Hello blog readers! I’m Geoff, Charlotte’s husband, and I’m at long last doing what I’ve said for ages I would do – writing a guest post. This is the story of a major decision we took back in August as part of our green journey.
I’ve been so proud of Charlotte’s efforts over the last few years to steer us as a family into a more low-impact way of living, it’s been inspiring to be part of it all.
I’ve always loved bikes and cycling, and whenever possible I like to be able to cycle to and from work each day. With the demands of a school run with two small children making it increasingly difficult to get people and stuff to the required destination and also manage a bike, I gave up and just took the car.
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.
At first I looked on eBay, and found some cycle rickshaw vehicles that looked good fun. Then I realised there were a whole range of proper bikes designed specifically for passenger carrying, called cargo bikes.
I was fascinated to see that in many other countries it’s quite normal to take the kids around on a bike, whether that’s a Dutch bakfiets (box bike) tricycle, or a bike with the usual two wheels and a cargo bay in front of or behind the rider. The more I looked, the more awesome bike designs and really cool companies I discovered. Some weren’t really available in the UK, and some didn’t look very suitable for Scottish weather, but they all seemed to have loyal followings.
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 some 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?
Back in August, having researched and contacted a few Scottish suppliers of cargo bikes, I took the whole family over to Dundee to visit Electric Bikes Scotland. Daniel the owner was fantastic, very enthusiastic about electric bikes in general and cargo bikes in particular.
Daniel introduced us to the Riese & Müller Load 60, a gorgeous blue cargo bike which we took for a spin round the streets of Dundee. There were many smiles and waves from passers-by, but the biggest smiles were definitely on our faces!
Riding a really good electric cargo bike is an experience of sheer delight. To start with, it’s like having a strong tail wind behind you all the time. The full suspension soaks up all the bumps. You’re aware that you’re moving a significant load at speed, but it feels like riding a really stable, safe but fun ordinary bike – it handles just as you expect it to.
After a few minutes of riding around, I was convinced. This was a brilliant way to transport the kids to school, get shopping, go to visit friends – in fact, anything that involved a journey of a few miles or less. I was pretty convinced that in busy traffic, with the ability to take cycle paths and shortcuts, I’d be able to get around town on a bike like this as quickly as in the car.
While at Electric Bike Scotland we also tried out a Winther Cargoo which is a tricycle style of electric cargo bike. This had lots more space in the cabin, but it wasn’t a patch on the Load 60. The main reasons were that without the full suspension even going over a speed bump slower than on a normal bike the kids in the cabin were jumped out of their seats, and the overall ride comfort was much lower. The drive was also a different style which felt like someone was pushing the bike forward rather than a motor helping with the pedalling. I’m sure they’re excellent bikes and it would be easy to get used to these quirks, but it was just so obvious that the Load 60 had no such learning curve, and it was clearly a superior machine in build quality.
Ok, so it’s not all a bed of roses looking at buying an electric cargo bike. The price is eye-watering. We’re talking decent used car prices – easily well over £5000.
But then, this is a vehicle designed to replace a car. It’s not one you leave in the garage and occasionally take out for a spin on a sunny day when the fancy takes you. It’s a practical vehicle built for serious use. Plus it holds its value extremely well – these bikes sell second hand for thousands of pounds, and there are very few on the market as nobody seems to want rid of them!
There’s no way we could afford such a whopping cost. Especially when we discovered that Riese & Müller were bringing out a new, bigger version of the Load 60 which could take 3 kids – the Load 75. Room for our two and a friend, or at least plenty of space for all the school bags and kit that need transported on the school run, but it cost even more than the Load 60.
The more I looked at the Load 75, the more I could see it completely replacing our second car, which was only really needed for journeys within the town.
The icing on the cake was discovering that we could get an interest free loan from the Energy Saving trust, making it affordable.
So we did it. We ordered a Load 75, put down a deposit, got approval for the EST loan, and even made arrangements to sell our second car to a family member.
The only problem with choosing the Load 75 back in August was that it hadn’t actually started production yet and the bike we ordered wouldn’t be built until November. Now in mid-November we’re still waiting for news on when it will arrive from Germany and we can start our new bike-based routines.
I’m very excited to record how all of that goes, so part two of this post will follow in due course, along with photos of the actual bike!