road map to explain how roundabouts work and giving way at side roads. And gone on and on about how important it is to look at what the traffic is doing…

“When I cycle on my own, I’ll remember to look,” she tells me reassuringly.

“Next week,” she adds, “Can I cycle to school without you?”






6 thoughts on “Pride and petrification

  1. Cycling with children has been discussed on CityCyclingEdinburgh, so you may find some tips there:

    Teaching kids to cycle on the road…
    Cycling with a confident child

    The higher level Bikeability options should also help:

    Unfortunately in the absence of dedicated cycle infrastructure, we have to teach children “vehicular cycling”, getting them to “take the lane”. This is petrifying! Can you imagine teaching them to travel safely through building sites by maintaining situational awareness and wearing PPE?

    Yet still the benefits of active travel outweigh the disadvantages (including parental petrification) – you’re teaching a skill that will enhance and extend the Cutester’s life. Statistically. Which doesn’t really help with the petrification…


    • Thanks Robert! Enfield does free cycle training for families so I’m planning to book some soon. I’m also asking the council to consider making our on-pavement route a shared path as a stepping stone to putting in proper infrastructure- there’s certainly plenty of space. Meanwhile I try to ride as close to the Cutester as I can on the road and at pinch points we ride side by side. I’d like to think we are educating the local drivers but I’m probably sadly deluded!

  2. A wonderful and uplifting tale well told
    Congratulations on your courage and her determination
    O dread the day her friends get cars children become teenagers become adults delight in exploring opposite viewpoints
    Enjoy now to the fullest!!

  3. Congratulations to you and your daughter.

    Funnily enough I’ve been considering going the opposite direction. Daughter and I have cycled the school run since she was in Reception. Luckily her infants’ school wasn’t too far away, so cycling in London traffic with a five year old is possible.

    She’s in Year 4 now and we manage the daily school run okay, it’s 3 kilometres each way but luckily some of it is through Regent’s Park. Fast traffic but at least it’s a wide road.

    The problem is she is now borderline on the weight limit for her Bobike Junior seat on my mountain bike which means when I need to take her, for example, to her swimming lessons at the YMCA in the horror of the Gower Street/Tottenham Court Road race track, we can just about manage with her on my bike. I can’t ask a nine year old to mix with that aggressive traffic on her bike, even though she would be up for it, so we’ve been considering the Circe in your first pic.

    I’m reluctant to do it. Not just the expense but it will remove some of her autonomy as using the tandem would quickly become the default mode – I’m sure it’d be quicker than shepherding her – so she would lose that bit of independence.

    Your lucky your daughter wants this independence. Encourage it while you can.

    • I highly recommend the Circe! Even though my daughter is riding her own bike mostly for the school run, at the weekend we used the tandem to go shopping 3 miles away (scary roads) and then I used it to pick her up from a friend’s house that she’d been taken to by car. In both cases her own bike wouldn’t have been an option. I basically use it to replace car (and some bus) journeys, and the money we’ve saved has now (I think) covered the cost. So I’d consider it in your case – your daughter at least gets to pedal too, and in our case it doesn’t seem to have fostered dependence – maybe even the opposite!

  4. Pingback: Pride and petrification: Part 2 | Subversive Suburbanite

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