Published: 28th SEPTEMBER 2020

Living car-free in Cardiff: Hannah's story

Ditching the car completely can seem daunting. But there are loads of benefits to living without one. Hannah, who lives in Cardiff with her children Aderyn and Bryn, tells us what it was like for her family to swap the car for a cargo bike.

Where it all began

If you’d told me when I moved here from London eight years ago that I’d be living car-free with two young kids then I don’t think I would have believed it!

When I moved to Cardiff I had absolutely no cycling experience but I also had no driving license so I got hold of an old mountain bike and decided to try and commute on two wheels.

I was terrified! At first, I spent ages fretting over google maps before each trip but surprising quickly, I got used to it. I even started enjoying it!

I swapped my heavy bike for a hybrid and felt like I was flying around the city.

Cycling with children

When my daughter Aderyn was born three years later there was no question in my mind that I would cycle with her once she was big enough.

The first few times I went out with her strapped into her seat on the front of my bike I felt that ‘new cyclist’ fear all over again but she loved it, alternately napping, giggling.

Two years ago we swapped the bike seat for a double trailer so I could transport my son Bryn by bike too.

The trailer was really handy. I could easily drop the kids off at their separate school and nursery and then put the seats down and use it to do a whole supermarket shop or run errands.

I used it to haul bags of compost, garden tools, tubs of paint, the kit I needed for my job and on one occasion I cycled a complete beehive - minus the bees - across town.

It was great, except the kids kept growing and getting heavier and harder to pull!

By spring this year they were running out of elbow room and constantly complaining that they felt squashed.

Making the decision to go car-free

At this point, the kids were three and five and in a bit of a bike limbo - getting too big for baby seats but nowhere near big enough to ride their own bikes to school.

For an entire year, my partner and I had been talking about what we’d do when they got too big for the trailer.

And the idea of permanently ditching our car for a cargo bike had gone from a joke to something that actually seemed achievable.

The more we talked about it, the more it felt like the right choice.

Working in climate communications, I was well aware that going car-free would make a huge difference to our personal carbon footprint.

However, perhaps more importantly, we wanted to be part of a wider collective shift away from cars to more active travel and more equitable transport infrastructure - and how could we do that while still jumping in the car whenever it suited us?

For this reason, we decided not to hedge our bets with an electric car and go full bike instead. And apart from anything else we really enjoyed cycling with the kids - so why not do more of it?

Overcoming the initial barriers

There were definitely some initial barriers to making this change, the cost for starters.

We worked out that, by selling our car and buying a bike through the cycle to work scheme, we could make it work.

Storage was a problem too, as we live in a small terraced house with a narrow hall and no garden access from the street, a box bike would never work for us.

After a year of research and talking to other cargo bike owners we chose a Tern GSD.

It's a bright blue longtail electric bike that’s designed for easy storage as it’s not too long, folds a bit, and happily sits up in the corner of our middle room.

It’s still a small nuisance to squeeze it in and out and we’d love to see the council providing rentable space in local bike hangars for people with smaller homes.

Other challenges we face

Like all city cyclists, we also face barriers that aren’t specific to cargo bikes.

Cardiff is small and flat but hasn’t got very good cycling or walking infrastructure, although that happily seems to be changing.

Probably one of the greatest issues we face is attitudes from other road users.

We are harassed and sworn at regularly despite taking every measure we can to be visible, safe, and considerate when we’re out on the road.

Coming to terms with that, and trying not to get too angry and upset about it, has been difficult.

Adjusting to life without a car

This is still quite a new thing for us, but so far we haven’t missed our car, despite the fact we used it pretty regularly.

We’ve been able to visit friends by bike and train and do the school and nursery run.

And we've explored bits of Cardiff we wouldn’t have had the stamina to reach by bike before - including some summer-evening bat watching on Penarth clifftop!

The electric-assist is a revelation and we can carry so much cargo in the bike’s massive panniers and rack that it’s probably not far off our hatchback’s boot space.

The kids love the freedom of riding on the back and waving at people.

My advice to anyone thinking of ditching the car for a cargo bike

I’m really aware that we’re lucky to have been able to make this change as we’ve got a mix of local commutes and flexible working arrangements.

And I definitely wouldn’t want to suggest this set up would work for everyone!

However, for anyone feeling curious about transporting kids by bike I’d suggest joining the lovely and welcoming group on Facebook.

There you can explore the options available, from child seat to tandem to tagalong to full electric box bike!

Don’t be put off by the jargon, don’t worry that you’ve got to be a hard-core road cyclist (no lycra required!), and don’t feel like it’s all or nothing.

Doing even a couple of school runs a month by bike is going to be a big confidence boost, good for fitness, and good for the environment.

Feeling inspired by Hannah's story? Read our five top tips for going car-free.

Here's everything you need to know about family cargo bikes.

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