‘This is JUST what we’ve been looking for!’ I dragged my husband, Nick, to the computer screen where I had been reading the Cambridge Twins Club newsletter. In the ‘For Sale’ section were the words ‘customised Pashley tricycle, two rear facing bicycle seats attached’.
I had been wondering about the issue of getting out and about, further afield than walking allows and without a car, with our twin girls, Emily and Isabel… and this seemed like a good solution.
We had been considering the bicycling options: one on the front, one on the back? A bit unsafe, perhaps. Ditto the bike dragging a trailer along behind; the fact that the children are lower than a driver’s eye line, despite a jolly flag waving above, just put us off. A covered ‘reverse tricycle’ seemed a good option, but was quite wide and unwieldy and hugely expensive. (No offence to anyone who rides any of these… everyone chooses the right bike/trike for them!) This trike sounded simple, neat and ‘no frills’, all of which appealed to us, so I sent a hasty email claiming the trike and we rushed round to collect it.
Emily and Isabel, despite being only just over one at the time, and small for their age, were very excited at the prospect of sitting in the bike seats and thought it a fun game. We removed them for our first what can only be described as a ‘wobble’ rather than ‘ride’ down the street. Being cyclists, to turn a corner we just leant our weight over. This doesn’t work on a trike. You can lean all you like and the thing will continue in an onward direction. Apologies to anyone who lived down the road where we first tried out the trike – we both hit several hedges, clipped the kerb, narrowly avoided several stationary cars and made a complete spectacle of ourselves. For anyone who has been canoeing: your first experience of trying to paddle a canoe in a straight line is like trying to ride a trike for the first time. Unlearning all you know about bicycling and remembering actually to turn the handlebars rather than using your body weight is something which we found takes a bit of time.
The next issue, once we had decided that, yes, we could get used to this triking malarkey and having paid up the required £250 (the going price for a second hand Pashley, based on eBay), was getting the contraption home. It certainly wasn’t going to fit in our car, large boot or no large boot. Being about ten miles from home (and tentative, virgin trikers to boot) we decided that I would drive the girls to the river at Newnham, and Nick would do the first leg of the journey, meeting us there for a picnic to break the journey. Half an hour later he swept up to us, a big grin on his face, calling out, ‘Bit slower than a bike. Got to watch the uneven bits,’ which I found a bit ominous.
Once we had swapped, I realised that the first part of my journey home was along the river path. Incredulous stares of passers-by followed my wobbling progress, as I veered towards the river, then remembered to use the handlebars and veered the other way, with Nick watching (now a triking pro. after six miles practice), shouting, ‘Slow down a bit. TURN the handlebars. Not that way, the other way…’.
It took us a while to summon up the courage actually to take the girls on the trike. We had been to the cycle shop to get their lovely blue helmets, of which they were extremely proud. The only problem was that once they were seated, snugly strapped in, the back of the seats pushed the helmets forward and over their eyes. This didn’t go down well with the girls. This meant that our first few forays out as a family on wheels involved one of us peddling the trike and the other on a bike as ‘outrider’, with the usual peace punctuated by shouts of, ‘Are they happy?’ with the reply something like, ‘Not sure, I can’t see their faces. The helmets are covering them. I think Isabel’s smiling…. Oh, maybe not. I think it’s a grimace.’ Poor Emily would be hanging on for dear life, looking very pale, so we kept the trips short, usually ending at the park swings. Another issue was our continued ineptitude at steering through narrow gaps, and realising that a trike feels much more as if it is about to ‘capsize’ when you go over small bumps than a bike.
Luckily, as the girls got more used to it (and grew a bit so their helmets were not always being pushed over their eyes and they could actually see) I got in a lot more practice and soon became proficient at knowing which small gaps we could squeeze through and at gliding over potholes and bumps at the side of the road without fear of tipping up. These trips would generally be during the week when Nick was at work, so at the weekends for the first month or so he would see me nonchalantly speeding off and would get a worried look on his face. ‘Are you sure you’re safe?’ he’d mutter as the girls and I took off. But by then it was second nature to the three of us, and we’d all grin and I’d tell him to ‘stop fussing’!
One thing that both of us keep ‘fussing’ about is safety. We pick our cycle routes carefully and avoid busy roads such as Mill Road if possible. We can generally get around Cambridge quite well, but are wary of roads that have no cycle lane through fear of being ‘squeezed’ by buses and other vehicles that tend to overtake normal cyclists quite tightly. We had to make one modification to the trike, attaching side guards to the back wheels, so there is no chance of the girls catching their feet in the wheels.
What seems the trike’s best feature is the fact that the girls face the oncoming traffic at ‘cyclist height’. This means that cars can see that small children are on board from a reasonable way off and give us a wide berth. Our size and unusualness may also help. I often catch motorists smiling as they pass us, and can only assume that the girls have been waving at them, or grinning… Perhaps we are just a bit of a funny spectacle, whizzing along. Or puffing along. It is amazing that the bigger the girls get (they are now two) the more I notice any little incline. But what a way to keep fit – going places we want to go, in the fresh air, singing, looking at what is going on around us, playing ‘spot the (insert colour of car, name of animal….)’ or just waving at friendly passers by.
If you see us out and about in Cambridge, give us a wave and we’ll return it!
Clare Hardy, with photos by Ian Farrell