As a family, we like bikes. Since Maya arrived in 2002, we've progressed through a variety of bicycling possibilites. We cycled around London with a very happy Maya sitting in a seat on the back of my bike. Maya tried out her first little pink bike and stabilisers along Morecambe promenade. When Iola arrived, we invested in a bicycle trailer which I have hauled around Lancashire and the Lake District. Initially, Iola snoozed away in a tiny hammock suspended next to Maya, then she grew into a boisterous toddler who filled the trailer with so many toys that Maya couldn't squeeze in alongside her. Maya spent time riding around Tyneside and Northumbria on the back of the tandem. Over the past four or five years I have spent time running alongside Maya as she's gained confidence on two wheels among the hills of the Lake District, and alongside Iola as she's narrowly missed parked cars on cul-de-sacs in Tyneside. Now, here in Massachusetts, we have finally reached the point of all being able to cycle independently as a family. It feels like a landmark!
Through careful and considered packing, we have arrived in America with a selection of pans, no crockery, children's clothing suited to all climates from polar to desert, 752 vinyl records, a broken turntable, three bikes, and one tandem. Since arriving Maya has acquired a red vintage women's racing bike, which she adores, and we bought a set of cheap white plates and bowls. Nathan doesn't yet have a bike (the packing logistics involved the strategic balancing of 750 LPs against Zoe's bikes ... it seemed fair at the time!) but can fold himself into a small enough shape to fit onto my mountain bike.
Cambridge, Massachusetts earned an honorable mention from Bicycling Magazine for some of the best cycle paths in America. There are cycle paths of all shapes and sizes, from the purpose-built tarmaced paths and converted railway lines through to the narrow wriggly lines on major highways. There are cyclists of all shapes and sizes and ages all over the city. We were keen to join in.
Iola was particularly keen to join them and to find out how quickly she could travel from one end of Cambridge to the other.
"Iola, we need to be very careful because we need to ride on the road for the first part of the trip...", we calmly began to explain.The cycle path near Harvard Square is beautiful - flat, smooth tarmac with wide grass verges. The Charles river is on one side and trees are on the other. With Iola leading the way, the miles soon disappeared beneath our wheels.
"That's ok," Iola interrupted, "I'll be quite safe because I can go faster than any car."
Iola and Nathan led the way. Maya bent to adjust her stripey leg warmers (worn in honor of the antique qualities of her new cycle) and then we watched in horror as Nathan and Iola disappeared down the road, apparently heading towards the border with New Hampshire. We were relieved when we eventually caught them stopped at a red traffic light.
Then the cycle path becomes more "rural", with patches of mud amongst the tarmac. At this point, Iola got very excited.
"Look, I'm off-roading," she called and disappeared towards the trees. I am reminded of a joke my friend Glen once made about the sign of a happy cyclist being the dead flies stuck to their teeth (note to self: always close mouth when cycling downhill). Iola reappeared with mud all over herself and her bike.
"It's great," she told us, "It's like having icicles in my sneakers!"
There was a huge smile just visible behind the mud on her face.
Iola's bike has six gears. Maya's bike has ten. We started to climb a hill.
"Drop down to gear 3," advised Maya, with the sage wisdom of a nine year old who has her own racing bike.
"Why?" asked Iola.
"It will make it easier to get up the hill."
"I don't want it to be easy, Maya. I just want to go really, really fast."
We tried to pace ourselves (difficult when one is struggling to keep pace with one's youngest) and decided to stop and stretch our legs at a play park. Maya had already decided that our cycle ride wasn't challenging enough, so circumnavigated the park on the monkey bars, leapt from climbing frames, and ran around the fields several times.
The really big change, for me at least, in cycling as a family now that we all ride our own bikes is that I'm bringing up the rear. I'm used to pulling the trailer, or having the childseat behind me, or running alongside a child whose legs aren't yet long enough to pedal further than the end of the road. You have some control when they're younger. Now they're pedalling furiously away with their legs pumping and my heart in my mouth. Iola didn't really slow down for the entire ride. Maya would have liked to have done another 10 miles. I'm exhausted. I'm blaming the adrenalin!