The Look

Ever since I have become a Cargo Bike mum, I have experienced “The Look”. When I purchased my Babboe Bakfiets in Hasselt, Belgium. When I took that bike with me to London and now, cycling my Dutch Utility Bike from Harry and Kristina. But, I have never experienced The Look as much as I have experienced it today.

London is under a little frozen spell at the moment. A lovely -3°C when we got up today. I got up slightly earlier this morning, as I had left my bike outside on purpose. I wanted to know whether it would buckle under the cold. Last year my babboe did. The brake cables froze and had to be replaced in the end. So, up earlier, boiling kettle at hand to defrost the locks (which in the end wasn’t necessary, brute force and ignorance worked a charm), we set off on the schoolrun.

Henry and I were dressed for the occassion as well. I had stockings on, under my corduroy trousers, T-shirt, hoody, fleece cardi and my winter jacket. Hat, scarf and gloves of course too. Henry had his school uniform on, so as we couldn’t change that (his uniform is not made for winter temperatures), I had to become a bit inventive with thermal undies, knee lenght socks and an extra tshirt.

The first thing I did, when we left, was testing the bike if it was ok to go. Brakes: check! Gears: check. Saddle: OMG MY BOTTOM IS FROZEN!!!! Even Henry’s bottom got a pinch, as the cushion he sat on in the back had a thin layer of ice. However, everything was good to go, so we made a dash for it.

When I left my street, I already got the first “look”. A mum, I see regularly on my schoolrun threw me a sidewards glance. I could just see what she was thinking. “Is this woman slightly off her nut”?? “It is -3 out today and she is what, CYLING”??? More people threw me the exact same look on my way to school. The English already look at cyclists in a “what the hell are you on about” kind of way, but when it turns frosty they start thinking you are positively insane. 

Henry and I arrived at school, toasty warm. The bike was totally fine too. Not one hitch or glitch. Mummies at the school gate were complaining about the cold. “What cold”?? One of my friends, who is by all means very very English and lovely, took the bus to school, because of it. It gave me a right inner chuckle. The fabric of society here is crumbling because the temperature drops a few degrees and I can’t help but think: “what would you lot do in Scandinavia”?? #vikingbiking there is a “thing”. People don’t throw you “The Look” for taking your bike out in snowy conditions. They embrace nature as it comes, frosty temperatures and all and just harden up. Perhaps we can take a page out of their book! (Pictures below curtesy of @copenhagenize’s Mikael Anderson)

   
   

Winter is coming

  
What better way than starting a blogpost with a good, old fashioned meme! Indeed friends, winter is coming. 

This morning’s schoolrun was slightly on the nippy side. Gloves were deployed, “look mummy, I breathe fire like a dragon jokes” inevitable. However, it was dry and crisp and ideal cycling weather.

Now winter is well and truly on the way, we have to be even more aware, as cyclists. The conditions can become treacherous and danger can lay around the corner. Especially here in Haringay, were cycle paths are not common ground and we have to cycle either on the road, or even on the pavement if the road is too dangerous. 

So, what do we need to look out for now the weather is changing?

  • Potholes: Because of the changing weather and gritting, the tarmac takes a proper beating. Potholes are an inevitable but dangerous effect. Cyclists can actually die if a pothole is not taken care of. Last week a fellow cyclist lost her life, because of an unfixed pothole. As cyclists, we have a much better view of our surroundings and roads and I feel it is our duty to report potholes as soon as we spot one. Most councils have a pothole hotline, or an online form. You can find Haringey’s form here. Please do report any problem on the road surface. It can save a life!
  • Drain covers: I have noticed recently drain covers over here are very often smooth surfaced. No idea which bright star thought this was a good idea, as it is incredibly dangerous when the weather turns frosty. A bit of dew (not even rain) and zero temps and a drain cover becomes a slippery slide. Drain covers which are rough surfaced, but which are old (rough surface been worn out by cars) are a problem too. So, if you have to cycle over one, do take heed!
  • Speed bumps: I cycle to school via a so called “quiet way”. Tfl’s solution to not have to build actual cycle infrastructure. Take a street, put a 20mph speed limit in and enforce via speed bumps. Don’t take care of speed bumps and see them become dangerous (chipped off and slippery) in winter. Be careful of those as well.
  • Car drivers: Become even more aware of car drivers. Many of them don’t find it necessary to scrape the frost off their windows, so they drive with tunnel vision. A “Sorry Mate I didn’t See You” aka SMIDSY is very common in the winter. The Highway Code is very clear on the matter, so drivers have no excuse:

 
Cycling in winter is indeed slighty more tricky than in summer, but definitely not less enjoyable. I love the change of seasons and the connection I get with nature. Going inside after a nice cold ride, ears ringing with cold and warming up with a nice cup of tea. I also love the connection you get with fellow cyclists. I had a police community support officer cycle up to me this morning, commending me on my “bravery for cycling my son to school in this weather with my ferrari”. He really made my day! After a high five, we merrily went on our way. Let winter come, we are ready!

Sexy Back

Day two of a brand spanking new year! And today I had a little bit of a “lightbulb moment”. Ohhhh, what is that, you may ask…

Well, it all started yesterday, with a bit of a conversation. Someone I know went on a bike ride and I saw a picture of this cycling group. All were dressed head to toe in lycra, high viz, polysterene hats, except this one friend. Who was dressed quite normally. And I got to think. Good people of this Island: we have an image problem. No really, hear me out, we do!

I have already broached this subject in another blog post, when it comes to actual bicycles: which you can read here. However, this is only part of the problem. 

There is no more sexy when it comes to cycling. The mojo, the sass, the LIFE and ADVENTURE has been drained out of what once was a gorgeous thing. And to my horror, it has been replaced by lycra

NO MORE, I SAY. No more. I have found my goal this year. I am going to bring sexy back! 

I am definitely not a fashionista, nor fashion guru. Yours truely does not read Cosmopolitan, nor is she a yummie mummy. But what I do know, is that people also cycle in regular outfits. And that other people, you know, the rest who doesn’t (yet) cycle, think we are all wearing bright yellow spandex sort of shennanigans. 

Thus commenceth my 2016 mission: to show people the light… . I shall be doing this by taking a picture of myself, everytime I hop on a bike. These pictures will end up in an album on facebook. But, in the meantime, I’ll leave you with these. Why don’t you join the Cycling Revolution? 
UPDATE: As promised I would be taken pictures of my cycling outfits through the year. These can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/deborah.willemen/media_set?set=a.10154037764485934.1073741896.685690933&type=3

  

A few words on the last day of the year.

Last day of the year.

Last day of 2015 and I am feeling a bit “meh” about it all.  Although I did the thing I wanted to do most of all -move countries- this year, I still feel 2015 was a year to put away and forget. 

From October 2014 right up to April 2015 I was constantly ill. A nasty work related back injury set things off and I was quite unable to get back on my feet. 3 family members passed away and one friend. Financial worries and an international move uprooted the entire family. A bike accident, a bike theft and a loss of a job. I think that about sums it up. 

However, in the process I have made some lovely friends, met remarkable people and started putting my roots down once more. We found Tottenham and adopted our new hood. And then a cat adopted us. In the last 4 months, I feel we have worked hard as a family. Worked hard towards making a brighter future. With a lot of downs, but hopefully in 2016 with a hell of a lot of ups.

Normally I am not much of a worrier. I have always taken life as it comes. But, nowadays I struggle. I admit. I see a lot of hate around. Hate towards cultures, hate towards people who are different, hate towards our planet. I am not guilt free either. I do catch myself looking at people sometimes and thinking “seriously?!” I judge too. And I feel this is something I need to work on in 2016. I will try to be less judgemental, less resentful and fill my heart with love instead of hate.

To set this New Year’s resolution off, I’d like to thank each and everyone of you. Personally. For being there, for listening, for rooting, for all the advice, information, help, support, silliness, love, banter, for everything. You are all the best a person can wish for. YOU have made this year worthwhile. Give yourself this credit, please.

Happy New Year everyone. One advice I got today (Thanks Sue): above all “be resilient”. I for one, will venture to rise like a phoenix from 2015’s ashes. And kick some 2016 butt.

3…..2…..1…….BLAST OFF

As you will all know, I used to cycle a cargo bike, before my bike got stolen two months ago. Now I cycle a beautiful two wheeler Dutch Utility Bike instead. However, my love for cargo bikes has not faded and I keep being in awe with one specific brand I got to know about a year ago.

Cargo bikes originally come from Denmark, with Christiania being over 30 years old. The Netherlands have caught up with their own brand: Babboe Bakfietsen. But, did you know, there is an actual cargo bike brand IN THE UK? Cue @boxercycles!

Though I am not English, please indulge my red and white patriotic side for a moment. @boxercycles originate from Poole in Dorset and was founded by Jeremy Davies. A man on a cargo bike mission. After a rocky road, Jeremy has now come up with some eye watering models. One of them being called THE ROCKET. 

Yes, it really is, a rocket! 

  

How amazingly cool does this bike look? It doesn’t only look good, it is also a bike which is really well made:

7 speed dérailleur.
Hydraulic disk brakes.
Marathon Plus tyres.
Brooks saddle.
Just to name a few of the specs. The Rocket is also an electric assist bike with a 36V – 13.4Ah / 250W electric drive system. So, a full bike with kids, bags and groceries going uphill? No biggie. 

As @boxerscycles bikes are made in England, they are a lot better equiped for cycling in English traffic too. The lights are the best example. Instead of messing with reelights, like Christiania, The Rocket has built in front and rear lights, a brake light and even indicators. In many ways the bike acts like a car would act. Which is definitely a positive when cycling over here.

The Rocket can carry up to 6 children and can even be customized to cater for disabled kids. Whatever your needs and your wants, Jeremy can build it!  

   
   
The Rocket is not the only model made by @boxercycles. There is also the Shuttle and the Cargo. The Shuttle looks similar to a babboe big, but with the added features of proper lights and indicators. PLUS a kiddie bike rack mounted on the front. They do think of everything!

  

I find the shuttle a very good alternative to babboe or christiania. If you want to support a real English brand, which has a proper knowledge of building cargo bikes, go and have a look at Boxer Cycles.
On the website you will also find more in depth specifications and prices, more pictures and videos.
And, if you want to see the Rocket in action….come see them in February at the London Bike show! I already need to contain the kid in me!

A letter to Haringey Council

I’d like to start with a picture. A picture of my neigbourhood and the streets I cycle through every morning, to bring my son to school. 

Look at this picture and ask yourself what is wrong here, before continuing to read: 

  
Today I cycled my son to school. I left around 8.30, more than an hour later than I would normally cycle him to his breakfast club. Traffic was absolutely mad. And, as a result I suffered yet again a barrage of abuse. This time for a man in a Lyreco van. He sped into Albion Street (see picture) from the top, while I came cycling up from the bottom of the street. I had to duck in between cars. And shouted “20” (20 is plenty). The comments I got (while my son was on the back) are not fit for publication.

  
I very much blame this man for not driving according to the law. Driving a Luton van does not give you license to do whatever. But, I also blame Haringey Council. I blame the council for years of lack of vision. Haringey Council, this is a letter to you.

Coming back to the first picture. Have you figured out yet, what is so horribly wrong with this lay out? If not, let me walk you through it. All these streets are two way streets. All these streets have parking bays on both sides of the street AND all these streets have pavements the size of small football fields (when you compare them to the average pavement in my hometown Hasselt, Belgium). Still, people say there is no space to put in segreggated cycle infrastructure. So, in best case scenario, we are left with a painted bicycle on the road. 

How will we ever be able to have small children, and even the elderly cycle safely to their destinations, if a council like Haringey is holding on to road layouts stuck in the 1950’s? Well, the 1950’s were not too bad, because hardly anyone had a car. But now, in 2015, where people are born with metal boxes attached to their backside, this road lay out is outdated, to say the least. Roads, with two way systems AND parking spaces on both sides is car centric thinking. Haringey Council, THIS needs to change.

I keep banging on about a change in mentality, but this change will only happen if the law makers are on our side. Haringey council might, in their defense, say they are. But trust me, I know Rome was built twice over before a road lay out gets changed over here. 

From next year Haringey will be introducing 20mph in the borough. We will also see the (very flawed) CS1 come into action. A supercycle “highway” which will take cyclists through two way streets, filled with parked cars. And I am here to tell the council now: sorry, it is not good enough. I will still be here, cycling on the pavement. And I will still be here, refusing to let my own kid cycle by himself to school. As it stands now, Haringey has failed. Majorly. 

And as a result, people like the Lyreco van man get free reign over our streets. When is enough enough?

A Bad Habit

Last evening I was tired, grumpy and quite frankly in a hangry sort of mood. And when I am in that kind of mood, I tend to go on a rant. To be honest. I felt I had every reason to.
During my evening commute, I was reading the Evening Standard. A daily ritual now. The headline made my heart stop in its tracks.

Thousands of children going to schools which are located in highly polluted areas. Dangerously polluted areas. Every day they breath in the air which comes from industry, but most importantly: lorries, buses, CARS.

When I opened my twitter that evening, I read a few of my mentions. I read from people they “needed” their car. “Needed”. In this context I find it such an ugly word. Bordering on addiction. I have heard people proclaim they “need” their cigarettes. It feels the same. And to be honest, I got really darn angry. Upset even. My kids, people’s children, little ‘uns; their lives and health being ruined because people have forgotten how to use their legs.

Think about it! Why do people use a car? I asked this on twitter and the most common feedback was: “convenience”. Most people are so used to hopping in their metal box, sitting in traffic, because it is convenient. Read my sarcasm there?
They call it convenient, while waiting for hours on end for traffic to ease (and so causing even more pollution while idling), they pay many many pounds on petrol, insurance, tax, MOT, fines. How on earth is this convenient? How on earth can ANYONE justify this “convenience” when you know children will get properly ill from this bad habit?

And that is just what it is, a bad habit!

After my rant, the topic turned slightly. My cycling community followers were in unison that public transport/walking and cycling resulted in way more freedom. AND some other, very interesting (but in my view, quite obvious) results too. Their health improved, and it was a lot better financially. I asked my followers what they meant financially and I had people coming back to me saying they saved roughly £600-£2000 a year, because they changed their habit from car use to public transport/cycling/walking. One follower even said he cycled for nearly 40 years, saving about half a house worth of money.
You see, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, or where you are from. Everyone can change their behaviour. And EVERYONE will benefit from this specific change. No doubt about it. Don’t let social class (yea, I have been called a yummie mummy because I cycle. I am a single parent earning about 20k/year at the moment. Hardly yummie), region, job, family status or social pressure put you off. Everyone can stop (or reduce) the use of a car. My parents have done it, my grandparents still regularly cycle.

We HAVE to make a conscience effort. And it has to start right this minute. This morning I read the following headline: Do we want this happening in London and all over England? Because we are well on the way:

  
So, I challenge you, who is ready to change their behaviour? Perhaps small steps. One at the time. Leave the car at home twice a week and take it from there. Who is ready to help our children, so they can breathe nice, lovely, fresh air?