Breaking down barriers on a cargo bike: Meet Stephen Roe and family

Ask people why they either don’t or can’t cycle and the challenge of dropping children off at school, doing the weekly food shop or transporting bulky items will most likely crop up in conversation.

But it needn’t be this way. More and more people are turning to cargo bikes to plug the gap in their transport needs, including Stephen Roe and his wife Kim, who live in Hunslet, Leeds, with their three daughters – Islie, aged seven, Edie, aged three, and eight-month-old Remy. We caught up with Stephen to find out more.

A leap of faith

We bought our cargo bike second-hand from e-Bay for £300 around this time last year.

I’d been looking at them for a while as we were expecting our third child. Up until that point I’d been doing the school run with Edie strapped to my chest, carrying my bike in one hand and holding Islie’s hand in the other. Short of strapping our third child to my head, I just couldn’t think how I was going to manage the school run and that’s when I started thinking about a cargo bike.

It was a bit of a gamble. I’d never ridden one before and I didn’t know how it would work out. My wife, Kim, was also very sceptical to begin with, but she fell in love with it after one ride as did I.

We use the cargo bike to drop the kids off at nursery and school. After that I go home and pick up a different bike and cycle to Headingley, where I work as in the IT department at Leeds Beckett University.

Ahead of the crowd

One of the benefits of the cargo bike is that, in a lot of cases, we can literally go door-to-door, meaning we’re ahead of the crowd at the school or shop car parks.

We can park right next to the door and I can lift Remy straight from the box into a shopping trolley or, if we’re at the park, straight onto a swing.

From our house we can ride along the Leeds Liverpool Canal towpath for picnics at Thwaite Mills, or into town for the swimming pool or Kirkgate Market.

We do all of our shopping by cargo bike. We might have to shop little and often but doing the shopping by bike is actually a pleasure instead of a chore.

In the evening Islie and I sometimes go for a Dad and Daughter cycle to the shop and it’s a really nice way to spend some quality, one-on-one time together.

We find travelling by cargo bike allows us to connect with each other more than if we were in the car – the children are ahead of us, rather than behind, so we can all talk to each other as a group, unless there’s a lot of traffic around.

There’s also a sense of magic, like Hagrid’s bike from Harry Potter or something out of Mary Poppins, which really appeals to children’s sense of fun.

When we arrived at the school playground on the first morning all the kids gathered around the bike.

Wherever I go people are stopping to look at it and ask questions – how it’s made, what it’s like to ride, where I bought it and how much it cost.

All of this positive attention prompts Islie, in particular, to ask why other people rely on cars so much when they too could be having the sort of fun we are and it’s also made her more aware of the environmental damage caused by pollution.

We hope drawing attention to the potential of cargo bikes not only helps our own children think about transport in a different way, but that it also triggers other people to consider changing their own travel habits.

And why wouldn’t you? Cycling is not only saving us money – even with the cost of a new bike I’m still halving my travel costs – it’s also saving us time.

I’m getting my exercise for the day, it’s a stress buster and I arrive at work invigorated. I’ve managed to lose two and a half stone cycling over the last four years, without dieting or making a conscious effort to lose weight.

Stephen’s advice on buying a cargo bike?
First and foremost, do your research. Consider your needs, the area you live in and what kind of cargo bike would work best for you.

Where we live is quite industrial so there’s less traffic than in other parts of the city and we’re usually going against the flow, makes handling the cargo bike a bit easier than it might be elsewhere.

Our cargo bike isn’t electric but you might want to consider that as an option.

Don’t do what I did – make sure you try before you buy. Find out where you can access a cargo bike and take it for a test ride.

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