Glowworm Bicycles 10th birthday in December is fast approaching. A massive achievement considering the size of the electric bike market in Sydney in 2009.
Looking back from now, life appears the same whilst simultaneously changing. We could define change or stagnation by describing iPhone updates i.e. 3GS to 11MAX or perhaps broad political events since that time, i.e. 5 prime ministers and the same NTERA. But one area rarely explored is the growth of electric cargo bikes in Sydney. I want to explore how a small number of people since 2009 transformed an extraordinary act into ordinary and necessary practice to move around the city with children.
Have you tried an electric bike? Please before finishing this article run out to your local bike store or come over to Glowworm, or book your own 1 to 1 cargo bike consultation! You will find the ebike experience both liberating and feel a swell of confidence on the road. The positive outcomes of riding ebikes is felt by both the individual and its community. When I really ponder the potential of electric bikes, families always become a prominent and relevant party to include in the conversation. However, this was not always the case and families needs are still not a priority of the mainstream cycling industry.
Picture: Mickie and Amity with new Bakfiets outside Queued Traffic mural by Mickie Quick
When I started riding with my first child Evelyn almost 6 years ago (I was already car free thanks to the Yuba E-Mundo) I took advice from the internet in dodgy Dutch translations and the maybe 5 people who were riding cargo bikes in Sydney at the time. There weren’t a lot of bikes to try, hardly anyone was riding with newborns and social media groups specifically helping parents navigating riding with children didn’t exist. Everyone in my local community and family thought it was crazy to ride with a baby and of course I doubted myself at times. But I couldn't see why I had to fall back into mapped pathways that bounded me to systems and lifestyles that didn't align to my beliefs. Thanks to these people, they encouraged me to challenge the normative:
Chris and Rebecca using their Yuba EMundo
Sarah and Justin with a Nihola trike converted to electric with an eZee kit
Bart the dutch guy who was always working too hard on Wilson St riding a non electric Bakfiets
Amity and Mikey riding with their new baby home in a Bakfiets after the opening of Mikey ’Queued Traffic - Shrewd Traffic’ mural outside Glowworm
Jake from Sydney Electric Bikes also using the Yuba EMundo with his two daughters
Picture: Sarah and family enjoying Bourke St cycleway with their Nihola Family
In this blog I want to explore the growth of the cargo bike movement from one of these original users. As their experience unfolds, I started to understand how important riding is to everyone in the family, not just the parents who need to stay active, but the children who learn and grow by exploring their communities.
Q and A with Georgie - The Child of a Cargo Biker
Can you remember the first experience of riding the Yuba?
My first experience on the Yuba is a little hazy, as it was half a lifetime ago for me, but I do recall being quite hesitant. It seemed pretty scary. I remember we went for a test ride up and down our street, and of course I had to go first.
What freaked me out the most was being on the very end while my brother would sit right behind my Dad. I remember thinking it was so unfair that he got to sit up front and hug my Dad while I was stuck holding onto a flimsy handle. But I eventually got used to it, and too this day still beg my Dad to let me catch a ride with him.
Do you have a favourite memory on the Yuba?
My favourite memory on the Yuba would have to be when one of my best friends, her little brother, my brother and I all managed to squish onto the back of the Yuba. This may seem like a lot, but at the time we were all really small and my friend’s brother was beyond tiny. It was more like three and a half people to be honest. Of course I was at the end, which is a stretch as I was practically sitting on nothing. Either way it was a super funny experience, as the boys were both freaking out while my friend and I laughed at them. We only went on a joy ride but it was still my favourite memory.
How do you think riding on the cargo bike influenced you during your childhood?
The yuba was a big influence on my childhood and even the way I think now. It was and still is weird to drive a car anywhere near us, as for my entire life we would take a 20 minute bike ride instead of a 10 minute car trip.
Do you ride? And what is your favourite thing about riding?
I now ride an E-Lekker, as both my brother and I have out-grown the Yuba. My favourite thing about riding would have to be the feeling of freedom I experience. I’m not old enough to drive a car, so being out on the road, steering, indicating, and having that kick of energy in every pedal feels amazing. For once in my life I get to choose where I want to go (Well I mean 80% of the time I’m following my Dad, but you get what I mean). I guess I just love the thrill of riding.
Thinking about your future, what changes would you want to see in the community?
I hope my community changes its position towards bikes and riders to one of acceptance rather than antagonism. Too many times have I been yelled for riding on the footpath or beeped at by a car for going to slow up a hill. It’s often assumed that children cannot ride on the footpath. I am under 16 and have just as much right as any pedestrian to be on the footpath. The Inner West council has not removed outdated signs saying children 12years old cannot ride on the footpath. I also understand that it definitely isn’t always the drivers fault, and you always need to give way to pedestrians, but it does feel like bike riders have very limited options as to where they can ride. One solution is definitely more bike paths, as there aren't that many in Sydney at the moment.
Thanks Georgie for your insightful and unique perspective.
Picture: Chris and family enjoying their new Yuba 2012
Extraordinary into Everyday
Georgie now fourteen began riding the electric cargo bike in 2012 at the age of seven. She now uses an electric bike to move around her community, including travelling to work after school (works at Glowworm). For Georgie the experience seemed exhilarating, loving and liberating. Connecting her closely to family and showing her a means to explore the concrete jungle.
Chris and Rebecca's decision to use a cargo bike at the time would have been ludicrous to those around them. You think you get harassed now using an electric or cargo electric bike, imagine being one of the first before all the advertising and marketing existed. No one was doing it. There would have been a lot of excitement about the bike but equally a lot of criticism.
The taunts to early adopters of cargo bikes to be better parents by getting off the road is now drowned by supporters in awe. Today riding on a cargo bike through the Inner West kids point and beg their parents for one, parents express their need for one and some even say 'that's a glowworm'-referring to a cargo bike.
There is no greater example of this mass influx of riders than Wilkins Public School located at the end of Addison Road. Marion Turner an early advocate reviewed the eZee Expedir on a parenting website, soon after followed the stream of parents. Now I think the count of cargo bike users is well over 10. Some of their stories are so inspirational and bring me so much joy.
Picture: Sussana and family loaded up with their Expedir
Like Susanna who recently relocated back to Australia from Italy with the family. The bike for Susanna reminded her of riding a Vespa around the busy streets of Rome. Susanna isn’t phased by the Inner West traffic so she carts her kids around and gets life done - shopping, pool, amazing home business, no task too big. If the bike wasn’t already doing enough, it motivated her partner Fabian to get back into riding to work and more recently her oldest child mastered riding unassisted. Their story is like so many and confirms how a cargo bike purchase has a multiplier effect benefiting all family members.
Now moving on almost 10 years from 2012 I see a different side to Georgie's story. I see one of hope and change. I see the enormously positive influence cycling can have on multiple people via one bike. I see that an extraordinary effort of a 7ft tall father of two, is now possible to the bulk of the middle class, regardless of ability, thanks to new bike designs and growing networks. Who knows maybe the government will take a lesson from many European Nations and consider subsidising electric cargo bikes to really bring about change.
We went from 5 cargo bikes in Sydney's Inner West to almost 5 cargo bikes at every school within 10 years. Come on down and check out our range of electric cargo bikes for yourself or book a one-on-one cargo bike consultation and test ride!
Picture: Try a cargobike tent at City of Sydney's Big Bike Adventure Day
Need help getting started? Book a cargo bike consult with Ali