Róisín Ingle on ... getting back on the bike
At the Irish Cargo Bike Championships in Phoenix Park last month somebody kindly gave me a go of their vehicle. I say vehicle because strapping my children into the sturdy looking box at the front of the bike was a surprisingly empowering moment.
You see, as a committed non-driver, I don’t get to ferry my children around from GAA to dance class to the supermarket. And yet here I was about to take them up and down the cycle path, transporting them from A to B under my own steam.
“It takes a while to get used to it,” I think I heard the bike owner say but I was gone, driving my children somewhere, anywhere, like a proper grown-up.
I once saw a picture in a magazine of Mariella Frostrup bringing her children to school through, I think, Hyde Park. I’m a long time admirer of the journalist who lived in Ireland as a young girl.
She had one of these more-than-just-a-bike contraptions and two adorable children strapped behind her as she whizzed along. I am thinking about Mariella and her lovely hair as I cycle unsteadily down the path.
I am also thinking about the time we went on a family cycle on the brilliant Greenway in Co Mayo last summer when I had one of my daughters in a trailer behind the bike but she wasn’t strapped in properly and I ended up momentarily trailing her along the gravel path instead of the trailer. I banish the memory.
The steering is sensitive on these cargo bikes, so one slight swerve of the handlebars can send you further left or right than you might like. There is a slight incline on either side of the bicycle path leading down to long grass but I don’t want to think about that either. I’m channelling elegant, assured Mariella now and everything is going to be alright.
Until suddenly it isn’t. I get too delighted with myself which is a character flaw that occurs when I’m not in self-flagellation mode. “I can do this,” I think. “I am brilliant at this”.
My daughters are singing the soundtrack of Frozen to each other and I’m thinking how funny it is to be going on about wanting to build a snowman in this blazing Sunday sunshine when I inadvertently steer slightly to the right. Then I can’t steer back the other way and the contraption swerves down the incline and I don’t remember the brake is operated by a back pedalling mechanism and I’m trying to push the brake on the handlebars but we’re not stopping because there is no brake there. I hear screams. Mine and the children’s. The contraption capsizes and the next thing we are all on the ground in the long grass, snot covered and shaken.
After I’ve checked whether there are broken bones, the next thing I do is look around to see if anybody has witnessed my disgrace. If a cargo bike is upturned in the park and nobody saw then perhaps it didn’t really happen. But of course there are witnesses. A kind man gives us a hand up and says helpfully “at least you can write about it in your blog” which cheers me up a bit. The children get reluctantly back into the box and I cycle slowly back to the owner of the bike.
You’d think I’d steer clear of any more vehicles but when the Dutch Bike Shop, in Dublin, offers to lend me a cargo bike for a week, I go for it. I feel like I need a vehicle in my life.
The thing takes up half the path outside my house. I keep looking out of the window at it.
I am afraid. When the children are in bed I unlock the heavy chain and teeter around my road, feeling with every bump, every mini-pothole, like I am going to fall. When I get back home, sweating and shaking, I feel a failure. I can’t drive a car and I can’t even drive one of these yokes without endangering myself and, worse, my daughters.
The next morning, I chicken out of taking them by cargo bike to GAA camp but at the last minute I decide that I will. “Are you going to crash again, Mum?” they ask from their box, which is a fair question. We go very slowly. The air around the Clontarf prom is bracing. We wobble sometimes but we do not crash. When I get to the camp other mothers come over and ask me admiring questions about how to handle the vehicle.
“Is it hard?” they ask. “You get used to it,” I tell them. And maybe I will.