This seemed like a good idea at the time, I think to myself as sweat dribbles into my left eye with an unpleasant sting. I crest the hill and get my breath back, as the path levels out and I can ease off on the pedalling. The bike I’m riding is ok, fairly comfortable and with responsive brakes.
That’s not my problem though. My problem is sat behind me, in the trailer attached to the bike. A four year old and a 21-month-old; bickering away, asking me questions that I can’t hear, and generally causing their father to sweat buckets, with their combined 40-kilos-of fun.
I plumped for this form of entertainment today because it looked like fun, a trailer – or ‘pod’ – that you connect to the back of a bike and stick your kids inside. You get some exercise and they get to have some fun. Also they’re effectively your prisoners for the duration, as they are strapped down inside, and can’t get out.
I’ve seen these kinds of things before, being ridden by mums and dads. They’ve gone past me with smiles on their faces and laughter ringing out from their kids. After 45 minutes on one of these things, I’ve realised that it wasn’t a smile on those parents’ faces, it was a grimace.
Or perhaps rictus would be a better term.
We’re at our local nature reserve, which has a visitor’s centre where you can hire these bikes for a reasonable sum. We amble up and have a nosy at the pod. The kids love it, and immediately get in and get comfy.
I go and pay, it’s £5 for one hour. I also have to leave my car keys. I’m puzzled as to the fact that they seem to think I would come here, with two children, and then steal a bike with a pod. Maybe this has happened to them before, maybe there’s a gang of dads with kids out there nicking all the bike pods (there is, after all, only one available at this visitor’s centre).
I hand over my car keys – the value of my car versus the bike is debatable – and, after some basic instructions, get on the bike and set off.
It’s a fairly easy start to the journey, since becoming a stay-at-home dad I’ve had to adapt my fitness regime, and that means we now have an exercise bike installed in the house. So this means it’s not a complete shock to the system.
My exercise bike does not, however, have a couple of kids hanging on the wheel creating drag. It’s ok for a bit, but then we approach inclines and that’s when I suspect my fitness levels aren’t as high as I thought.
Also there are lots of obstacles that I have to avoid.
And by obstacles, I mean people.
There’s no bell on the bike, so at first I just try to go around the slower moving ones. However after about ten minutes, my daughter decides that, actually, this bike ride isn’t that great. This pod isn’t comfortable and you know what? I’m going to let daddy know about it. So after just ten minutes, I begin to ride around with a howling banshee in the back.
You know that bit from Jurassic Park: The Lost World? The bit where they’re back in America, driving around with the injured baby T-Rex in the back howling away? It’s like that. Except I’m not in a Cadillac.
The silver lining to this is that I now have an early-warning-system, for people to hear so they can get out of the way. Which helps.
But then I realise something, these pods are better suited for longer journeys, or ones where you have more to look at. We’ve already gone round the lake once, and we still have 45 minutes of torture – sorry I mean fun -to go.
We keep bumping into the same people.
They keep moving out of our way.
This is ok the first time, we exchange smiles if they are coming our way. But it’s a bit weird the fourth time. And the smiles quickly turn to frowns. Or they stay smiles but they get that tight, forced look.
One guy laughs the first time.
Second pass I say to him ‘someone might be having fun here, but it’s not me’.
The third time I say to him ‘I’ll be asking for your number next time’.
There isn’t a fourth time. Mainly because I purposely take a different route, after all, saying you’ll ask for another chap’s phone-number next time is ok, in that context- as long as there is never a next time.
I wonder to myself, as the kids shake the pod behind me on our final circuit, and my leg muscles pump lactic acid, what it must be like for Rickshaw drivers around the world, doing this every day. They have my sympathies.
But then again, as a rule, once the customer has enjoyed his, or her, ride they simply get out and pay, and that’s the end of it. Mr Rickshaw generally doesn’t have to change the nappy of one of his customers, before he goes home.
So maybe that’s what all the wailing was about….