1500km on our cargo bike
Last Friday, we passed 1500km on our bike! We were on one of our favourite rides down to the beach when the odometer clicked over, I just happened to look down at the right moment and was in a safe place to stop (I’ve missed all the bike’s other ‘milestones’, only noticing a couple of kilometres afterwards).
We’ve had the bike since mid-last year, around 15 months, so average about 100km a month. This may not seem like much but, as most of the places we visit on a regular basis are within 3km of our house and we don’t go out every day, it takes a while to add up (plus, we had a few months of staying home more than usual due to the global pandemic). Almost all of our trips during the week are done by bike, including our weekly shop, playgroups, and library trips. The only ‘short trip’ we use the car for is to go to the toy library, as we like to borrow lots of ‘big’ toys.
I had been intrigued by the concept of cargo bikes, after witnessing whole families travelling together by bike in Europe and Asia. The main feature that drew me to this style of bikes is the large cargo box at the front, you can throw everything in without dealing with panniers and backpacks (I hate riding with a bag), and you can chat to your children as you ride (before the cargo bike, I had a Wee Ride for X which had the same benefit of being able to converse with your passenger). When looking at houses, we considered bike routes and distances when narrowing down our options and, on selling our ‘second car’ before the move (it was unreliable and never going to survive in the city), I ordered the bike. It was a significant investment to make, having never ridden one before (I couldn’t find one locally to test), but I knew it’s what I needed to enjoyably ride year-round, with multiple children and all our stuff. It has lived up to my expectations.
I know plenty of families who happily hitch up a bike trailer to get everyone from A to B, but I felt I would need the electric assistance to make the bike my primary vehicle and continue riding with my children as they grow. Trailers are great options to have, but I felt it unlikely that I would ride regularly with a full load of shopping or through the hot, sticky ‘build up’ or gusty pre-storm winds with a regular bike and trailer when I have a car waiting ready in the carport (Joël catches the bus or car-pools to work). I think, if I didn’t have the space or funds for a ‘box-bike’, I would consider a ‘long-tail’ or ‘mid-tail’ cargo bike (with room for 2+ kids on the back and a large goods crate on the front). Again, my preference would be for an e-bike, but if that was beyond my budget, at least these bikes are designed (and geared) for carrying the extra weight.
Riding everywhere is great incidental exercise. However, I don’t need every trip I take to count as cardio training. This is another key reason why I don’t think I would make as much use of a bike trailer attached to my regular bike (a mountain bike I received for Christmas when I was 12). I feel, rather than ‘cheating’, the electric assistance is what turns the bike into a functional car alternative. ‘Showering on arrival’ is fine if you’re just going to work (and have appropriate end of trip facilities), but I want to be able to cycle 12km to the museum, in my dress and sandals on a 35˚C day, and then be able to get out and walk straight in (I will still be sweaty, it’s the tropics, but no more so than I would be from getting everyone in and out of the car). Whilst the electric assistance does mean I expend less energy myself per trip, I’m pretty sure the increased number of trips taken due to the extra assistance balances out any ‘lost exercise’. Most of the time I ride with the electric assistance on one of the lower settings, but, if it’s windy, I have a full load, I’m riding in traffic, or I just can’t be bothered, I’ll turn it up to ‘high’.
For those unfamiliar with e-bikes, you still need to pedal as you would with a normal bike, they just give you an extra push (I often describe feeling like when I was little and riding up a big hill and my dad would ride alongside me and put his hand on my back to give me a bit of extra assistance). In some countries you might get bikes that don’t require pedalling, but I think they’re classified differently in Australia (possibly as either motorbikes or mobility scooters). In Australia, electric assistance is legally required to cut out at 25km/h (which can be frustrating when you’ve been getting speed up before a big hill and then hit the hill as it cuts out).
Over the past couple of months we have started taking some longer trips. When we first got the bike, A was only just 9 months old and I didn’t feel comfortable taking her long distances on bumpy bike paths with a heavy helmet on her head. Now, she’s just turned 2 and a lot more robust (although she still invariably falls asleep in her seat on the way home). We have recently been riding to parks, beaches and museums up to 12km away, but I still allow myself to take the car instead if we’re running late, it looks like there might be a storm, or I’m feeling exhausted. As our children grow and we’re no longer bound to mid-day naps (and I’m getting more sleep myself), I’m sure our range will naturally increase further.
It may be clichéd, but being able to jump on our bike wherever we need to go really does give us a great sense of freedom. We’re not bound by roads and traffic lights, we can stop and look at things along the way and explore all sorts of hidden routes through our neighbourhood that we would never have known about otherwise. Both of our children always say they want to take the bike, when given a choice (as do I). I am glad I took the leap and ordered the bike when we did, as we were moving and creating our new routine. We’re not ready to give up our remaining car just yet (I can’t see that happening while our kids are still in car seats, and hire cars have a lot of restrictions when it comes to taking them off road), but it really is a relief to not have to drive everywhere all the time.