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Somewhere in central Australia

Deadly Treadlies was a bicycle recycling project minted in 2003 in Alice Springs by Ian Sweeney and Mick Cafe, working for the Tangentyere Council and Central Land Council. In brief, the project provided the materials and skills to recycle 2nd hand bikes for the Alice Springs community. It won awards, it recycled bikes and it kept Ian Sweeney off the street – all good news.

I went out to visit Ian in 2008 for about 10 days and spent a couple of days with him in the Larapinta Valley camp where he was managing the administrative centre for the camp. Ian and I spent two days fixing bicycles, recycling old parts and generally getting kids on 2 wheels in a collaborative workshop setting. It was part of the kids activities roster for the camp and it was great to get out there and be a tiny part of developing the bicycle scene in Alice. At the time I felt pretty ill-equipped to really ‘touch base’ with the community other than to be another well intentioned ‘blow-in’ from the big smoke. But bicycle repair was the only thing I really had to offer, other than an open mind, and for whatever it was worth, they got what I had while I was there.

Larapinta Valley Admin Centre front and back verandahs

To say it was rewarding is a massive understatement and I gained a whole lot more than I gave. As part of my day job I had done some aboriginal cultural heritage awareness training and so that had essentially briefed me on some of the most easily grasped issues, Ian filled in some of the finer detail about the work his does and the community I was visiting. It was a week that I won’t forget and feel now that I was given a real gift – just being out in that part of the country is special. Ian had been out there for about 5 years at the time, and since having a short sabbatical in Melbourne, he’s back out there again working with the community. The desert can capture a man’s heart so they say.

Something that I saw that will stick with me was this little girl who hadn’t ridden a bicycle before, getting on, pushing off, then riding through the sand like it were mown grass. Cycling in sand is hard and cycling for your first time usually takes some time to master – heading off into the sand is the cycling equivalent of jumping off a harbour ferry to learn to swim. It was impressive from a girl who was probably three and a half.

Somewhere else in Central Australia

I’m writing all this down because I think it illustrates the power of the bicycle to build capacity in communities. The joy of riding a bicycle is something that has no boundaries, and is easily shared with a simple smile. Its also a damn useful, sustainable, cheap and appropriate transport mode.

I’ve recently written a review of the movie Bicycle Thieves and although it’s not much of a ‘cycling movie’, it is a story that illustrates how a bicycle can create markets, economies and sustainable work. Perhaps I am making too much of all this, but suspend your disbelief for a moment, and imagine a city with all it’s short, commuter and general transport trips taken by bicycle. It’s a deadly idea.

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Child carriers are not all the same, and it’s worth considering a few of the styles before parting with your hard earned coin.¬† Getting one that really suits the kind of riding you’re likely to do with your little passenger will add a great deal to the utility and shared enjoyment of your cycling; Getting the wrong one will only add to the pile of good intentions in your shed.

Loosely speaking, from the bicycle riders perspective, they fall into two distinct categories. Trailors, which are hitched to the bicycle in some way; and seats which are fixed to the frame either stern or aft of the rider.

The first port of call, is the seat variety. This is the first type that will spring to mind as they are popular due to their availability and modest price. The concept behind their design is pretty straight forward. They are essentially an extra bucket seat for your little passenger to sit with you on the bike, usually behind the rider, sometimes in front on the top tube. The main advantage of this style of carrier is that the child is easy to get in and out of the seat. They are pretty good for short trips with riders that are confident, and can deal with the extra weight up high on the frame of the bike. As you might expect, the extra weight high on the frame does make a difference to the handling of the bike. The effect on the bike is minor when you’re up to speed and coasting, but becomes increasingly evident at slow speeds. I’d say this effect is greatest on the most common style mounted on a bike rack behind the rider – the weight of the passenger can end up cantilevered behind the back wheel and it generally feels more tipsy. The type of seat that I have most recent experience is the one situated on the top tube of the bike in front of the rider, and is from Wee Ride. It is prone to the same lateral physics as the rack mounted rear seat – but feels more centered and stable. Yes you need to spread your knees, and yes you either have a dedicated bike, or remove the seat after use, but the riding position for our little passenger is perfect. On the model we have, there is a ‘desk’ – not unlike of the bridge of the starship enterprise – for your little passenger to place their hands, and if its been a big day, your little passenger can lean forward and sleep with their head supported.

This is the bridge of the good ship “Coffee” by Schwinn, aka the ‘wee ride’ bike seat.

This is the basic layout of the seat and “control desk”

This is the mounting bracket minus seat. The seat can be removed or re-attached without tools in 10 seconds.

The second port of call is the trailor, and these fall loosely fall into two categories. The variety that hitch to the seat post or rear stay and the variety that mount near or at the the rear axle. Trailors are generally more expensive, bigger, heavier, make your bicycle footprint wider and longer, need to be stored somewhere, and it can be a little more difficult to get your little passenger loaded. But for their disadvantages they can be very useful. If you buy one that hitches up high on the frame, it will have similar effect on your handling to that of the high mounted seat. Trailors that hitch at or near the axle handle much better. You can still feel the weight – but unhindered by it’s destabilising effect¬† – you can ride the bike with gay abandon – or however you normally ride.

This is a low mounted hitching point for the Croozer 737 trailor. This hitching bracket stays on the bike. We have two bikes fitted with the bracket.

I have some cycle touring experience pulling loads with trailors and I like them. Like their cousins, child carrier trailors also excel at handling weight. Some trailors can accommodate two passengers, and most have useful storage capacity. If you’re going to pull any amount of weight, be sure to get one of those trailors that are hitched low to take advantage of the improved handling. Again, if you’re unlikely to load up your trailor with gear and/or children – this may not actually serve much of a purpose. Trailors come into their own on longer voyages – It would be interesting to take one on a multi-day ride – I don’t think you could do family cycle-touring a better way.

bucket(ish) seat with 5 point harness looks pretty comfortable

the trailor pictured is a single seater and has a fair bit of storage space behind the main cabin

The position of the passenger in a trailor is pretty low, so the view from the trailor isn’t as expansive as from a high mounted seat, and some may consider the trailor to be more dangerous as it is closer to the ground. As stated, trailors are pretty large. Motorists, other cyclists and pedestrians can see you pulling it from all angles – this is a matter of personal preference – but if it were a lump of concrete the same size – no one would be falling over it. In this respect, again, not all trailors are created equal. Some have protective bars running around their cabin and wheels – some don’t.

The croozer 737 is a more expensive option, but has many useful and safety enhancing features.

There are a variety of trailors out there and one interesting option is that some come with an attachable jockey wheel that turns them into a pram. A great option – but not perfect for tight spaces like supermarkets – better for boardwalks and footpaths. The croozer also comes with a larger wheel for the front so you can use the pram as a jogger – I don’t condone jogging under any circumstances and hope that one day it will be banned during daylight hours – it is painful for everyone.

This wheel, previously pictured in the storage compartment fits to the trailor frame quickly and easily

Trailors can also be made largely weatherproof and some have UV filtering plastic windows – a really important feature for Australian conditions. Trailors are vastly more sleep friendly so if long trips or outings are on the cards – the extra hassle may be worth you while.

With trailers there’s a certain investment in storage space, hitching and unhitching, width and weight – but if you’re seriously thinking about replacing car trips with little passengers they can go the extra mile and carry that extra kilo.

The wheels on the Croozer 737 come off with a push of a button – useful for storage of the trailor.

If I had to choose one – It would come down to personal preference. I’d probably take the top tube mounted seat because I’m more likely to take trips to the park or beach as a short morning or afternoon trip with my little passenger, but if I was a stay-at-home dad, the trailor would be invaluable for day trips, picnics, shopping and whatever else.

Extra information about the seat and trailor pictured are here: Wee Ride and here: Croozer 737