Happy Birthday to Dan Albone – progressive cyclist!

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Taking a stroll through Bedford’s newly refurbished museum, The Higgins, a few weeks ago, I came across some information about a guy called Dan Albone – or ‘Smiling Dan’ as they referred to him. Dan lived in Biggleswade, and was born in 1860.

This was about as far as I got with reading about Dan because I was summoned to the play grocery shop that the children had found at the back of the room. Seriously, The Higgins is one of the best museums I’ve found to take the kids too – they really have thought of everything! So I pretended to buy some wooden fish, and made a note to find out more about Dan  Albone. I mentioned it to my Dad a few days later. “Oh yeah,” he said in his wise, Dad-ish manner. “The chap from Biggleswade? I’ve got a book about him. You can read it.” So tonight he brought round the book (title: ‘A thorough good fellow’ !) which I opened. The first chapter begins: ‘Dan Albone was born on September 12th, 1860.’ Well. Today being the 12th September, it was a little moment of serendipity: Happy 153rd birthday, Dan!

For his 9th birthday, Dan was given a boneshaker bicycle, which started his lifelong passion for cycling. He went on to become a very successful cyclist, winning many races including the 1885 one mile open handicap at Crystal Palace, the 1887 one mile open and two-mile open at Oundle, and the awesome-sounding 1888 International Tricycle scratch race at Schevenigen, in the Netherlands. But he was an inventor as well as a racer, creator of  the Ivel safety bike (that’s a bike with two wheels the same size, rather than the penny-farthing type model. They could have called it the sanity cycle as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t have lasted two minutes on a penny farthing.) He was one of the first riders to use pneumatic tyres, was a founder-member of the Great North Road Cycling Club. He also invented the first successful light tractor, the Ivel Agriculture Motor – one of which is on display in the Science Museum.

I’ve only read a bit of the book, but what immediately struck me was how progressively he was thinking in terms of cycling. He was one of the first people to use a child-seat on a bike, and his wicker bike seat became one of his best-selling creations. Not all, it seems were ready for such things. This was what the Bedfordshire Times had to say about it in May 1891:

“Some sensation was caused in the High Street (Bedford) on Tuesday by Dan Albone of Biggleswade on a Pneumatic Safety with a wicker chair in front, in which was seated his little boy. At two or three stopping places crowds assembled around the machine and took stock of the little voyager.”

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Kathy Hindle, who wrote the book says:

“The safety bicycle was the very model which gave women cycling freedom…controversy raged for some years, but women took to cycling in ever-increasing numbers. Keen female cyclist, known as ‘Scortchers’ could be seen in the parks of London from the 1890s. Gradually, cycling for women came to be accepted as a healthy past-time, and this led forward to women being able to use cycles as a form of independent transport. Indeed, the cycle helped to liberate women from their homes, as bike accessories for children were invented.”

I’m planning on reading the rest of the book – and I’m sure there are loads of other fascinating insights into how Dan Albone revolutionised cycling, but having spent most of the summer feeling liberated by cycling around Bedford with the children, one ‘little voyager’ riding for much of the time on a -sadly non-wicker – bike seat,  I really appreciate his work. And how brilliant to have found some inspiring local history at our new local museum!

Incidentally; if ANYONE had told me a few years ago that I would be reading (and enjoying, more to the point) one of my Dad’s local history books, I would have snorted with laughter, or hit you. (Both: rude.) Funny how wrong you can be…

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Our Summer of Cycling

I decided some time ago that I wanted to dedicate time this summer holidays to cycling with the kids; the fact that we appear to be actually having a summer this year was the deciding factor. It’s pretty tricky to encourage everyone to use their bikes when it’s constantly chucking it down with rain outside.  We’re in a bit of a transitional stage with cycling at the moment, in that everyone enjoys cycling, and at this time of year Rich and I probably do at least 80% of our individual journeys by bike, but we don’t yet use cycling as a way of moving the kids from one place to another. We tend to ‘go for a bike ride’ round the orchard near our house, or at Priory Marina, or the kids will cycle to the park and we’ll walk behind. That kind of thing. Polly and Will have been cycling for some time, and really enjoy it; Tilly is happy to pootle about on her bike (still with stabilizers for the moment.) She is not as fast as she’d like to be, and this causes quite a lot of, er ‘frustration.’ (A polite term for ‘massive tantrums and screaming hissy fits whilst her bike is thrown into the kerb.’)  So I decided that this summer, we would try to use cycling more as a way of getting to places we wanted to go to, starting by trying to make at least one journey by bike every day. And so far, we have, even if it’s just been round to the shop for milk. For longer rides, Tilly goes in her seat on the back of my bike  – from where she likes to give opinions on how fast we are going, what other people are wearing, where we should be going, why she doesn’t like our choice of destination, etc, etc.

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There’s loads of information online about cycling with kids, I’ve found the Sustrans website particularly helpful and encouraging, and there’s the Bike Radar page too.

Infographic time!

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There are, obviously, loads of benefits of cycling. Here were the things that basically swung it for me:

It’s faster than walking.  (With less whining time.)

It’s cheaper than taking kids into town, or anywhere else on the bus. (£3.20 each way!!)

It’s also cheaper than parking in town (around 60p per hour.)

It’s exercise. In theory, exercise makes you happier, fitter and MAKES YOU SLEEP BETTER.  Did you hear that kids???

So far, after a few weeks of regular cycling, I can conclude that:

  • Cycle lanes are the best thing since sliced bread: we need more of them.
  • Wide pavements are a beautiful thing.
  • I lose more bike lock keys than is recommended for maintaining sanity. And bikes.

It’s been great so far  – the weather has helped – but we’ve had some truly terrifying moments too. Cars reversing quickly out of driveways without checking for young cyclists, trying to use pedestrian crossings at busy intersections and having to cram three bikes onto a narrow island in the middle of a main road, negotiating somewhat erratic mobility scooters. We’ve cycled in the hot sun and in the rain (stylish rain ponchos on, obvs!) We’re converted. But successful cycling with children is something I think depends a lot on confidence. I’m planning to spend the summer building that confidence, learning the routes which best lend themselves to safe cycling, and instilling in the kids a sense that cycling is a legitimate and brilliant form of everyday transport, as well as a hobby.

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Riding through Russell Park

I’m going to be writing more about our summer of cycling over the next few weeks, and I’ve got a few guest blogs lined up from people far more experienced than me about their experiences of cycling with a young family.  I’m hoping that one of the kids will write – or something – about their views on it. I’m excited! The only irksome thing (apart from losing bike lock keys,) is the fact that Will now ‘NEEDS’ a pair of cycling gloves. Essential for any 6-year-old lad, obviously.