While there were many challenges during lockdown (nobody mention homeschooling…), one of the joys for our family was rediscovering cycling. In normal times we might dust off our bikes once a month, in lockdown we found ourselves going out on two wheels a few times a week. The usual traffic stresses all but disappeared, leaving us with empty roads that were more sympathetic to zig-zagging kids. All three of our children (10, 8 and 5) fell back in love with their bikes and wanted to go out on long rides, but because the little one’s legs aren’t quite strong enough for hills, an ambitious family ride wasn’t possible (leading to many an argument). So when the lovely folk at Get Cycling York got in touch to ask if we’d like to try out one of their cargo bikes, we jumped at the chance.
Hiring a cargo bike
Get Cycling is a not-for-profit based in Hospital Fields, Fulford, and has a great range of family bikes, including trikes, rear steer tandems and cargo bikes. Most are pedal-powered, while some have the added firepower of electricity. We hired a standard Babboe cargo bike for our two girls to watch the world go by from while Mr Viking obligingly pedalled them along. They could barely contain their delight when it was wheeled out of the shop – beautifully designed and with plenty of space, they could see that they’d be travelling in style. Not only was there room for the two of them, but we could easily store our various coats, bags and picnic items too – vital for a family that’s completely incapable of travelling light. After a quick tour around the block to get the hang of it, we set off in the direction of the solar system trail, the eldest and I cycling behind on our own bikes.
York’s Solar System cycle route
The York Solar System route is arguably the best cycling route in York, and one that many families enjoy. The route is a scale model of the solar system, with all the planets there to spot along the 6.4 miles. The route goes from the Knavesmire/York racecourse to Riccall, and is almost entirely traffic-free. As it’s a popular route, it can get busy with bikes and walkers so you do need to take care and be considerate of other users (especially if trying to social distance).
We cycled from Get Cycling, over the Millennium Bridge to the Knavesmire – around 10 minutes – and joined the route there. You don’t have to cycle for long before spotting the first part of the solar system – the sun – and starting to spot all the other planets. The planets are fairly close together at the beginning of the route, giving kids a good sense that they’re making progress (always good if they’re starting to flag). Planets aside, there are loads of fun things to spot as you go along the route, from bridges to trains, fields, farms and more. We stopped at the brilliant Brunswick Organic Nursery – the perfect place to pick up some plants, food or drink if you’ve got space in your backpack/on your bike.
As always, our main advice to reduce complaining is to take plenty of snacks and pack a picnic. There are lots of places to stop, take in the view and give your legs a rest. You can do as much or as little of the route as you like. We managed to get to Uranus (much to the kids’ delight – insert your own joke) before heading back.
It was lovely for our youngest to be able to come with us and see what all the fuss is about – she’s never been on the solar system route before, but now she’s seen it from the comfort and luxury of a Babboe. She and her sister had a lovely time feeling the wind in their hair and watching the world go by, and their older brother was very happy that we’d done a really good distance without being scuppered by younger siblings getting tired. The cargo bike is a brilliant option for family cycling, and hiring one is a great way to see if you like it. It was easy enough to navigate through gates (much to my surprise), and Mr Viking declared it a good, easy ride (although rather him than me up the hills!).
If there was ever a time to get kids into cycling, this is it (well, there has to be something good to come out of 2020!). There’s so much we enjoyed about our family bike ride – time to chat, no distracting screens, lots of fresh air and exercise – and we’re definitely going to keep it up (we may well go back to Get Cycling to borrow that cargo bike again). Although the roads around York are busier and more intimidating now, the solar system route is ideal for building up confidence without the cars. We’d certainly recommend it for something to do in York with kids – it’s out of this world!