Colm O'Regan: Bikes in the city — some things I've learned

To my shame, for all my rabbitting on about cycling, I have never given anyone a crosser. Never put someone up on the handlebars. Never. Even. Given. Someone. A Backer.

This week I made up for it, in a very dadly ‘right-on’ way. I am bringing the Two — ages 6 and 7 — around the city on the back of one of them electric longtail bikes.

We got a loan (from the UCD bike library) of a Yuba Fastrack. Given the current climate, just so you know, it’s all accounted for and I’m giving it back after 10 days. But before my Public Accounts Committee appearance where I’m answering two questions in three hours, here are the things I’ve learned from covering about 100km around the city with precious cargo.

I need stronger muscles in my right thigh for ‘take-off’. And that my children are both now no longer little. They are as my mother would say “fine solid lumps”. There is a moment of terror after I take off for the first time, where I realise that what’s behind me has mass and that mass is more than I thought and we’re going to fall. They are unaware of my terror. Now when we get going and I make the same 'hupouttathat' sound I now make when getting out of a chair, they don’t realise I’m self-soothing.

I feel like a learner driver again. Avoiding situations where I have to turn right. To quote Chris Rock I’m a left-turn-making-fool. I’m rabidly anti-clockwise.

I regard other motorists now as if I were driving an old banger that I couldn’t trust to take off again, or if it was in snow. I scream in my brain “WHY ARE YOU STOPPING? DRIVE ON”.

A lot of cycling infrastructure never even thought that this kind of bike might exist. There are still plenty of ‘kissing gates’ going into parks where you have to kiss your children goodbye, get them out of the bike, and then lift the bike over the railing.

I’m self-conscious about it. We don’t go out in the rain. I could and should. It’s only summer rain. But wrongly or rightly I feel I’d be judged. Making your children walk in the rain. Character-building. But they sit in the back of a bicycle? Am I one of ‘those dads’? Grimly insisting on us carrying on with the project. I shouldn’t worry. “Why can’t we go out on the bike in the rain Daddy?” they ask. Children are mad for rain. They’ll learn.

I realise just how ingrained a car is in my value system. It’s so weird being in charge of an expensive version of a thing. An electric tail-bike can be about 4 grand. If it were the price of a car you’d be buying it in cash in a dark Lidl carpark somewhere near the M50, hoping it was the actual owner who sold it to you. But in a bike, I still see it as expensive.

I quibble about how much space it’s taking up out in the back yard. Forgetting how much space the car is swallowing up in front of the house.

It’s a smidge of a psychological step closer to not owning a car. I’m not ‘there’ yet though. I imagine the situations where I just need a car and lookit that’s just the way it is. What I actually need is a rich friend with a spare car.

Back to the bike, two main things. You CAN bring children around a city on a bike and it's fierce fun. The children are giggling, singing. Pointing things out. Waving at people. Getting a TREMENDOUS kick out of being the indicators.

We’ll miss it when we hand it back. And that’s the end of my long tail.

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