I’ve always loved bikes and cycling, and whenever possible I like to be able to cycle to and from work each day. There are so many benefits: It builds in exercise and fresh air to the daily routine, clears the mind, improves mood and productivity, saves money on fuel and parking, avoids sitting in rush-hour traffic jams, reduces carbon emissions and so on and so on.
But the demands of a school run with two small children make it really difficult to get people and stuff to the required destination and also manage a bike. After trying various combinations of walking and pushing a bike, or a folding bike in the boot, I did what most people would do - I gave up and just took the car each day.
Sometimes I’d leave the car at the school and walk the couple of miles to the office, but time doesn’t always allow that luxury. So I started mulling over having a bike I could take two children on with me, and still be able to ride on to work after the school run.
There are many options - Dutch bakfiets (box bikes) with 3 wheels, trailers with child seats, and a whole range of cargo bike designs.
The biggest change in thinking for me was to start thinking about an electric bike. I’d never really considered one before, preferring to see the physical exertion of cycling as part of the pleasure and not seeing the point in trying to reduce that. But getting to work all hot and sweaty after hauling children up a hill to school isn’t ideal, and I soon realised that being able to ride with a heavy load as if it wasn’t there, due to an electric motor providing assistance, was a very smart idea.
But were electric bikes any good? What did a big cargo bike feel like to ride with a full load of passengers?
I had a test ride of a German-made Riese & Müller Load 60 cargo bike at Electric Bikes Scotland in Dundee, and was immediately hooked. The build quality is superb, the components are top notch, and it just rides like a dream even with two children in the seats. The smart design and powerful motor just soaks up the weight and it rides very like an ordinary bike, even at speed or up hills. Then I found out that Riese & Müller were producing a slightly bigger version, the Load 75, which could have three child seats. I wanted one!
The only downside to this fantastic machine is the eye-watering price. With the specification we went for in the end it came to £6,500. The price of a really decent second-hand car! But then, that’s precisely the point. We were going to use it exactly as a car. So we sold the car we’d been using for the school run (and not for much else), and replaced the monthly payments we’d been making on that, with a lower monthly payment on an e-bike loan from the Energy Saving Trust.
This loan is a brilliant option for getting a bike that will be used every day. It’s interest free, spread over 4 years, and can be used to fund various e-bike purchases.
Each morning I get the bike out of the garage and my two kids (aged 4 and 6) pile in and put on their seatbelts - proper 3 point harnesses that mean even if the bike were to tip onto its side they can’t fall out. Two days a week we also take a friend’s 5-year-old, so they’re a bit squashed in but they think it’s great fun. “Bike treats” sometimes help if there is any grumpiness!
The rain cover keeps them cosy and dry even in the winter storms, bags can be strapped on the luggage rack at the back, and off we go. The motor takes all the strain out of getting up hills or pedalling into headwinds, and the battery also powers a great set of lights for dark mornings. Even in the icy weather we still got through no problem, we just avoided footpaths and stuck to the roads that had been treated.
After stops at nursery and school, I ride the empty bike to work and chain it up with the built-in chain. No parking to worry about! The battery lasts for several days of riding back and forth, depending on temperature, how often it’s fully laden, and how often I use Turbo Mode! It’s then very easy to charge, either in the garage or by taking the battery inside. I worked out it costs about 8p to fully charge, so the running costs are about 0.4p per mile!
Sadly the motor assistance on electric bikes in the UK is required by law to cut out at 15.5mph, so while the motor helps with acceleration up to that speed it’s pure pedal power if you want to go faster than that. It’s a good feeling though when pedalling along at 18mph and speed starts to drop as the road goes uphill - the motor smoothly engages and keeps the speed up without any extra effort.
Even on the odd occasion when I arrive at the office a bit damp (which is far less often that one might expect living in Scotland!), I haven’t once wished we still had a car instead of the cargo bike.
It’s fun, for a start. And I like the fact that my kids are growing up seeing other options than just being in cars even for short journeys. They’re building resilience as we head out in all weathers and don’t make a big deal out of it. I arrive at work or home at the end of the day feeling awake, energised and refreshed by the cycle, perhaps even more so if it’s been cold or windy or wet.
It’s also really practical - when I take the bike and my wife is in the car heading to the same destination, the bike often arrives only a minute or two behind. When motorists overtake the bike in town I often catch them up further down the road at a junction or traffic lights. It’s quick, but doesn’t involve being particularly fit, or needing to change clothes or shower at the destination.
I really hope that riding the bike around Stirling inspires more people to seriously consider a bike of any kind to replace the car for short journeys. (Give me a wave if you see me going past!) Whether with kids on the school run or just yourself getting to work, using a bike really does make life better for you and the environment, and it’s a lot more practical than you might expect.
Geoff is a Business Systems Consultant living in Stirling. His wife Charlotte has a blog about their attempts to be more eco-friendly in a stress-free way, and you can read more about their life with an e-cargo bike there too: https://www.ourgreenjourney.uk
Geoff and his bike continue to attract attention in the school playground each day. My daughter loves getting a ride in the e-cargo bike. I could hear the two girls singing all the way up the road when they returned to my house recently, having insisted that Geoff give them a ride home. I think they might have attracted the attention of lots of pedestrians and cyclists too. It's been nice seeing the children out and about in the bike without the rain cover as summer slowly arrived.
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