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Life with a family e-bike: The first 100 miles

(This is part two, you can read the first post here).

The bike arrives

Well, the exciting day finally came. Daniel at Electric Bikes Scotland arrived at our home in Stirling in his van, and inside was our shiny new Riese & Müller  Load 75.

Conveniently it was a day when I was off work looking after the kids, so we were all able to get to know the new bike straight away.

We set off on a ride on the usual route to nursery and school, then called in on a friend, then headed into town. It was cold, raining, and the wind was gusting at 40mph, but the three of us had a marvellous time!

We quickly worked out that helmets for passengers in the load area weren’t necessary. The 3-point harnesses on the seats kept the kids safely inside the frame and sidewalls even when I tipped it over and rested it on its side.

Riding the bike with 2 kids was just as much fun as the Load 60 had been on our test ride. It definitely felt longer, but had the same high quality feel and confidence-inspiring stability and road-holding. The miles just flew past as we pottered about, and the kids didn’t seem to mind being squashed together in their seats.

School run on two wheels

The first week of nursery and school runs on the bike was the final proof that this amazing machine genuinely is a car replacement. I initially left much earlier than we would in the car, thinking that the journey would take around twice as long. It didn’t.

Our first practise run to nursery (just over 2 miles, negotiating a few road crossings and up a couple of fairly steep hills) took 15 minutes. In the car it would take just less than 10 minutes. Later runs in better weather were even quicker.

Getting in and out does take longer than belting kids into car seats and tossing schoolbags into the front seat. Instead there are sometimes heated discussions between siblings over whose feet go where, and it takes a few minutes to strap bags onto the luggage rack at the back and make sure no straps are dangling into the wheel spokes.

But despite this our routine has become almost the same as what it was with a car – we don’t leave much earlier, we can transport everything we need to take, and twice a week we take a friend along as well – 3 kids, 3 schoolbags, and usually 3 voices giggling away as we zoom over bumps!

What is very different is the feeling of freshness and clear-headedness that I get every morning. Whatever the weather, it’s just so much better to get that blast of fresh air and exercise. We all get to our various destinations ready for the day and more cheerful than we often would in the car. Arguments and grumps that would easily survive the car journey just don’t seem to last in the bike.

School runs are definitely better on two wheels!

Faster than a car?

There have been studies that suggest that bikes are faster than cars in cities, and electric bikes the fastest option of all for short urban journeys. This fits with my own experience in Stirling. It’s not exactly a metropolis, but I’ve found getting from A to B in the town is at worst only a few minutes slower than using a car, and at best quite a bit faster.

The reason for this seems to be a combination of being able to use cycle paths and shortcuts that a car can’t use, along with the electric motor meaning I can keep up with traffic more easily.

My average speed over the first 100 miles has been 11.4mph, top speed 31mph. But that factors in the times I’ve pushed the bike while chatting to someone going the same way as me, and a few days of going extra carefully on ice. When I popped out to visit someone 7 miles away by open roads the average speed was 15.8mph, so the journey took just over 20 minutes.

“What is THAT?!” and other reactions

It’s been fun hearing a whole range of reactions from people as we pedal around the town. Here are a selection!

“What is THAT?!”

Children in the school playground or the streets as we pass. Parents often answer with, “It’s a bike… I think.”

“Why is there a motorbike in the playground?”

Boy at school

“I’ve got serious bike envy!”

Dad at school

“How much did it cost?”

Regular question from most adults

“Can you get children in it? You can get THREE in?!”

Parents who perhaps can’t imagine their own kids fitting into a small space!

Learning that bikes and ice don’t get on…

A couple of weeks after the bike arrived we had a cold snap. I was riding home from work with an empty bike, and had a bit of a mishap – the only one in these first 100 miles.

Being the first freeze of the winter, I think I’d rather forgotten that roads tend to become icy, especially ones off the beaten track that don’t get treated… As I came around a corner (quite slowly) in one of the quiet streets in the area where we live, I hit a patch of sheet ice. I realised when I saw the light shining off it, but at the same time felt the bike slide away under me as it turned into the bend.

It was quite a slow fall, but enough for me and the bike to skid along the road surface and for me end up with a bloody knee and elbow. Naturally though, my first thought was for my lovely new bike. What damage had it sustained?

I was most impressed. There was a slight scratch on the paintwork at a couple of places, and one of the rear reflectors popped out of its tube (and popped right back in with no trouble). One of the zippers on the rain cover had also been crushed. That was it.

No mechanical issues, no dents, nothing even needed adjusting. (And I’ve been given a warranty replacement of the entire rain cover to resolve the problem with the crushed zipper – amazing service!)

This incident gave me even more confidence that this machine is superbly well made. If ever it falls over with small passengers inside I think they’ll be completely fine – it’s the rider that needs to be careful!

In the cold days following this slip I’ve ridden very cautiously, especially with the kids on board. I’ve got off and pushed on paths and back roads which haven’t been treated, and stuck to the main roads wherever possible. There have been several days of sub-zero temperatures, but it hasn’t stopped us getting where we need to go, and with these precautions there hasn’t been so much as a skid.

Commuting on an e-bike

One of the biggest practicalities when using a bike to get to work is clothing. It’s either wear your normal work clothes and risk arriving sweaty, or mud-spattered, or soaked. Or have the hassle of taking a change of clothes every day.

With this electric bike, that problem has been nicely resolved. I wear what I’d be wearing anyway (with some slight adjustments) and just take it easy on the ride, making the most of the motor to avoid getting hot and perspiring.

When I arrive at the office I can secure the bike with the chain that plugs into the built-in lock, and stash my helmet and high-vis waistcoat in the load area. I take off the bike computer which effectively disables the electrics, and off I go. It’s no less effort than parking a car, and comes with the huge advantage that I can park right outside the door, for free!

I’m planning another post about the “hacks” I’ve come up with for stress-free commuting by bike, and will update this post with a link when that’s live.

100 miles later, we’re not looking back!

The first 100 miles have gone by in a flash. (Actually by the time I’ve got as far as writing this it’s the first 160 miles!)

I’m completely sold. Sure, there’s some adjustment to getting a bike out of the garage each morning instead of just hopping in the car. And of course there have been days when the kids say “I hate the bike, I want our car back!” But the overwhelming feeling from this lifestyle change is one of satisfaction.

It’s great knowing that we’re doing another small thing to reduce our carbon footprint and avoid air pollution. It’s great to get fresh air and exercise every day without needing to plan it in or take up free time. It’s great to have that little thrill every time the motor kicks in and the bike just rolls up a hill. It’s great to skip queues of rush hour traffic by nipping through shortcuts.

As you can probably tell, I love our new bike! Here’s to the next few hundred miles, and the next hundred, and the next…!

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