Friday, 19 July 2013

Cargo Biking in London is a Little Like Going for a Horseback Ride - But Without the Mucking Out and the Sweat

First sightings of cargo bikes usually occur on visits to cities such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam, in my case the latter. While noticing the bikes, I also noticed the Dutch: straight backs, no tummies sticking out and waistlines to die for - and that's just the men.

I've never really ridden a bike before and although our esteemed Mayor has promised us 'mini-Hollands' in London, all that takes time. There's a whole network of free or subsidised cycle training for adults but since I've never had much of a balance mechanism (yow, those sessions in the school gym), I knew I wasn't going to be much good at learning to balance on a linear (two-wheeled) bike.

Meet Borisette.

With a cargo bike like Borisette, you don't have to balance; you sit perfectly stable on a robust isosceles (two wheels and a box at the front; one wheel behind). There's no need to lower a foot and keep your balance when stopped in traffic or at traffic lights. You have a massively commanding view of the road and traffic conditions on that road. Looking round to check the road behind you is a cinch.

I discovered this the first time I rode one at London Green Cycles (they're already famous). The focus is totally on safety and control of your bike. With this emphasis comes confidence. Instruction is careful, methodical, and unhurried (thank you, Chandra and Roman, for cargo bike professionalism I will never forget). There is plenty of quiet space (just east of Regent's Park in Albany Street NW1) to go cycling round the block to get the feel of the thing. They have a range of 'preloved' cargo bikes, all of which have also been given names by their owners. They also do cargo bike hire. 

So now, as well as my Highway Code, I have a safe, comfortable, low maintenance and easy to ride cargo bike that is a pleasure to explore my city on. And I'll be booking up for cycle maintenance. A girl can make room in her life for spanners.

Naturally, I have called her Borisette in tribute to Boris Johnson who set up Barclays Cycle Hire, an initiative that has changed London.

I took Borisette to the park yesterday - and spent a precious hour staring at grass and resting under cool trees.

Riding a cargo bike gives a feeling rather like the freedom a horse rider must feel. Once aboard, you feel in touch with the moment and, for a short while, serene and in touch with another part of the self. 

Cargo bikes are relatively expensive. They do come completely road ready with 3 speed Shimano gears (7 gear models are available), a coaster brake, mudguards, chain guard, frame lock and bell. I can't really afford one: but I have learned how to switch relatively easily into low-spend mode (baked potatoes anyone?). I am not going to count every penny I save on tube and bus fares but it will be considerable - and it is summer when household bills are at their lowest.

So, what can I tell you about cargo bikes that you don't already know? Any questions are welcome, especially from new riders such as myself.

And the best and most relieving bit of all? Discovering that there is lots of courtesy on the road. After all, put yourself on a cargo bike with that mighty frame around you, and you are very, very visible. 

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