Two weeks with an electric cargo bike

A Babboe cargo bike  parked in front of a Belconnen sign.
A Babboe box bike in Belconnen

Oh, what fun it is to ride on a big wooden electric boat!

Sitting in the wooden box as we did laps of our block’s car park, my neighbour’s eldest daughter remarked that it was like a big boat. Six weeks after I returned the Babboe City cargo bike to the Canberra Electric Bike Library, her younger sister was still asking when she could go for another ride.

I loaned the Babboe for two weeks in December 2020. The Library is a pilot project of the ACT Government, and is managed by SEE-Change and Switched on Cycles. (Disclaimer, I am the convenor of SEE-Change’s Belconnen group.) It’s free, aside from the $30 insurance fee for individuals ($45 for households), which is waived if you’re a member of Pedal Power ACT (I am).

The point of the library is that because electric bikes are more expensive than non-powered ones, most people can’t afford the initial outlay. But they want to know if an e-bike suits their needs, and that’s not always possible if they borrow a bike from a store for a few hours or a day. The library solves that problem by letting individuals or households use the bike for two weeks.

The library was launched in July 2020 and comprises seven bikes, ranging from commuter bikes to cargo bikes and tricycles. I waited six months before it was my turn. I think a waiting list is a good problem to have, as it demonstrates there’s strong demand.

I borrowed the bike firstly to see if our greyhound would fit in it, as I wanted Dot to experience the fun of riding around Lake Burley Griffin. She’d jumped out of a Christiania cargo bike a few months earlier at the start of a test ride. (Didn’t get the bike; too wide for my laundry door). She didn’t jump out of the Babboe, but didn’t settle down either. Maybe if we’d used the Babboe Dog cargo bike, with its larger box?

Secondly, I wanted to see if I could replace short car trips – 30 minutes or less from my house – with the bike, for example, to the supermarket or hardware store. Turns out, it was easy.

Collecting the bike.
Borrowing the bike was a bit like using a rental car. I got a lift to the SEE-Change office at Downer, where Zuleka Chan, library project officer, marked off a checklist while we inspected the bike. Zuleka gave me the keys, and cautioned: Don’t look at the front wheel.

Because a cargo bike is longer than an ordinary bike, your eye is drawn to the front wheel, waaaay in the distance, and it fools you into forgetting your balance. “Just ignore the front wheel and ride,” Zuleka counselled. It worked.

I rode a few laps of the Downer community centre carpark, then headed back home via O’Connor ridge. This gave me time to get a feel for the bike, and how it performed uphill. Lower motor speeds weren’t noticeably responsive, so I increased them and found it made the climbs easier.

You can park your cargo bike at the front door of Bunnings. A staff member saw the bike and said “that’s a good idea.”

Carrying loads
At Bunnings Belconnen, I parked literally at the front door, locked the bike to a wobbly railing, and shopped. Bought a small work platform for my parents’ adjustable ladder. Outside, while munching on a democracy sausage, a Bunnings staff member saw my bike and exclaimed it was a good idea. I wished I’d bought heavier things, like paint or pot plants, so I could show others what it could carry. Or something magical at Christmas, like a #TreeByBike.

Riding the Babboe City electric cargo bike home from the Jamison Centre shops, with five bags of groceries, and a small ladder from a hardware giant.

Danger: Heavier load
After Bunnings, I rode to the supermarkets at the Jamison Centre in Macquarie, and pushed a trolley out with five bags of groceries – roughly a week’s worth for our two-person household. Moved the bags around the box to distribute the weight, and added the ladder on top. Pushed the bike off its stand, tried to pedal quickly, and starting toppling over. I caught the bike just in time, but it was close. Remember to slow down next take off.

Five bags of groceries and a work platform

Headed home, up long, gradual hills, on unsafe painted bicycle lanes, then separate bike paths, and narrow, broken footpaths on Belconnen Way. Rang the bike’s bell proudly when I reached our block of flats, to show anyone who cared that it was possible to buy a household’s supplies for a week and deliver it without needing to start a car’s engine.

As you can see from the pictures, over two weeks I rode the Babboe cargo bike everywhere. Several times to Downer and Dickson, to Lake Burley Griffin, and past several schools in Belconnen to get photos for Twitter. If I had kids, I’d definitely ferry them around in the Babboe, which was enough room for two small kids – say both under 10 – and heaps of their stuff.

Returning the bike
I rode the bike back to Downer on a Friday morning, handed the keys and lock to Zuleka, who gave it an inspection and asked me to complete a survey on my experiences. A quick and easy process.

There were a few downsides to the bike, but these were minor and didn’t spoil my enjoyment. The kickstand was noisy and bounced constantly. It needs tightening. The lower power settings weren’t effective on hills, so higher speeds are better. I needn’t have worried about chewing up the battery, as it was a workhorse and higher speeds uphill didn’t trim battery life. I charged the bike every second or third day, and never once ran out of battery life, or worried about range.

I can’t stress enough how much fun it was. Numerous kids of our neighbours in our block loved being passengers. I’m sure they’d love the experience of being taken to school on it. If you want to experience it for yourself, you’re invited to the ‘come and try’ session at the Downer shops on Friday 12 February from 10am-11:30am, or join the wait list on the Canberra Electric Bike Library.

Here’s another article I wrote for SEE-Change about replacing my daily car commute with an e-bike. I didn’t like being traffic. Who does?

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