Comment: As the first person to participate in Limerick Cycling Campaign’s cargo bicycle lending scheme, after 550km cycling in five weeks, Pat Fitzpatrick outlines how transformative the experience was, how the electric bicycle increased his range and the types of trips he could undertake, and overcoming fatigue from scoliosis.
As someone who commutes a couple of days a week by bike, I have to admit that while I had read about electric bikes, cargo bicycles hadn’t registered in my mindset. That was until recently. The Limerick Cycling Campaign’s Anne Cronin and Conor Buckley approached me with the idea of trialling a Babboe E-Cargo bicycle. It was the start of the campaign’s trial scheme which is funded through Limerick City and County Council’s active travel office.
I was intrigued by the invitation. Once they had sent me pictures and links to information on the “Babboe”, I immediately sent a big “yes”, though tinged with a hint of nervousness. Why the latter? A bit of context. My normal bike (what’s normal anymore?) is a Dutch-style urban commuter 21-speed bicycle; I cycle Dutch style due to having scoliosis, and subsequent surgeries restrict my ability to bend and twist.
However, when on a Dutch-style cycle, I am able to sit upright and cycle freely… Happy days… as for me cycling is just that, a happy place. It’s a place where I get a sense of accelerated movement, something I can’t get from walking or running, as I can’t do the latter, and the former is at a slow pace and not for long distances and also induces pain. Thus cycling for me is a mode of transport that enables me to move about with a sense of freedom, movement, acceleration, and most important, little, if any physical pain.
So, back to the nervousness and the “Babboe”! I worried if the cargo bike would give me the same seating ability as my own bike, and, maybe, that it would be too heavy for me to manage, especially when having a load in the front box. After all, the box is the main purpose of the cargo aspect of the bike – to allow you to transport heavy loads while cycling.
Anyhow, I arrived over to Conor’s place to collect the ‘Babboe’ the first week in December 2022; the bike is even more impressive in reality – it really looks the biz. Conor brought it out onto the sideroad for me and I tentatively set up on it… a sense of relief went through me as I realised the seated position was great for my physicality – it gave me the same sense of comfortability as my own bike.
Conor went through the gears, motor assistance, brakes, charging etc with me and then said off you go; and that’s exactly what I did, and I didn’t stop for another 550km, 5 weeks later when I got the call that it was someone else’s turn to have a trail on the Babboe.
I am tempted here to call it “My Babboe”, despite the reality that it isn’t mine, but belongs to the Limerick Cycle Campaign. However, it reflects the level of relationship that I built up with the Babboe on the journey it took me on. The statement that the ebike was a game changer for me isn’t far-fetching. The Babboe opened up the range of possibilities and situations in that I could experience that sense of freedom that I described above when talking about cycling.
A second context moment before continuing: We are a household of four, my wife, two kids, 12 and 14, and myself. We are a one-car family for the last two years after being a two-car family for a number of years before that; it occurred through my wife changing jobs and losing access to a company car. At that point, we said we would try to stick with the one car. We’ve managed so far. But it has been tricky, especially with two active kids with a lot of after-school activities.
My wife is not a cyclist, but the two lads enjoy it. We live 11km from boys’ school and my wife’s work, and 12km from my work. Usually, my wife would utilise the car, bring the young lad’s bike on the bike rack and I would cycle to work, pick the young lad up afterwards and cycle home with him. The cycling happened every second day if I could — every day wasn’t always possible because though cycling doesn’t induce pain from my physicality, I would suffer with fatigue. For the most part, shopping and sports needed car transport.
The introduction of the “Babboe” into the above family lifestyle was significant. Firstly, for myself, it has been the first time in over a decade that I have been able to invest my body into back-to-back days cycling across a week. I found myself cycling continuously through the week; doing multiple cycles on any given day; and cycling distances and journeys that I wouldn’t have contemplated doing on my own push bike.
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For instance, I did daily round trips of 26km to work (30km when collecting a young lad in the cargo bucket from school); 35km to my dad’s; 22km in and out to the city centre for many reasons (also made up a few just to go in on the bike). Additionally, the weekly shop to Dunnes, an 18km trip and Lidl, a 5km trip previously done by car, transferred to the Babboe. Even for underage coaching, I usually travelled by car, despite a short journey, as I had balls, bibs and gear to carry, I did by the Babboe, as the cargo function took everything my car boot facilitated.
Numerous leisure trips were also undertaken, just because I could, as the e-function of the cargo bike enabled me to cycle further and longer, and I had little, if any, fatigue – “GAMECHANGER!”. The Babboe, with the e-assistance, made every journey a choice between the car and the Babboe – Going forward, any journey, for now, would be a choice, whereas previously, my body dictated that any multiple-stop journey, long journey, or post 5pm journey was done by car.
Practically, the bike has been easy to manage. It is very easy to manoeuvre. Despite its size; gears, brakes, and lights are all great and easy to use. The charging process is the same as a phone, with between 55-70km got from a single charge. The cargo bucket takes a significant load of materials, or two small kids easily; or in my case, one 12-year-old, though the 14-year-old also did manage being carried.
Signing off, the experience of cycling the “Babboe” has been nothing but positive. The only downside was that Conor and Ann asked for it back. Going back to my “ol Dutch style rothar” will be difficult, such has been the impact, and game-changing nature of the cycling experience with e-assistance, so, I’m off to browse the net.
Pat has also tweeted about the experience at patrickmgfitzp1. Any Limerick residents, small businesses, or community groups interested in taking part in the cargo bike trial should contact the Limerick Cycling Campaign at email@example.com.