Portrait of an Electric Cargo Biker

I recently filled out the following survey questions and I thought that my readers might enjoy the answers I gave. Enjoy!

1. occupation/where work

I make websites. I founded my own company called Knowledge Town.

2. how long have you been commuting

I don’t commute to work by bicycle. I walk to work since my office is only a few blocks from my house. I use my cargo bike for errands such as shopping, taking my kids places, and long-distance travel.

3. where/when do you commute (ie. work only, other places, daily or few days a week, year round or seasonally, etc.), distance/ terrain

I use my bike three or four times a week year-round. A typical errand is 5 to 10 miles round-trip. Almost all of my trips require carrying a heavy load up very steep hills. It seems like any direction I go in Ithaca requires climbing a hill. When I step out of my front door my choices are South Hill, East Hill, West Hill and Cornell, which is on a hill to the North.

4. any advice or tips you have for new or potential commuters re: getting started, hills, winter, cargo, passengers, route planning- whatever your experience has taught you that might be helpful

If your goal is to replace your car or reduce the amount you use your car, you will need a cargo bike (a bike specifically designed to have a large cargo capacity). And in hilly Ithaca you need an electric motor for a cargo bike to be practical. And you need an electric motor connected directly to the drive chain rather than a hub motor, since this will give you the advantage of low gearing for climbing with a load. As far as I know, the Stokemonkey (described in the next question) is the only motor set up like this.

For long trips it is useful to use the Google Maps “bike button” to map your route. If you use an ebike, it is worthwhile to purchase a second battery to double your range. I am also experimenting with using a solar panel attached to my bike to increase my range.

For winter riding it is very important to put studded snow tires on your bike. It is nice to have platform pedals so that you can wear boots while riding. If you have an ebike, try using electrically-heated glove liners and sock liners hooked up to your bike battery. I used these last winter and I am experimenting with ways to make this more convenient. Also if you have an Xtracycle-compatible cargo bike you can keep your passengers warm by constructing the Bike Wagon canopy as described on my website.

5. type of bike, any accessories you find helpful (or that you’ve tried and weren’t) and why ie. panniers vs. backpack

I have a Surly Big Dummy cargo bike frame. To this I’ve attached a Clever Cycles Stokemonkey electric motor which came as a kit.

The Big Dummy frame adheres to the Xtracycle cargo bike standard, so there are many accessories available for it. I have the Xtracycle Long Tail and Cargo Van rack kits.

One advantage to an electric bike is that you have a big honkin’ battery that you can attach accessories to. My bike has very bright front and rear LED lights that are always on day or night when I am riding.

6. why do you commute by bike? what do you like about commuting?

I bike because biking is faster than walking.

(Here I must explain this answer. When people ask me why I bike they are showing a hidden bias. They assume that for me driving is the norm, and biking therefore requires some sort of explanation. For me biking is the norm. I bike because that’s how I get around. And furthermore I like to turn this question around and ask people why they drive. This often leads to a good discussion about our car culture and the damage it has done.)

7. has it changed your life in any way- how? (ie. lost weight, less stressful, have more energy, save money…)

I find that spending so much time outdoors has made me tougher, particularly my skin. I’ve noticed I don’t mind temperature extremes and being in the rain and snow as much as other people.

It would be easy to save money relative to what I spend maintaining a car. But I haven’t been trying to save money because my biking is tied up with my inventing. I have this idea that I am spending money to help other bicyclists. For example I spent hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours developing my bike canopy so that other bicyclists can build their own canopy in a few hours for about $150.

I’m at a time in my life when I’m realizing that I won’t last forever. So the biggest change in my life is that I’m doing what I love before it’s too late: biking, inventing, and going on adventures.