Reportage

Living Car-Lite with Surly’s Big Easy Electric Cargo Bike

Nesting projects. While some families go crazy building out and decorating a “nursery”, we mostly tried to figure out how to continue our bike lifestyle once our baby arrived. When Stephanie was pregnant, we fawned over Larry vs. Harry’s Bullitt, tried out the very-Euro Riese and Müller Packster, and bought into the front load aesthetic right away.

But, long term practicality was never too far away, considering the astronomical cost of an electrified front-loader. As it turns out, our friend Adam, whose Bullitt we borrowed for a couple months in 2018, let us know that his daughter was in fact outgrowing the bike’s kid canopy at only 4 years of age. Not only was her helmet hitting the top of the enclosure, but she was losing interest in riding in the “trailer” on the front of the bike.

High costs mixed with the prospect of the bike possibly lasting only three years before its primary cargo turned on it meant we were wary of dropping into an electric box bike. When the opportunity came along to review the first Surly Big Easy to make its way into Canada, we were very, very stoked. The dream of a car-lite lifestyle was alive!

I immediately swept out and scored an older Yepp seat with the requisite (and obsolete) adapter off the local buy and sell, and we got scheming on how to adapt to the longtail lifestyle.

Long Bike, Long Review

My reviews are normally pretty wordy, but this one is particularly long. There are many facets to the discussion, from family biking to electric motor stuff to the nuts and bolts of the review, plus my usual additions about changes I’d make. So, buckle into your adult-sized Yepp seat with your beverage of choice and dig in.

Reality Check

I’ll spoil this fairy tale right away and say that, in the past five months, having the Big Easy has not dramatically changed our driving habits. But, before I make it sound like the Big Easy doesn’t have the potential to change your driving habits, I should expand on ours.

Over the past three years living in North Vancouver – a hilly suburb nestled against the mountains, you guessed it, north of Vancouver BC – we’ve driven our VW Golf an average of 10,000 km a year. Each year, 3,000-5,000 km of that is road trips to Seattle, BC’s interior, and the Islands.

We walk to groceries and the library. We bike to work no matter what. Bottom line is, we drive 400-500 km a month in town. And now you can see how making a drastic shift in our driving habits would push us very close to living car-free apart from the road trips. We already live car-lite, but we did have hopes.

Fit For Two

One of the biggest concerns we had was making one bike fit the two of us. Stephanie is 5’6” and I am 6’0”. Our respective saddle tip to bar clamp distance on a shared favourite handlebar, the Jones Loop, are different by about 8 cm, while I also like my bars about 5 cm higher and my saddle 3 cm higher. It’s not a crazy discrepancy in numbers but there are some compromises to be made.

The Medium Big Easy is very similar in reach and stack to Stephanie’s Wednesday, which she rides with a 60mm stem on the Jones bar. So, knowing the Large size was another ~25mm longer, it wasn’t really an option for us to go up a size. The compromise, then, is mostly in my court. The saddle is easy to move up and back (particularly if you’ve got a dropper post), but needing my bars 50mm up and 50mm forward isn’t so simple… or is it?

Back when we were pregnant and trying out different cargo bikes, adjusting bar height usually required a stem swap, realigning bars, and so on. I was turning ideas around in my head when a friend posted a (long out of production) track racing classic, the LOOK Ergostem, for sale. I went for it. I went full nerd. It was a year before we actually got the Big Easy. And it works great! Stephanie’s position is low and back, and mine is high and forward. It takes less than 60 seconds to move the bars.

Bars with a lot of backsweep provide the most flexibility for riders of different sizes to swap, so we’ve experimented with a number of bars. Currently, the Jones is still our mutual choice, but it’s fun to play around, and the Surly Terminal bar – which the 2020 model ships with – is a good choice too. Adam’s Bullitt has an Albatross bar and that works great for their family.

More Fun Than the Average Cargo Bike

I’ve been blown away by how fun this bike is to ride. This isn’t a compliment I’d give to other longtails I’ve ridden, including the original Big Dummy. The Big Easy loves to carve corners, albeit a bit wider than usual, and emergency manoeuvers like hard braking or quick turns feel natural and safe.

What makes the Big Easy more fun to ride than the Big Dummy and other longtails? It all comes down to steering and rider fit geometry that Surly introduced with the Big Fat Dummy. A slack-for-a-cargo-bike 69º head angle and longer top tubes put the front wheel further ahead of you (while also improving standover clearance). With the original Big Dummy you feel more like you’re on top of the front wheel, whereas these new bikes feel like a modern rigid forked mountain bike.

The result is Surly’s new longtails are more stable at speed, but also more fun to ride. I’ll be honest: it does feel weird to describe anything with an 800+mm rear end length as fun to ride, but it’s true. Longer and slacker are buzzwords in the mountain bike world but they’re equally useful here. Bikes that ride more stable AND more fun are always a win.

Cargo Capability

Being a cargo bike, there are lots of different ways you might envision building yours out. Surly’s included level of accessories leaves a fairly open platform whether you plan to carry kids, adults, camp gear, the kitchen sink, or whatever else you can imagine. Surly ships the Big Easy with an aluminum deck, Dummy rails (which insert into the frame to support said deck), and cavernous yet slightly confusing Dummy Bags.

The Dummy Bags are mostly waterproof (the front and back are open under the flap), and have very secure and relatively big inside pockets which are a good place to keep stuff that you don’t need very often (like your tool kit) or you really don’t want getting wet. The outside pocket cinches up to hold fairly big objects, expands to hold even larger objects, and opens even further to accommodate stuff that’s too long.

For our purposes, the Big Easy is a stable and capable kid hauler that turns into a tons-of-space commuter just by removing the Yepp seat. The Yepp seat’s footrests interfere with the flaps of the Dummy Bags but the bags are still about two-thirds usable with where we’ve got the seat mounted. I equate the Dummy Bags to the trunk of a car. On a normal day you throw your bag into the passenger seat, but when you need to carry a load of books or recycling or a bunch of groceries, the extra space is there.

Our crowning cargo bike achievements have been: towing Stephanie’s Wednesday back home on day one; all three of us on the bike to numerous bike shop parties and kiddie playground sessions; Stephanie and Sophia towing me up hills when I’m on another bike; awkward recycling runs that we thought impossible; impromptu taxi rides for friends; and, maybe best of all, seeing that our weekly cloth diaper laundry run is viable, if only Sophia could stay awake. People who own cargo bikes all have their own stories of the dumb stuff they’ve done. It’s pretty fun.

We added Surly’s Deck Bar and Deck Pad, which is part of the kit Surly calls the Kid Corral. If you buy the Kid Corral you get side rails, another pad, and the extra set of rail collars mentioned below. Once Sophia’s out of the Yepp seat, the full Kid Corral setup will be the ticket. Kid accessories in general aren’t cheap, so consider that in your budget if you’re investing in a cargo bike.

Frame Limitations

While the handling is Big Fat Dummy, the rest of the Big Easy is based on the original Big Dummy and for discussion’s sake the bike is subject to the same limitations of the original platform. One thing that surprised me is derailleur compatibility: because the frame extends beyond the dropouts, not all derailleurs fit.

Shimano’s Shadow derailleurs – which is basically every higher end derailleur since 10-speed – don’t fit these bikes because the frame is right in the way of the derailleur’s cable entry angle. So, you can run non-clutched derailleurs or you can run SRAM. I think a clutch is really smart for a bike with such a long chain, so SRAM it is.

But, because of that tube behind the dropout, even the SRAM GX 11-speed derailleur on there doesn’t swing back all the way to allow the wheel to drop out easily. This alone is good enough reason to run your tires tubeless, and have a plug kit and spare sealant in the bags. In all the time that the Big Dummy has existed, I’m surprised this hasn’t been fixed.

Next, I’d love to have more choice in tires, but the 26” wheel size is limiting. Surly went with the Big Dummy’s 26” rear end rather than the Big Fat Dummy’s 29”-compatible one because 26” wheels are inherently stronger, and the smaller wheel keeps the deck lower. Something we have to consider is that the Big Dummy deck already sits higher than 20” rear-wheeled longtails like Xtracycle or Yuba or Tern. And the higher your deck sits, the less stable it is loaded up.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many more good options available for 26” than for 24” or 20”, so I shouldn’t complain too loudly. But, it is my opinion that an electric assist bike doesn’t need smaller volume, high speed tires, while a utility bike can really benefit from high volume, medium speed tires. We put a 26×3.0″ Surly Knard on the front and that definitely takes the bike in the right direction.

While I’d love to have a wider range of wider tubeless tire options, as in, something supported by bike companies and tire manufacturers, I understand why Surly went with the lower deck and smaller tire size here. I’m not holding my breath that Surly will make a 24×3″ Knard or WTB will make a 24×3” Ranger Tough, but a tire like that would suit the rear end of this bike real well if you asked me.

Parts Spec

One thing I’ve noticed with a lot of e-bike spec is that, because the motor and battery add so much to the base cost of the bike, companies are putting cheaper build kits on e-bikes than a discerning rider might expect. They’re doing this to avoid sticker shock, but some choices can end up being a disservice to the end consumer.

As with all bike spec, Surly did have to cut a few corners to hit that $5000 USD price tag. But, they’ve done a very decent job of putting value in good places and, compared to other electric cargo bikes with cheaper parts despite still-high price tags, it’s actually quite smartly spec’d. Here are some of the highlights, with things we’d add further down below.

Brakes. On such a heavy bike, good brakes are much appreciated. The Tektro Orion 4-piston hydraulic brakes and 180mm rotors do the job well. Tektro and their higher performance brand TRP are just making a name for themselves in hydraulic brakes, but these seem good so far. After 1000 km, the rear brake is a little mushy and could use a bleed, and the front pads seem to slightly rub the rotor despite numerous adjustments. The power is still much better than any other brake for the same money, but like all hydraulic brakes, they will require some maintenance.

Drivetrain. Obviously an e-bike has only one chainring up front. 11-speed out back is a good choice in my opinion, with clutch derailleurs, and relatively inexpensive (and interchangeable) replacement cassettes available from SRAM, Shimano, and Sunrace. Surly went with a Sunrace 11-42 cassette and SRAM NX shifter to keep costs down, but did upgrade to the stiffer GX rear derailleur which I think was a good call.

Dropper post. The green 2020 model, which is available now, is spec’d the exact same but with the addition of a dropper post, for no extra money. Initially touted as an easy way to switch between riders, being able to lower the seat when stopping provides an extra boost of confidence when riding with kids or with a heavier load. I’m all for it.

Wheels and tires. This bike deserves a durable combination and that’s what it comes with. Serviceable Shimano Deore hubs, tubeless ready WTB rims, and Surly’s own ExtraTerrestrial 26×2.5” tires. I’d love to say I’d have set them up tubeless by now, but the tubes just keep on keeping on. The rear wheel still runs straight and true, which still does somewhat surprise me given that we’ve ridden at least 50 of that 1000 km with another adult on the back of the bike.

Optimizing Gear Range

Looking at a current Bosch drive unit you’ll notice that the front chainring is quite small. That’s because the internals of the motor multiply chainring size by 2.5. So, the Big Easy’s 18 tooth chainring actually equates to a 45 tooth on a regular crank. That’s huge! With the same 11-42 cassette, a mountain bike or touring bike would have a 28 or 30 tooth chainring (12T Bosch equivalent), while a more gravel-focused bike would have a 38 or 40 (16T Bosch). 18T is indeed big.

Electric assist masks the fact that the gear range on this bike is more “road” than “trail”, but as soon as you try to pedal it up a hill with the motor off, it’s quite obvious. Given the Big Easy is essentially always being ridden with a load – it weighs 60 pounds as you see it here, without cargo – I think it needs easier gears. The only advantage the larger chainring gives is the ability to pedal past the 32 km/h motor assist, which I could live without.

For the steepest of hills and the possibility that you might want to ride it without assistance – whether to save battery or because you failed to save battery – I would put a 14 or a 15 tooth chainring on it. But, the 18 works fine for most situations given the bike has a motor assist. It’s an easily solved problem, provided you can find a replacement chainring with the appropriate 15mm offset, but not something most people will do.

Bosch Motor System

The drive unit on the Big Easy is the Bosch Performance Line CX. The CX is Bosch’s top of the line motor, with more torque than the regular Performance Line motor, and was originally marketed by Bosch as their best option for steep terrain or heavy loads. For a heavy bike, it’s a good call. Surly also spec’d the bike with the highest capacity external battery Bosch currently makes, at 500 Wh.

The four assist modes of the Bosch CX system are Eco, Tour, e-MTB, and Turbo. Eco gives you 50% more than the power you put in, Tour boosts you by 120%, Turbo takes your power and adds 300%, and e-MTB is a torque-sensing mode that varies power between 120-300%. There’s also a Walk mode that turns the motor at low speed without having to pedal, in case you forget to change gears and stop on a hill, or need to grunt up some stairs.

Eco mode makes this heavy cargo bike feel a lot like a normal bike in terms of perceived effort. You have to work to make the bike go uphill, just like a normal bike. When we’re trying to get as much out of the battery as possible, or when we’re riding with friends on normal bikes, we use a combination of Eco and (gasp!) no assist.

Tour is a pretty decent option for everyday riding, and can be nice to boost power on short climbs if you’re conserving battery. Stephanie spends most of her time in Tour, as it makes for a quick bike that doesn’t exhibit any of the less desirable traits of Turbo. Generally, Tour makes you work just enough to stay under the 20mph assist cutoff.

Turbo, on the other hand, has enough power to push past the 20mph cutoff, which can be somewhat annoying. The motor cuts off smoothly enough, but pedaling past it isn’t really that fun or useful. I mostly find myself trying to stay just below the cutoff, riding at 18-19mph. The easiest way to manage this is to stay in the 3rd-smallest cog, where cadence becomes higher than comfortable above 20mph.

Coming off a stop in Turbo the bike will lurch into action, as Bosch’s torque-sensing interface is not as sensitive as that on Specialized or Rocky Mountain’s e-bikes. When you’re on/off throttle, such as in tight corners or at low speed, Turbo feels a bit clunky. But, as soon as you’re rolling, it’s quick indeed. Of course, battery life suffers when you’re blasting everywhere.

Since e-MTB mode varies power between that of Tour and Turbo, it’s a good option if you’re negotiating tighter turns, singletrack, or coming off a stop. On flatter terrain I find it gives assist levels closer to Tour, so I mostly just use Tour or Turbo for a more consistent feel. Off-road, however, where torque on the pedals varies so much and terrain is steeper, e-MTB is great, and that’s what it’s designed for, so there you go.

I’ll be honest and say that, despite the lower power modes being enjoyable to ride, I spend most of my time in Turbo when I’m riding alone. I’ll drop the setting to e-MTB when I’m waiting at a light, and then pop it back into Turbo as soon as I’m moving.

Battery Life and Operating Cost

So, how far does it go on a charge? It varies wildly. Range anxiety is real. You could go 10 km up a mountain pass in Turbo, or ride almost indefinitely on flat terrain using a combination of Eco and no assist at all. Hills are the biggest factor, followed by how much time you spend in the higher assist modes. We usually get 40-60 km out of a charge, sometimes as little as 30, sometimes as much as 80-90.

My commute is about 5 km each way, and I can just get 5 days of commuting both ways full throttle. That’s about 50 km and 500 metres of climbing. If you had a 20 km each way commute, you’d be charging every day. 30 km each way and you might be charging at work. At this point the idea of a second battery starts to make a lot of sense.

To make adding a second battery as easy as possible, Surly ships the Big Easy with everything you need – wiring, battery mount, screws, even an additional Abus lock cylinder – and mounting accommodations on the frame. While the outlay for a battery isn’t insignificant, a second battery would essentially solve our range anxiety.

Currently, it feels like the 500Wh battery is adequate, but not fully comfortable, so we’d probably invest in a second battery if this was our everyday bike. The ~$800 USD price tag of a second battery is a LOT, but it could be very helpful depending on your needs. Also worth mentioning is battery capacity is only going to increase, so higher capacity Bosch batteries must be in the works.

Now, knowing how far we can go on a charge and how much we pay for electricity allows us to calculate the cost of running the electric motor. We have particularly cheap hydro power here in BC, and it costs us about 5 cents (Canadian!) for a full charge. Depending on where you live, you may pay up to three times as much as we do. But 15 cents is still a pretty dang good deal for 20-50 miles of getting around.

Power Use and Charging Efficiency

One of the criticisms I’ve heard of electric bikes, beyond the resource extraction industry producing batteries, is the cost of running the bike and the fact that you’re using power that at best was generated with wind or solar, may have been generated by hydroelectric dams, and at worst is generated by coal-fired power plants. Let’s look at some numbers and see if that criticism is valid, and how much it costs to keep an e-bike powered up.

First, we need some units to discuss with. You buy your power in kilowatt hours (abbreviated to kWh). Depending on where you live, you might pay more than 20 cents USD, or you may pay as little as 9 cents. Here in British Columbia, Canada, we pay 8.29 cents CAD per kWh. The Bosch battery on the Big Easy is 500 Wh, or half of a kWh. Two charges equals one kWh.

So, given two charges of the Bosch battery is a kWh, we have something to compare with. If one full charge will last us about 20 miles in hilly terrain, and easily 50 miles on flatter terrain, we are getting between 40-100 miles per kWh. For what it’s worth, I’ve done a bit of reading about the efficiency of electric vehicles, and found that the average EV goes about 3.5 miles per kWh.

These estimates are slightly below what you’d see on your power bill – since there is some loss in the charging and discharging of batteries – but even with a fairly high 30% loss rate, we’d still be paying less than 6 cents for a full charge of the bike.

Bosch User Interface

The other component of the Bosch system is the display unit, which lets you select the assistance level in addition to giving a few data points. Surly chose Bosch’s most compact display, which is called the Purion. The next larger one, called Intuvia, is about 4x the size. The Purion is way more subtle, but I feel like it could do more.

With the Purion you get: bike speed; a 5-bar battery indicator; and the choice between an odometer, a resettable trip meter, or an estimate on remaining range. The range indicator uses your last mile of riding to estimate how much you’ve got left. If you just went down a hill, it’ll estimate longer than you will probably get, while if you just went up a hill, the estimate drops dramatically.

The 5 bars of battery life each indicate 20% of the battery’s remaining power, but, here’s the catch. 5 bars means you are between 80-100% capacity. Fine. 4 bars means 60-80%. OK. But 3 bars means 40-60%, where your brain says “I’ve got 3/5 of my battery left.” At 2 bars, that is 20-40%, I start to get concerned that I won’t have assistance up the hill to our place.

And once I’ve got one bar left, knowing I could be anywhere from 0-20%, I pretty much avoid using the motor. When the battery goes flat, it does so without any warning. It reminds me of a car I had where a quarter on the fuel gauge actually meant the tank was nearly empty. Not cool. So, once the battery is at one bar, I limp my way to the bottom of the hill and hope I’ve got enough juice to help me home. The one time I lost power at the bottom of the hill, it was a long push.

Bosch Desires

I’ve obviously been spoiled by using cycling computers that allow you to choose from a few dozen metrics to display. But I’d really like to see the percentage of remaining battery rather than the not-so-accurate bar display, and if I was really demanding, I’d ask for a clock. In fact, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a more useful, yet still subtle computer on a mid-drive motor system that adds $2500 to the cost of a cargo bike.

The other thing I wasn’t expecting with the Bosch system was how much drag there is when the motor is off. It would be nice if it rode more like a regular bike with the assist turned off, which is something I’m under the impression the next generation of the CX motor is addressing.

On that note, it’s worth noting that Bosch has just released a new version of the Performance Line CX motor which, while providing the same torque at 75 Nm, does have notable changes. The first is that it uses a normal-sized chainring, with no internal gear multiplication. The Big Easy’s design is essentially impervious to chain noise but Bosch bikes with a normal chainstay are begging for some kind of chain quieting device. Next, the new motor offers up to 340% assist rather than 300%.

And, the physical size of the motor is smaller, allowing for shorter chainstays. This is crucial in the mountain bike market, but not important for longtail cargo bikes. I also hear that the new motor has less drag when not using assist, which would be nice. Finally, with all that said, this new motor requires a different motor mount, so I don’t think we’ll see the updated motor in a Big Easy in the near future – not that it particularly matters.

What This Bike Needs to Be Our Everyday

I will preface this section by saying that I know product managers are often between a rock and a hard place choosing durable and appropriate parts while also keeping within a budget. I previously mentioned that Surly was working with a target of $5000 retail, and any of the things I’m about to mention would have meant cutting corners elsewhere.

It goes a little like this: You want a better kickstand? See ya later 4-piston brakes. You want lights powered by the battery? How ‘bout a 9 or 10-speed, non-clutch derailleur instead of that 11-speed GX? So, with that as a start – and acknowledging that pretty well any bike off the showroom floor needs some changes to personalize and bring up to snuff beyond the usual saddle, bars, and grips – here are the things the Big Easy needs to be our everyday.

A better kickstand. No surprise, the basic side stand is barely adequate on such a huge bike. Buckling a kid into a seat? A little sketchy. Loading up both sides of the rear bags? Also not great. I asked Surly about this and they had a totally reasonable answer: the currently available center stands don’t work if you’re using a second battery on the bike, and that’s a functionality they wish to keep. So, they began exploring options to make their own, but haven’t reached the end of that tunnel yet. Fingers crossed that happens soon.

Lights! Every utility bike needs lights, and this one is already carrying a battery around all the time! Hard wired front and rear lights are an absolute must for a city bike, and it’s something many other brands have chosen to include in their factory e-bike spec. The lights plug into the motor and the display works as a light controller. Fortunately, companies like Portland Design Works are making plug and play lights for Bosch bikes that run off the main battery. Or, you can cobble together your own lighting system using aftermarket plugs from Bosch.

Fenders. Two things about us and fenders. First, we live in the PNW, where it rains 5 days a week all winter long. Second, because fenders are an accepted part of year-round cycling here, we are picky about quality and coverage. So, with that said, I’d kind of rather see a bike come without fenders than with crappy, wobbly, rattly ones, but, they need to be accommodated by the frame. Surly’s fork is great for fender install, but the original Big Dummy spacing out back means fender fit is surprisingly tight in front of the tire. A button head bolt helps, but I would consider downsizing to a tire a slightly smaller in diameter for adequate space.

A loud bell. A Spurcycle ain’t gonna cut it when you’re consistently rolling at 25-30km/h. We got the Sim Works by Honjo Turtle Bell and it is LOUD and very fun sounding. Perfect for an e-bike. There’s nothing better than getting peoples’ attention with cheeriness. Oh, and we threw an easy-to-ring Jellibell on Sophia’s bars, ‘cause she deserves to be cheery too.

Additional rail collars. For the first couple months the rear end squeaked pretty much non-stop. I considered ordering up a Real Trucks Rattle sticker, but figured I should get to the bottom of this. It turns out that of the four “legs” of the dummy rails entering the frame, only two are clamped down with what Surly calls rail collars. The other two were happily squeaking away. I ordered another pair of rail collars and the problem was solved.

Surly recommends using four rail collars if you plan to carry live cargo, and it’s worth noting that you do get a pair of rail collars with the Kid Corral, but for anyone else, I’d highly recommend grabbing a set separately. Surly also says that mounting the rail collars diagonally helps, like one side in front and the other in the back. I didn’t try, but it might work for you.

In The End

Buying an electric bike is a big investment; buying an electric cargo bike is an even bigger investment. We were lucky enough to get to try this bike out before committing financially, and our experience has confirmed that we will be making an e-cargo investment as soon as this bike heads back to Surly.

As it turns out, our gamble on a longtail rather than a box bike, thinking about the long term rather than the immediate short term, was a gamble indeed. Sophia was 11 months when we got the bike in August, and it turns out that was just a bit early to truly take advantage of the longtail form factor. She can’t sleep comfortably in the Yepp seat and there’s no rain cover to keep her comfortable in cold and wet weather.

We chose the Big Easy because we thought it had more longevity as a family bike than a box bike would, and we still anticipate that. It’s also much simpler to jump on the Big Easy for an errand across town than it is to ride a box bike. That “bike-like” feel is a big deal. Overall, it’s just been nice to have an e-bike in the house to make riding an option for more things we do in our lives.

To be honest, most of the miles the Big Easy has replaced have been bike miles. But, even though our dreams of having more car trips replaced by bike trips didn’t quite pan out this year, an electric longtail still has a place in our collection. We’re excited to harness the momentum of the upcoming dry season and push through next winter.

How Do You Enable a Car-Lite Lifestyle, Anyway?

We’ve been fortunate enough to have people both locally and internationally ask us for our thoughts on how best to enable a car-lite lifestyle with a young human, and here is what we’ve landed on.

The reality of life with a kid is that logistics are more of an issue than without. Kids have schedules for eating and napping, and time saved in transit can mean the difference between a blow up and a great afternoon. And avoiding those blow-ups can mean the difference between a parent choosing the bike, or not.

Assuming you’ve got some hills to climb, those hills take a lot longer when your bike is heavy, whether loaded for touring or getting home from preschool. E-bikes are an amazing tool to decrease the amount of time, and effort, that it takes to get between places. Many die-hard cyclists scoff at the idea of motor assist, but when it means getting out of your car, it’s no longer cheating – it’s virtuous.

For the first few years of a kid’s life, an enclosed setup – either a trailer or a box bike – allows them to fall asleep whenever necessary, to stay warm and dry, and to keep more creature comforts with them. We have the awesome Tout Terrain Singletrailer, and Sophia has spent far more bike miles in it behind us on a non-assisted bike than on the Big Easy – including all of our camping trips last year.

If money were no object, we’d have an electric box bike like a Bullitt or a Packster for the first couple years and a second e-bike to let the other parent keep up. Since money is an object, a commuting e-bike and a Chariot trailer is, in our opinion, the most effective way you could set yourself up for a car-lite lifestyle.

In these parts lots of folks with older kids have had their eyes opened to the car-lite lifestyle with a cheaper hub motor longtail from Rad Power Bikes, but their parts spec is abysmal and hub motors are simply not as good. Experienced cyclists are bound to be disappointed with cheap bikes, and like I’ve said, the Big Easy leaves less to be desired than other options.

Bottom line is, if your goal is to do more bike and less car, you’ve got to find ways to incorporate riding into your daily routines. You can’t simply throw money at the idea. Making daily cycling into a habit, with or without kids, takes effort and creative problem solving. And it will look a bit different depending on your location and your own kids and so on. For us, an electric cargo bike will help us live the car-lite lifestyle we aspire to.