Tuesday, May 4, 2010

We've started a trend!

...Okay, maybe not. But it is so neat to see an idea we had years ago suddenly become commonplace.

Much to the chagrin of our friends and family, we do not own a [gasoline powered] vehicle. Yes, that's right; a family with two small children, living in a rural area, does not have a car. Or truck. Or van.

For the most part, we walk where we need to. And living close to the centre of town certainly does help. If we need to travel a little further, like to the adjacent town (which is larger and has more amenities - and is also where I work) we can either hitch a ride with someone, or take a taxi. Our families have been wonderful in accommodating us when we need it (though they all think we're crazy!) in driving us to family functions etc., though it does involve extra planning whenever we want to travel a greater distance or for a longer period of time.

Two years ago, when I got a job in the next town (which is only about 4 km away - but is literally uphill both ways!), we started looking at other methods of travel. Though taking a taxi was less expensive than having our own vehicle, it was still an expense we wanted to minimize. We looked at mopeds and scooters, and during our research we came across some power-assisted bicycles that were on sale at Canadian Tire. These have mountain-bike type frames (though a little more heavy-duty) with a battery cell mounted just behind the seat, and then attached to the gears of the back wheel is the motor. On the front handle bar is the throttle so you can adjust the amount of power, or decide to not use it at all.

Unfortunately, the battery cell itself is quite heavy (it's almost 50 lbs!) so if you go up any sort of incline (or are pulling a trailer) you almost always need to use the motor (unless you have thighs of steel, which I do not). The batteries have a fairly good range in between charges (we've gone out to Chris' parents, a distance of over 20 km on a single charge - with pulling Lucien in a trailer), though we just recharge the batteries each night by simply plugging the battery into a wall socket. The newer models are much more light-weight and have a very small battery cell (and look like a regular bicycle with a netbook attached behind the seat), but apparently they are still working out issues with the amount of power and time between charges for the batteries, they just aren't as powerful as the 'ol clunkers we have!

We have had to replace the batteries every year, but the bikes were designed for 'leisure' use, not the two trips a day, 5-7 days a week (whenever there is no snow on the ground) that we've put them through. We can even go grocery shopping with them; by hooking up the trailer and filling it with our bags. Right now Marcus is too small to go in the trailer, but once he hits one year, we'll be able to pile him in beside his brother and then the whole family can go on an outing!

So back to us starting a trend....

When we bought the bikes 2 years ago, I had never even heard of them before let alone see one in person. Then last year I saw a couple people riding around on them, and now, almost every day I see or hear someone with the distinctive whine of the motor our bikes produce. It is so exciting!

Now we've had many people give us comments such as "hey, that's cheating" or "that's not a real bike!". What they forget is that we are not using them to replace bicycles (in fact, I have my eye on a beautiful little street bike... but I'll have to wait for next year to get that), these are our version of a car. When you think of them as our vehicles, they don't seem so silly. In fact, even with them being so heavy, and the fact you can not put conventional fenders on them (because of the layout of the battery) and thus get soaked when it rains, they are a great alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles for shorter distances. All we need to do is hook up an outlet to a solar panel or small wind turbine, and they would be completely self-sufficient!

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