When my oldest child, Nora, now 4, was an infant, I was adamant that having a baby wouldn’t prevent me from riding my bike around town like I’d always done pre-kids. I live in Tahoe City, California, a lakefront mountain town with stellar bike paths. Our summer traffic can be thick, so riding a bike is key to getting to places like the grocery store, the coffee shop or the lake on a crowded summer day.
So, I did what any smart, outdoorsy person who’d just had a baby would do: I got a Thule Chariot, with the bike attachments, the infant sling and the smallest helmet I could find, so I could tow Nora snugly in her carriage while I pedaled all over town on my commuter bike. It was a win-win: I’d get some exercise; she’d get a nap. We were both happy.
Two years later, my husband and I had a second kid, a boy we named Otis, and I did what any smart, outdoorsy parent who’d just had a second baby would do: I sold my one-seat Chariot and upgraded to the double-wide, two-kid Thule Chariot. I dragged my toddler daughter and infant son all over town behind my bike in that contraption: to the farmer’s market, the library, the playground.
But then, they started to grow, as kids do. They got heavier. One day last summer, when Otis was nearly two and Nora almost four, my husband, Dan, took the kids to the park, a couple of miles away over a decent-sized hill, via bike. When he got home, he looked utterly exhausted. “I don’t know how you pedal them up that hill,” he said. “We need an e-bike.”
I flat-out refused at first: I didn’t need an electric motor to get me up hills, I insisted. That’s what my legs were for. I’ve been a bike rider—a triathlete, a mountain biker, a bike commuter—for my entire adult life. I was a cycling purist and I wouldn’t cave to the e-bike frenzy. I get that some people love e-bikes, but they weren’t for me. Or so I thought.
One day, Dan showed up with a pedal-assist e-bike. (Apparently he’s as stubborn as I am and wouldn’t take no for an answer.) He attached the Chariot to the e-bike, and I loaded the kids and zipped around the neighborhood with the ease and energy of a bullet train. I was converted in five minutes flat.
With the new e-bike, instead of just riding to the nearest park, I could go on a tour de parks. I could buy a watermelon and a jug of milk and a six-pack of beer at the store and not worry about the heft of hauling it all home. Instead of driving to the pond five miles away or to the kids’ daycare, like I usually did, I could ride the e-bike there instead, saving gas and spending more time outside. Now, on weekends, I load the kids on the e-bike, ride to a trailhead, and we all go for a hike to a rock overlooking the lake. The kids love the speed of the e-bike; I love the ease of it.
Recently, a single mom friend of mine posted a picture of herself hauling her two young children on a standard long-tail cargo bike. I texted her a picture of my e-bike and suggested there was an easier option. “Meh,” she wrote back. “I like the challenge.” And I get that: As parents, we need to squeeze in exercise when we can and it feels good to work hard and show our kids that we’re strong. But here’s the thing: Parenting is hard enough, and biking with your kids doesn’t have to be one of the difficult moments.
I love e-bikes so much, our family just got a second one, a cargo-style ride where both kids can sit behind my saddle on their own secure seats instead of in the trailer behind. It’s more streamlined and still has a basket up front for groceries, school backpacks or sand toys. Dan now rides our first e-bike to and from work, while our cars sit essentially undriven.
I’m certainly not alone in the parent-who-tows-children-via-e-bike club. I recently called another friend, Colleen Valenstein, who moved to a house atop a steep, mile-long hill in Jackson, Wyoming, and who brings her two kids—ages 1 and 3—four miles each way to daycare and other outings on her Yuba Spicy Curry Bosch Electric Bike. She rides every day from April to October, until there’s too much snow to bike, and in the year she’s owned her bike, she’s put 1,100 miles on it. That’s more than 1,000 miles that she’s not driven her car. That’s many hours of spending time outside, in fresh air with her kids.
“Having kids and living on a big hill meant that if I didn’t get an e-bike, I probably wouldn’t be biking,” she said. “But now, when the weather’s good, we’re on the bike.”