One Year with the Bike

I’ve been meaning to write this post since early May, when it had actually been a year, but I never seemed to fall on this topic. Finally, it is time.

It’s been a year (okay, almost 14 months) since I bought the electric-assist cargo bike, and I still love it just as much as I did when I got it, maybe even more. It is seriously an amazing way to get around the city, and makes me love this confounded 7×7 cement maze a lot more than I do from behind the wheel of a car.


Of course there are some issues when it comes to riding a bike around a congested city. I’ll mention those first, but only because I want to end on the positives.

Weather. I am VERY lucky that the bike is not my only mode of transportation, and I can take the car when it rains. Having the option to take the car was especially important this past winter, because it rained A SHIT LOAD. After eight years of drought, California seemed to be making up for a lot of dry winters. It would have REALLY sucked to ride out in the rain, and I think my kids would have made me pay for it.

Rain is not the only weather that sucks on a bike. San Francisco may never get hot, but it sure as f*ck gets windy. Riding in high winds is not fun, but we’ve gotten used to it. The good thing about a bike as heavy as that one is you don’t feel like you’ll be blown over (which can be a very real and terrifying feeling on a lighter road bike). Still, powerful wind gusts hurt the face and eyes, make you ride slower and just all around suck. I have been more acutely aware of the wind this year than any previous.

We also get a lot of fog. This morning it felt like little pinpricks of water hitting my face. But honestly, it doesn’t bother me. Kind of feels refreshing!

Close quarters. Now my kids can quarrel in the car with the best of them, even with that lovely middle seat between them, so it’s not like car rides with them are always peaceful, but I definitely notice an uptick in bickering when they are on the back of the bike. There isn’t a ton of space on the bench and with the wind blowing jackets and hoods all around, they get frustrated with each other. They also handle those frustrations poorly. It drives me nuts when they fight on the back of the bike. Luckily, with how much we’re riding it this summer, it seems to be getting better. I guess they are just getting used to sharing the smaller space, or maybe they are tired of constantly fighting all the time.

Safety concerns. Last week a cyclist was killed at an intersection near my house that I ride through almost every day. That was… sobering to say the least. I am SUPER cautious on the bike, especially when the kids are with me, but I know I can’t control for every possibility (like idiots on the smart phones while driving). We all wear neon yellow windbreakers, and I ALWAYS assume cars don’t see me. Still, it’s definitely a risk I’m cognizant of, even if I don’t actually feel anxiety while I ride. I have been looking for a good safety flag to put on the back (all the ones I’ve found online get horrible reviews and evidently break almost immediately) and I plan to get an air horn on the handle bars so I can alert drivers when necessary.

Fear of theft. There have been a few times I didn’t take the bike for fear of leaving it in a certain area for a long period of time. I have a VERY BIG chain to lock it up, and a back wheel lock for extra protection, but there are areas where I feel uncomfortable leaving it for prolonged periods. That said, 99% of the time, I’m okay to take it somewhere and leave it locked up. I would definitely NOT be comfortable leaving it locked up in the same place daily (giving inspired bike thieves the time and opportunity to orchestrate an ingenious plan).

Storage. I have a big basket on the front, and it holds a lot, but it can definitely be hard to fit everything on the bike. Once we take off my son’s Yepp seat, I can hang bags from the bench, which will really help. At this point I’ve gotten pretty creative, and managed to get three kids, and their stuff, on the bike for shorter rides.

{My daughter’s backpack hanging off my son’s seat – with her robe scrunched below (it was pajama day at camp)}

*  *  *  *  *

Okay, and now on to the positives! And, in my opinion, there are so many!

It’s fun! Seriously, I LOVE riding my bike. I used to road bike with my parents when I lived on the peninsula, so I’ve spent hours, and ridden literally hundreds of miles, on a bike. (I actually participated in many centuries (100 mile rides) and even a couple 100 plus-over-multiple-day rides.) So yes, I already liked riding a bike, and I suppose I already felt pretty comfortable riding near cars (though riding on the peninsula is the minor leagues compared to riding in SF – there is a MASSIVE difference). I also REVEL in riding past a block (or two or three!) of cars waiting in traffic. Nothing, truly nothing, makes me happier.

Exercise! Outside! So, the battery really helps me ride, which means I don’t get much  exercise on the bike (but this is actually another positive: see below!). My guess is it’s a lot like walking, as far as energy expended. Of course, riding (or walking!) is better than being in the car, so I’ll take it (it definitely doesn’t substitute for any of my workouts though). I also think I get a little of that exercise “high” being on the bike. It’s not as good as when I run, but I definitely feel energized after a longer ride. I also LOVE being outside, it’s just good for my soul, and in SF the weather is generally decent, if not beautiful (even when the wind is slapping me in the face. 😉

You don’t have to work hard. I know a lot of people who have considered getting an electric bike (just a regular one-person bike, not a cargo) but didn’t because biking is their only form of exercise. While I appreciate that perspective (especially if you don’t have a car so you have to ride your bike), I think there are very real benefits to having an electric-assist bike, especially in a city as hilly as this one.

For one, I don’t get sweaty when I ride the bike. I sweat when I exercise a lot, and I HATE showing up somewhere with circles under my arms and a headband of sweaty hair. I really and truly HATE it. I live in a city that rarely gets hot enough to make me sweat, and I don’t want to do it because I rode a bike to get somewhere. For me, being able to arrive dry, even lugging two kids up some impressive hills, is a HUGE positive.

It’s also nice to not be physically exhausted every time I ride it. The point of the bike is to get places, not expend energy. I appreciate that I can get where I’m going without wearing myself out. The bike really does feel like a way to get around, not a way to work out. I absolutely appreciate that. It allows me to take it anywhere, wearing anything (well mostly anything).

Easy to park! There are some neighborhoods that I will likely never drive to again, now that I have the bike. The Academy of Sciences is amazing, with an incredible aquarium that my kids love, and I have a membership so we can go whenever we want, but it’s in the middle of Golden Gate Park and the parking is atrocious. I’ve actually left there once without going in – I couldn’t find a spot within a mile! Now I can ride over there in about the same time it took to drive, and park my bike 100 feet from the entrance. It’s the best.

My daughter has been at a camp in my old neighborhood where parking is notoriously difficult. I’ve ridden there every day and it’s so easy to just kick up the bike stand and sign her in or out. Parking, or double parking, would be so stressful.

Fast! The electric assist is not just awesome for getting up big hills with 90+ lbs of kid, it’s also awesome for getting where you need to go fast. Generally it only takes me a little longer to take the bike than the car. Sometimes travel time is about equal. In a city with as much traffic as this one, the bike is a really quick and easy way of getting around.

Good for the Earth. Obviously riding a bike is better for the Earth than driving a car. It also takes one more car off the rode in a city with way too many cars. I also like being part of the bike culture here in the city. I mostly stick to streets with designated bike lanes, or at least bike signs painted in the lane, and there are always a lot of other bike riders on those streets – and a lot of them have cargo bikes with kids! I like being a part of that group of people who are doing things a little differently, for themselves and for the world.

I’m sure there are more positives and negatives I could think of, but with these points I think I paint a comprehensive picture of my experience with an electric-assist cargo bike. It’s definitely a massive investment, but I am enjoying it so much. I think if they can eventually bring the price down on electric-assist bikes, it could start a serious revolution.

{Three kids on the back of the bike!}

12 Comments

  1. This sounds super cool! Do you have a full length photo of the bike? I’m curious how it’s all set up !

  2. Fabulous update. I have wondered how it was going. I remember the decision time about it. Clearly it was a good choice. One thing you talked about then was if it would cover it’s cost of acquisition…. I think it must have but am not certain. But the freedom of not having to park a car for school drop off/pick up!!! Wow. HUGE!

    1. I rode to double drop off/pick up for 9 of the 10 times this week and it was awesome. This morning it was really cold and foggy but we honestly don’t even notice anymore. Once they know it’s what we’re going to do, they get over it. We also count the cars we pass in traffic and that is really fun. 😉

  3. Electric bikes are the best ……..for all the reasons you have mentioned. I love mine, wouldn’t be without it now. Best bit is gliding past my husband on the big hills.He says he is not old enough to get one yet.
    He is three years younger than me!

    1. HAHA! I think for men there is definitely a pride element involved. My dad is a big road biker and now, at 65 is training for his first DOUBLE century (as in 200 miles in one day) in many years and he keeps talking about how much harder the old training rides are, and he can’t imagine why, and I keep saying, maybe because you are now 65!!!! Most of the people who ride those super long rides are actually older because you basically need to be retired to complete the necessary training regimen (he used to ride them when he was unemployed), so he doesn’t think that should factor in, but I’m like, 65 is a lot older than 60 or 55 when you’re riding 200 miles. I still don’t think he really believes me.

  4. That’s a beautiful bike! Totally agree on the positive sides of bicycling. Bicycling=freedom. I don’t have a cargo bike but I hope to own one some day.
    And an electric bike would be a necessity for me if I’d haul my kids around (when I have just my 3-year-old on a back seat, I’m covered in sweat after the first hill).

    1. Bicycling=freedom! YES! That is absolutely right!

      Before I got the cargo bike I put a Yepp mini on the front of my road bike and a Yepp Junior on the back and rode around for a few months with my kids. At one point I took it (and them!) somewhere with a long, gradual hill. By the time I got there I was DRIPPING with sweat, and I didn’t stop sweating for a good hour. It was for a play date with a mom I didn’t know very well and I was so embarrassed. That is when I realized that I NEEDED to get an electric assist. That hill wasn’t even that bad it totally wrecked me.

  5. This sounds amazing. I feel like even pushing those kids in a double stroller would be exhausting, so I can’t imagine biking with them and not feeling like you’re getting a workout. Plus the benefits for parking and and the environment are so great!

    1. The battery is seriously powerful. Once I was almost out of batteries (because I forgot to recharge it after a long trip) and I turned off the electric assist for a long time, to save power for a big hill at the end, and lordy! It was SO HARD to ride on even a flat road, and we were going SO SLOW. It was sobering. The electric-assist is incredibly powerful. It’s feels like you’re Superman. 😉

  6. Sounds like so much fun!

    Personally, I’m irrationally terrified of biking in our very urban area. Probably because on a daily basis I walk past a ghost bike (a bike painted white and left in place as a memorial to a cyclist killed by a car).

    If only I lived somewhere where the road rage was not the default mode for drivers….

    1. Wow, ghost bikes… I’ve never heard of those (or, obviously, seen one). I appreciate the idea, not just as a way to remember those who have died, but also as a reminder of what can happen when people aren’t paying attention, or are aggressive while driving. The amount of people killed on bicycles is definitely something I worry about, but pedestrians deaths are way up right now too (not just in SF, but all over the US). I suppose no one is safe when cars around.

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