We spent the half-term holiday in the Yorkshire Dales.
We began by taking the train to Giggleswick near Settle. Travelling off-peak with children we hoped we’d get all four bikes onto one train and we did, both ways (though the uncertainties involved in train travel with bikes aren’t conducive to cycling’s promotion).
We’ve done lots of cycle-touring as a family, but this was the first time I can remember each of us riding our own bike for more than a day trip in Britain. We wanted to see how it would go.
It didn’t start well. A car approached from behind on the short stretch into Settle. I was riding at the back. We were getting close to a blind bend so I moved further out to deter the driver from overtaking, but he kept coming, so I kept moving out. He overtook at the bend’s apex, on completely the other side of the road as a car came towards us from the other direction. Rather than stop the overtaking driver moved back in on us, getting uncomfortably close to Sue and Bobby at the front. He must have seen the horror on the faces of the people in the oncoming car, and he should certainly have heard what I had to say, but still he wound his window down in order to tell us that cyclists oughtn’t to be in the middle of the road.
Unfortunately we encountered similar recklessness towards our well-being and a similarly over-inflated sense of entitlement to Yorkshire’s rural roads amongst motorists again that day.
I wonder whether local authorities in Yorkshire have started to think about driver/cyclist interactions ahead of next year’s Tour de France which will inevitably see cyclists flocking to this part of the world in advance of the pro peloton thundering its way through?
I usually shrug off drivers’ aggression when I’m cycling alone or with my peers but when I’m with kids I’m incensed by it; it also seems more common then, perhaps because we’re riding more slowly and (the adults at least) defensively.
That wasn’t at all what I meant to write here but I suppose it’s an important and consequential part of our half-term cycling story, and more significantly part of British cycling’s collective story.
The Yorkshire Dales is tremendous cycling country, but for who?
This was my own children’s introduction to it, and an antagonistic one which they’ll remember.
Do we want the Tour’s coming here to encourage children’s cycling? If so, we need to take action. A start would be signs on the roads and in the media requesting that motorists slow down, give space – and if necessary give way – to cyclists. Awareness campaigns – perhaps with Dales’ school children who might most effectively influence adults’ driving – should be starting now.
We went over to Malham from Ribblesdale. The climb out of Langcliffe is brutal; the road rises incredibly sharply and steeply off the valley floor. Bobby and I were on mountain bikes. Sue rode her town bike, and carried all our gear – I’d feel guilty if I didn’t know how hard she is! I doubted little Flo could make it up but she did. She never seemed tempted to get off and push, despite (or perhaps because of) my repeatedly telling her there’s no shame in doing so.
As usual we mixed cycling with walking. (What do families who do neither actually do?) But Bobby and I had taken mountain bikes in order to do an off-road ride, so on Wednesday we rode into a bitterly cold wind east from Malhamdale over to Wharfedale.
I’m already excited by the thought that next July the world’s best bike riders will be riding here. Past The Tennant Arms – the pub in Kilnsey where we stopped for bowls of chips and to warm ourselves beside the fire – they’ll scorch so fast it’ll barely register as a blur.
From the pub we rode north a little way into Littondale, then back over a route high enough for snow still deep in places.
All up of course it’s great to introduce to our kids, and see again for ourselves, parts of the world we know and love, via the two modes of mobility – walking and cycling – which make that world so precious and special.
But both Sue and I were struck last week by how hard British cycle-touring as a family might prove to be: it’s not that our kids aren’t competent riders – they are; just that we’re not sure whether the stress involved in shepherding them along roads on which so many anti-cycling motorists drive is conducive to relaxation. I’d thought our continental cycle-touring of the past decade might make way for more domestic cycle-touring over the next, but now I’m not so sure.
It’s a shame to think the roads through the magnificent countryside of northern England might be off-limits to my children, that they might be denied the pleasures of rural cycling. But then many of the roads around town, within a stone’s throw of home, are similarly off-limits. Whichever’s the greater, both seem like crimes to me.
And then I think how the thousands of children who’ll be lining Yorkshire’s roads to cheer two hundred cyclists next July don’t have the chance to travel their own backyard on two wheels, to experience this magnificent world from the seat of a bicycle, and it seems not just a crime but a tragedy.
Leaving Malham, following the River Aire towards Gargrave, we took a stretch of National Cycle Network Route 68. On her little road bike Flo again coped magnificently, this time with mud, puddles, rocks and stones. But what sort of alternative to being harassed by cars is this? I’d hazard one more likely to drive most nine-year olds to tears than to cycling.
Sorry to be bleak. We had a fantastic holiday! I guess I’m just sharing the realisation that the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire next year ought to be great for cycle sport and great for Yorkshire’s tourist industry but, unless we get our acts together, it’s unlikely to be great for the thing which matters so much more, cycling.