This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 146.
My journey into the Camcycle office began in 1981 as the first of a new kind of rear-mounted child bike seat was produced and I followed swiftly, joining a cycling family. I grew up cycling from A-to-B on the south coast and bought myself an adult bike when I first arrived in Cambridge. It was a thrill to live in a city which seemed so accessible by bike: the market square, dancing at the Grad Pad and lazy picnics on Grantchester Meadows were all within a ten-minute cycle. To my young, carefree, cycling self, Cambridge seemed an idyllic place.
After three years, I moved to London with my fiancé. Determined to commute by bike, I lived a short ride from work across Clapham Common. From there, we moved to Cheltenham which has beautiful local rides and allowed me another short cycling commute. When I fell pregnant, cycling continued to be my preferred mode of transport: it made me feel lightweight and enabled me to stay active. We made a last-minute move back to Cambridge and I enjoyed cycling until the day my son was born. Generous friends gave us a child bike seat as a congratulatory present and I looked forward to being free of the buggy. I felt impatient to get back on the bike and regain quick access to the city as well as its peripheral open spaces.
At nine months, my son was big enough to wear a helmet. I surprised myself on our first journey, feeling vulnerable on my bike for the first time. The balance had shifted and my decision-making became very conscious. It was the first time I remember choosing a route according to its cyclability – the presence of cycle lanes, bridges and the volume and speed of traffic. I realised that there were many Cambridge roads which I now didn’t want to use despite years of cycling them without a second thought. Fortunately, we live very close to the Cam so have safe, calm access both into and out of the city. As a result, I gained confidence quickly and within days enjoyed the freedom of cycling again.
Two years later, our daughter arrived. This time, there was no waiting around: I had a toddler whose life needed to go on, we knew our safe routes and I felt confident cycling with little ones. Within three weeks we were back on the bike – him on his seat and her in a sling. After nine months, we bought an e-assisted cargo bike with a rain cover for the children and wondered why we hadn’t done it sooner. It meant that, regardless of the weather or how much clobber we carried, family travel by bike was easy. Fairly soon, I realised with pleasure that for our children, cycling was the normal mode of transport: on a journey along Newmarket Road, one of them asked why so many people sat in their cars if they wanted to get somewhere. Why indeed!
When my son started pedalling, a sense of vulnerability returned. Once again, I had to assume the position of a learner, trying to anticipate his thoughts and actions as a newcomer to cycling. In an effort to model for him, I narrated our journeys – keeping left, car coming, traffic lights ahead, gentle braking – and noted afresh how hazardous our local routes are – large pothole, awkward barriers, sudden end to cycle lane, no space for cyclists. Of course, learning something new is often overwhelming, but I was struck by how many of the risks could be avoided with better cycle infrastructure. Equally, it was wonderful to be able to point to proper cycle paths and green lights specifically for cyclists which help make some of the journey so clear.
Around this time, I became involved with the Camcycle magazine. It provided an opportunity to think about how people of differing ages, cultures and abilities experience cycling in Cambridge and how things might be improved. When Camcycle advertised the new role of Administrative Officer, I jumped at the chance to join the team and commit more of my time to the cause. It’s a new role for me, having worked previously as a teacher and Head of Department, and it’s the first time Camcycle has appointed someone to the position. I’m delighted to be involved: I love life in Cambridge and want my children to grow up feeling that cycling contributes significantly to it being a happy place for all to live.