Family cycling: Sarah’s switch from car dependency to cargo bike joy

This article was published in 2021, in Magazine 153.

Camcycle’s cargo bike intern Sarah Hughes explores the benefits cargo bikes can bring to your family.

Sarah with her Urban Arrow‘Look Mummy! It’s our journey home from nursery!’ shouted our then three-year-old son from the playroom. He’d built a long, snaking line of toy cars, buses, vans and emergency vehicles all at a standstill arranged nose to bumper. It turned out I wasn’t the only person in the family who considered our daily commute by car absurd!

Line of toy carsWith one child, we had managed just fine with a frame-mounted Hamax seat on the back of a regular cycle. Our son loved the sensation of travelling by bicycle and had napped pretty reliably in his bike seat when he struggled to drop off to sleep elsewhere. We enjoyed lovely family cycle outings at weekends, too, continuing an activity we enjoyed despite having a young child.

Once our second child arrived, however, we slipped back into using the car for most of our journeys and our commute between our home in Chesterton and the nursery in Romsey was making us all angry. Since being a teenager, I’d been an everyday cyclist for environmental reasons and I was ashamed of my car dependency. We were continually stuck in traffic and our baby found the car very unsettling, screaming during most journeys. It was time to turn ourselves back into a cycling family!

Inspired by our Dutch neighbours, we went to The School Run Centre to try out its range of cargo tricycles and bicycles. I was initially sceptical that I could handle a cargo bicycle, but found the Bakfiets Classic Long easy to ride. It felt very secure to cycle as it adhered well to the road and the low gears made it easy to cycle up slopes. I also adjusted quickly to the longer length of the bike, and felt that the children (then three and one) were safe in front of me, strapped in side-by-side on the bench seat, where I could keep an eye on them.

Sarah and her BakfietsWe purchased one very soon after and have never looked back. I can safely say that it was one of the best decisions we ever made and we’ve used a cargo cycle in place of a car nearly every day since.

On the cargo cycle, everyday life with children in the city became ever so much more straightforward. Instead of sitting in traffic jams, we could choose pleasant cycle routes through the city’s green spaces or travel along the quiet streets beyond modal filters. When we did use bigger roads, we could whizz past queues of stationary traffic in the cycle lane. Nine times out of ten we could park safely away from traffic at or very near our destination, ending the search for elusive parking spaces and the fraught traverses of busy car parks with a baby in one arm and a tearaway toddler pulling on the other. We ended our journeys relaxed and on time and no longer felt we were damaging the environment with every trip.

We were also delighted to discover some unexpected benefits of switching to a cargo cycling life. We built strong connections with our kids through the lovely conversations we had as we cycled along. It’s so easy to chat to the passengers just in front of you on the bench seat, and there’s so much to spark a discussion as you ride. The cargo cycle also opened up the city around us. We visited places that had previously been too inconvenient to reach by car, discovered new places to play that we wouldn’t have spotted while driving and even simply lingered to enjoy being out in our beautiful city on a bike. Our daily commute became a pleasure and I felt a lot healthier from all the exercise and fresh air.

Cargo Bike Benefits

  • Convenient and time-efficient
    Enjoy reliable journey times
  • Beat the congestion
    Avoid the queues by using cycle lanes and car-free routes
  • Free and easy parking
    Finding a place to park a car in Cambridge is time-consuming and stressful. It’s much easier to find a spot to leave a cargo cycle
  • Clean and green
    Dramatically reduce your impact on the environment by switching from car to cargo bike
  • Healthy and happy
    Using a cargo cycle for everyday journeys keeps you fit and boosts your mood
  • Save money
    It is usually cheaper to purchase and run a cargo cycle than a car
  • Family cycling fun
    Make happy memories together: children love cargo cycling!

Boy on a Bobike seat

As the years passed, there was less elbow room for two larger children on the bench seat, so when our eldest was nearly five, we added a Bobike Classic Junior seat to the pannier rack at the back of the bike. This was an instant success as our son appreciated a bit more personal space and loved the higher vantage point.

By this point, I was also pregnant with our third child and continued to cycle the Bakfiets throughout the pregnancy. It was easy to mount and dismount the bike even with a bump. When our third child arrived, we fitted a frame to carry a Maxi Cosi car seat on the bottom of the wooden box. Our baby joined us on the bicycle and life continued as before. Quite frankly, I couldn’t have imagined going back to life without everyday cycling! Our infant found cycling soothing and it was convenient to be able to lift her asleep in the car seat out of the cargo cycle at our destination. By about the age of one, she outgrew the Maxi Cosi seat and graduated to the bench seat. By the ages of seven and five, our two older children were both able to ride their own bicycles independently, but we still found it extremely convenient to be able to transport them in our cargo cycle when we needed to use a busy route, cycle in the rain, travel in the dark, or take them somewhere when they were tired or we were running late.

This year I unfortunately suffered a back injury, which made cycling the non-assisted Classic Bakfiets unrealistic. I could no longer pedal with the force required without risking further damage to my back. I am delighted to be back cargo cycling again, though, thanks to an electric cargo cycle. I received very helpful introductions to e-cycling from both Power to the Pedal and The School Run Centre, then purchased an Urban Arrow Family cargo bicycle from Outspoken Cycles. Our set-up sees our two younger children sitting on the bench seat and our eldest sitting on the floor of the soft expanded polypropylene cargo box. We also added panniers to transport all our belongings. A newcomer to electric cycles, I was amazed at the extent to which electric pedal assistance reduces the effort of cycling. Inclines such as bridges and hills are now easily navigated with three big children on board, despite my injury. The distance I can travel in one day is also much greater, again in spite of my reduced power. We can choose to arrive refreshed if I use the motor on high power, or I can reduce the assistance or turn it off entirely if I fancy a workout. Lastly, I ride more assertively on the electric cargo cycle and feel safer on busier roads as I can accelerate much more quickly when necessary and match the speed of other road users. All in all, I wish I’d transitioned to an electric cargo cycle much earlier! For me, the increased range makes the Urban Arrow a true car replacement for most local journeys – as long as I remember to charge the battery!

Inspired to try a cargo cycle?

Cargo bikes outside Outspoken CyclesOutspoken Cycles is currently running an e-cargo bike Try Before You Buy Scheme, provided through the Energy Saving Trust’s eCargo Bike Grant Fund. They have a range of e-cargo bikes for both families and businesses, and the scheme is an exciting opportunity to trial a cargo bicycle or tricycle to see how it can work for you over a longer period, before committing to buy.

The content on this page has been produced as part of City Changer Cargo Bike, a Horizon 2020 Cycle Logistics programme delivered in partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council. The project aims to raise awareness and support the uptake of cargo bikes and cargo bike initiatives.
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