When I was a little kid in London one of my very favourite activities was hitching a ride on the back of my Dad’s bicycle in a child’s seat. I can still remember the feeling now, a sense of exhilaration and security all rolled into one, as my Dad swept through streets and parks, and the wind swept through my hair. They were more innocent times, when people’s lives seemed somehow to be more practical yet more fun.
But in Cambridge where I live today, it seems that those days are returning. I’ve noticed more and more local parents ferrying their younger kids around by bike. Particularly popular are those bicycle trailers that attach to the rear of an adult bike. They look like mini lunar modules, fully covered over, with transparent plastic windows, so the little ones can be snug inside but curious about the world outside.
Of course, on the continent the bicycle school run is nothing new. In many European cities, in the mornings and afternoons on schooldays you’ll see cargo bikes weaving past in their thousands, with thousands of tiny smiling faces in tow. But what is different is a new sound emanating from those legions of bicycles. It is the faint sound of whirring – the sound of an electric motor.
Europeans, it seems, are increasingly taking the logical step of equipping their cargo bikes with an electric motor, to help carry the load. Electric bikes in general are one of the continent’s biggest growth industries, due to the incredible potential of the latest ebike technology. With a battery-powered motor providing extra oomph as you pedal, the bicycle (already a miraculous machine) becomes a veritable super-bicycle. Naturally, the power of this new technology is attracting even greater numbers of parents to the cargo bike school run.
I spoke to Eddie Kehoe – Founding Director of the Electric Transport Shop – to discover more about the burgeoning popularity of electric cargo bikes, especially here in the UK. Eddie has two children – two girls, 2 and 7 years of age – whom he (or his wife) carries to school on a cargo bike, so he knows what he is talking about. For him, it is all about convenience and fun. ‘Cambridge has so many wonderful quiet routes, I can beat the traffic’, he explains, ‘so I can get the kids from door to door so much faster, which means we can leave home later. The whole experience is much less stressful than driving to school, finding a parking space, etc. In fact, it is fun!’ I ask him if his kids enjoy the ride, too. ‘They love it!’ he says, adding, wryly, ‘and that helps me get them out of the door in the morning!’
Cargo bikes have many other positives, some less obvious than others. Clearly, you can save a lot of money by biking the kids to school, while deriving all the familiar health, fitness and psychological benefits of cycling, including greater happiness and productivity. But Eddie tells me, interestingly, that he is also pleased that he is giving his daughters some experience of the road; ‘I feel they are too young to cycle along a busy roadside, yet they’re getting a sense of how it’s done’.
And schools, too, seem to be benefitting from bicycling parents. Bikes improve road safety outside the school gates, by reducing gridlock at the start and end of the school day, so schools are going out of their way to encourage cycling. Eddie tells me that some of the parents who cycle their kids to school on the way to work choose to detach their trailers and leave them at the school, then continue on to work, then pick up the trailers and kids on the way home.
Cargo bikes, it seems, are increasingly being woven into people’s lifestyles in Cambridge; you only have to look around to see the evidence. ‘I call it Camstersdam’, exclaims Eddie, making reference to the city of Amsterdam, where the cycling school run is world-renowned.
But – I ask Eddie – realistically, aren’t many people likely to be put off by concerns about getting too sweaty or too tired on a bike, especially with one or more kids in tow? ‘That’s where ebikes come in’, Eddie responds, nodding. ‘Not everyone has the fitness levels necessary to be able to bike the kids to school on a conventional bicycle, day in day out – for example, recent mums, or, in general, parents who are just downright exhausted by raising kids’. So, what difference does the electric motor make? ‘A massive difference. You’re in control of how much effort you put in. You can toggle the assistance level, allowing the motor to do most of the work, or you can put more effort in yourself. It’s up to you’.
There are various options when it comes to electric cargo bikes. The Electric Transport Shop can install a battery and motor onto a cargo bike that is already owned by a customer. ‘“Dutch bikes” are a popular option for upgrading’, says Eddie. Another excellent option is the Smarta bike which is available directly from the Electric Transport Shop. This award-winning ebike is extremely robust and reliable (I know this because I personally own one) and perfect for attaching a trailer to. ‘We offer a £999 Smarta bike-plus-trailer deal, along with a free service within 300 miles of usage of the bike’, explains Eddie. Going forward, he informs me, an ebike service is recommended for most users just once a year, and 83% of customers get over 5 years of usage out of their first battery. And here’s the best bit: the electricity is likely to cost less than £5 per 1,000 miles.
‘You can also use an electric cargo bike to transport your dog and your shopping’, continues Eddie, who is clearly passionate about these wonderful machines. He invites people to come to the Electric Transport Shop – which has stores in London, York, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge – to find out more. You could pick the kids up from school afterwards.
For more information about electric bikes and electric cargo bikes, see www.electricbikesales.co.uk