Why our family is considering an electric bike

I had no intention of ever getting an e-assist bicycle. I put that in the category for grandmothers, and have been recommending one to my mom. I also thought they made sense for daily bike commuters, especially those trying to avoid showing up to work sweaty. But I’m a stay-at-home Mama who can wear whatever clothes and be sweaty all day. I bike primarily for fun and exercise, as well as to live a preferred style-of-life, closer to my community. An e-bike just didn’t seem to be a “need,” nor a cost I could justify.

But my thoughts have changed. As I have tried riding a manual bike, now carrying as many as four children, I am definitely considering an e-assist, and here’s why:

When I have to focus all my efforts on just pushing down the pedals, family biking has crossed the line into something that’s just hard.

Keep biking fun: As I have added weight to my load (more kids to pull, along with all of their stuff), it has become difficult to pedal that much weight. Part of the fun of biking is the ability to coast along, enjoying the breeze and the sights. But when I have to focus all my efforts on just pushing down the pedals, family biking has crossed the line into something that’s just hard. I have less of the feeling of freedom, and more the feeling of being weighed down. I think an e-assist could put the FUN back in all our rides.

Bike farther and more often: Because of the amount of weight I am pulling, and my limited fitness, I have to be really cautious about what rides we choose to go on. I’m afraid of going out too far, and not being strong/fit enough to get back home. I want to increase our range, but I don’t want to try a ride we can’t safely complete. An e-assist would give me the peace of mind that we can try a longer/harder ride, and have built-in help if we need it. It will also help me to get on the bike even when I am feeling depleted. I’m convinced that on days when I am tired and reach for the car keys, an e-assist would have us getting on the bike instead.

Increase my fitness: It’s intuitive, it would seem, that a manual bike would lead to better increases in physical fitness. No “cheating” with the E-assist. But some studies have shown that e-bikers get more exercise than those using manual bikes. One hypothesis is that e-bikes are so much fun to ride, people ride them more often and for longer distances. This may be especially true for those who are not fit to begin with. (Like me!) 

Keep riding through low-fitness times: Currently I have to say “no” to rides that I am not fit enough to handle. An e-bike would allow me to work up to those rides, using the assist more at the start, and less as I get fitter, but without sacrificing the ride itself. It would also allow me to more easily ride through another pregnancy, and other physical factors that may inhibit my fitness or riding ability.

Safety: This reason hit me as I was struggling up a small hill last week, while towing four children. I was so tired that I had to focus all of my attention on pushing the pedals. I realized, in that moment, that I was unable to be as aware of my surroundings, watching for cars, and keeping an eye on my son riding independently in the rearview mirror. I am sure my reaction time would have been slow, as I was depleted. I was huffing and puffing, and didn’t have enough air to be able to shout a command or warning to my son, if needed. I think, in my fatigue, I was having trouble maintaining a straight line; I was wobbly and potentially weaving a little. My fatigue increased our vulnerability. My fatigue left me feeling less-safe, as I had less resources of all kinds to ride carefully and safely. Most significantly, my focus had shifted from safety awareness of my surroundings to a “get up that hill” mentality. As a result, I thought the ride was a mistake, a safety mistake. But if I get an e-bike? Serious fatigue can be something I banish with the e-assist. It won’t need to be a factor. This has become my biggest selling point for purchasing an e-bike. By preventing fatigued riding, I think we’ll bike safer. For family biking, I think it’s a very good reason to consider an e-bike. 

Keep up with my son!: I previously thought, “I can’t get an e-bike, while leaving my son on a manual bike. He won’t be able to keep up!” But let’s be real folks: I’m towing four kids with library books. I can’t keep up with my boy. And I know it’s tortuous for him to have to ride behind me on hills. He can’t even ride as slowly as I’m pedaling. Indeed, I think an e-bike will help balance us out, lessening the impact of my heavy load, so that I can keep up with him.

Better re-starts?: It can be pretty discouraging to hit a red light or stop sign when I have finally managed to get a good pace going on my huge cargo bike. It’s a real bummer to have to bring this load to a full stop. And it’s a pain to get started again. I don’t know if an e-bike will smooth out my re-starts, but at least it should be easier to get back up to speed, making those required stops less of a discouragement.

Do what’s best for our family: I really want the pride of pulling my family on my own power! It feels awesome, when I manage it. And Emily Finch (my bike-mama-hero) pulled all her kids on her own power. So I thought I would too. But her way doesn’t have to be my way. And if an e-bike will help my family bike more, go farther, have more fun, and bike more safely? Then I need to toss aside my pride, take a good gulp of humility, and try an e-bike. 


Have any of our Family Bikers out there made the switch to an e-bike? Was it “worth it”? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

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Richard
Richard
28 days ago

Go for it! 🙂 I don’t have one myself, but when we get our first family bike it will definitely be electric. The only hard part will be choosing between a longtail and a bakfiets…

curly
curly
28 days ago

Just Do It!

jrenfro
jrenfro
28 days ago

I’m the father of two boys and we got an e-assist cargo bike about 2.5 years ago. I am a very experienced rider and am very fit, and was being very stubborn about insisting on getting a bike without the e-assist. Several friends told me some variation of “The point of this bike will be to ride it. Without the e-assist, before every ride you’ll think about every hill or how long it will take or if you have had a hard day. With the e-assist you’ll just get on and go.” I’m so happy we have the e-assist. I’m still very stubborn and try to ride without the e-assist as much as a I can but it is great to have it when we’re going up larger hills or if we are trying to cross a busy street. It has made it so that the cargo bike is our default. Definitely get the e-assist.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
28 days ago
Reply to  jrenfro

Yes! That’s exactly my mental calculation before potential rides. “Can I make it? Am I up for it? Is that hill something I can manage?” It’s a lot of mental gymnastics, and with all these kiddos, I don’t have the mental energy for that. And a miscalculation (trying a ride that turns out to be too hard), is no fun at all. It’s nice to know others have been through that and found an e-assist to be a worth-it solution!

Mark McClure
28 days ago

This is a nice article, Shannon. Thanks! I’m going to forward it to one of my sons and his wife, who have a toddler and a baby. I think they’ll find it inspiring.

David Hampsten
28 days ago

As with any long heavy vehicle, especially one that is often loaded with live watery cargo, I recommend that your brakes properly match your bike. Consider upgrading to a larger disc on the rear and more frequently check for brake pad wear. And give yourself greater stopping distance at intersections – you are evolving from a Prius towards a semi in length and girth. Ebikes are more complicated and more maintenance-intensive, and you need to be cognoscent of that. If the bike brakes down on a ride, can you get home?

Matt
Matt
27 days ago

For what it’s worth, the bend in your knee in the first photo looks a little excessive. You might be more comfortable if you raised your saddle a little bit.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
27 days ago
Reply to  Matt

I think that’s correct. If I remember right, that was my first time on the bike postpartum and I was biking in a totally different body. I’m pretty sure I raised the seat shortly after this photo was taken. I’m not sure what about being 8mo. pregnant had me feel more comfortable with a lower seat…or maybe it just got moved by someone. In any case, I will double check that, but yes, as I recall I needed to raise the seat to feel more comfortable.

Tomas Paella
Tomas Paella
23 days ago

In a word: privilege

Connie
Connie
2 days ago

I just bought an e bike for all the reasons in the article. I am so happy I did. I can now go on bike paths I wouldn’t have tried before because they were too hilly.