In April 2021 we welcomed two big additions to our family. First, my second child was born. You can barely see her in the photo below, she’s four days old and snuggled into my baby-wearing sweater. The second one you probably can’t miss: it’s that big electric bucket-style cargo bike. We call him Mike.
Photo: London Bicycle Café
In a story that might feel familiar to many parents, especially in privileged suburban Canada, we had a kid and got a second car. Once my husband and I had to coordinate two work schedules, daycare drop- off and pick-up, and the other aspects of everyday life, we couldn’t see a way around it. But once I learned about electric-cargo bikes I became convinced that this could be another solution. In 2021, we sold that second car we never really wanted to have and purchased Mike, an Urban Arrow.
Mike has been an integral part of our family, taking us on hundreds of trips (over 8000km) over the past 2.5 years. This style of bike has adapters for infant car-seats so my daughter began biking at only 3 months old. My kids request ‘mike-rides’ and will often stay in the bike long after we arrive at a park or at home hanging out or eating a snack. We use this bike to get to daycare, to bring home groceries, to transport just about everything.
If you’re not yet convinced, let me list off just some of the many benefits:
- No carbon emissions, little pollution, more greenspace: When we travel by bike we don’t
use any fossil fuels – yay! Bikes don’t create much pollution from tires or in the production
process, including in battery material mining (especially when compared with heavy zero-
emission automobiles like SUVs and trucks). Bikes require far less paved urban areas for
travelling and parking which means as more people bike and fewer people drive cities can
repurpose space for trees and greenery to help with carbon capture, urban heat islands and
- Physical Health: I don’t have to worry about squeezing exercise into my busy days, I exercise
almost every time I leave the house. With an e-cargo bike you can decide how much
assistance you want. Somedays I want to get a work-out in on my way home from daycare
and I won’t use the e-assist. And on days when I am really low-energy and may not have felt
like biking on a regular bike I can put it on turbo and let the bike do most of the work!
- Mental Health: This may have been the most important benefit for me. When I was driving
regularly, I was angry and anxious. Now I am rarely in traffic jams and I am not worried that I
will be late for daycare pick-up because a bike journey is consistent.
- Expenses: the upfront cost of a bike like this is significant compared to a normal bike, but
not compared with a car. And after the initial purchase, expenses are minimal. I barely even
know what the cost of gas is! Repairs and maintenance have been minor. We have extra
coverage for the bike on our home insurance, but it is minuscule compared to auto
- Kids see what you’re doing: Another important benefit to me is that my kids see that I am
taking climate action almost every day. For them, biking to get around is incredibly normal
(but still fun!) and something I hope will continue as they grow so transportation is not seen
as a car-first activity. They also see how to get around the city. My now six-year-old son is an
incredible navigator and even my two-year-old knows when we’re going somewhere new or
somewhere familiar like her favourite park.
- Outdoor time: Early in the pandemic my son and I did the 1000 hours outside challenge to
fill our days and to build a connection with nature. Once we got the bike, we stopped
tracking. Now that most of our travel time is spent outside, we easily hit the goal. I am more
aware of the weather and changing seasons, which….
Yes, I can hear you asking, we even use this bike in the winter. Not everyday, but often. This is possible because the bike network near us is maintained and cleared in the winter. I actually find it a lot easier to bundle my kids up and get on the bike than to get them in the car in car-seat-safe gear and then out of the car and into thick warm snowsuits, boots, mitts, and hats to play at school and daycare. The kids stay warm with a cover that protects them from wind and precipitation, and sometimes blankets too.
Some of these benefits I expected (although maybe at an even bigger scale than I anticipated) while others were a surprise. Overall, I am confident in saying that getting this family e-bike changed our lives.
And I don’t want this to be a secret! I want other families and our communities to experience the joy and potential of this type of transformation. But I also know that our individual choices are not going to solve the climate emergency. I know this isn’t a solution for everyone and we need those in power to make real substantial change.
On the other hand, individuals can show others about these type of alternative possibilities. Our voices and actions can push politicians to do more. This is why I began volunteering with For Our Kids and I started grad school to understand more about how we can make changes to the ways, cities and transportation systems are built to make sustainable and equitable travel more feasible. I think it is a shame that governments are incentivizing electric automobiles, but not electric bikes and I continue to push for this change, especially for our low-income neighbours for whom this type of mobility (and secure parking) could be transformational!
Over the spring and summer of 2023, I worked with For Our Kids – Ottawa-Gatineau to host a series of events called We Bike For Our Kids. These events were meant to build community among those of us already biking, to encourage new families to consider biking, and to raise the awareness of families and kids who bike and our unique needs. We held events monthly in May, June, July, and August and more than 50 participants joined us. These gatherings brought people together to talk about the benefits and challenges of biking in the city, to try out or see in person different styles of bikes and children’s bike seats, and to have fun and sometimes ice cream! Our routes took advantage of the National Capital Commission’s bike days program where roads are closed to cars so our group could ride side-by-side and at slower speeds than other bikes. This made it comfortable for younger kids to ride their own bikes as well. We would end at a park so kids could play together, and adults could chat. It was a great way for parents and other community members to connect and advocate for climate action and road safety while kids came along and had fun too.
These events built towards a larger event called Kidical Mass where more than 250 people showed up to celebrate biking, kids, and climate action and to ask the city of Ottawa to accelerate action and funding to make streets safer for kids.
Intrigued? Here are some resources about biking for families!
- How to Carry Kids by Bike from This Mom Bikes
- Babes on Bikes: What to know about cycling with your little from Woman in Urbanism
- What parents need to know about cargo bikes for kids from Today's Parent
- Cargo Bike Buyers Guide from Bike Shop Girl
- Find out more from your local bike shops, bike advocacy groups, or other parents. You could even consider hosting a For Our Kids bike event (see our recommendations here)