For years, I wanted a cargo bike. Cargo bikes, however, are big, expensive and therefore quite the investment.
The thing is, I don’t have a driver’s license. I live in Berlin, and the city has a fantastic public transport system. I’m not gonna lie, though, the main reason I never got my license was first money and then time. During late high school, when all parents bought their children driver licenses, my parents just couldn’t afford dropping a massive amount of money on me learning to direct a motorised vehicle through traffic.
Later, when I earned my own money, I just didn’t want to spend the time to attend a driving school, spend hours next to a guy who smells of stale coffee and cold cigarettes in a car and learn about the road sign for cattle crossing in 550 meters. Instead, I used my hard earned cash on second hand analogue cameras, which objectively is just a better investment.
It’s not that I lived without cars in my vicinity. My wife knows how to drive and drove me already all around Berlin and Iceland. I also enjoy being a passenger in many of my friends’ cars. Turns out, cars are really good at going places fast and transport things as well. I just never wanted to sit behind the steering wheel of one.
(On a side note: I recently had the opportunity to play realistic driving games at friend’s place, complete with stick shift, driving wheel with forceful feedback and adjustable racing seat. It was sort of fun to pretend-drive across rally tracks, but also the sort of fun that doesn’t invite itself back into your life anytime soon.)
No car for me meant relying on public transport and bikes. Public transport is great most of the time and the rising “sharing economy”, which is a just a short-time renting economy, of bikes and scooters provided enough mobility for most of my daily travels. I lugged bags of groceries on foot from the shop to the subway and from the station home. I rode the train to Kreuzberg and scootered my way to my destination.
It was only when I discovered the fLotte that my life found a new purpose. fLotte is a non-commercial free service of renting cargo bikes in Berlin. I booked the bikes online a couple of days in advance and then used the heavy duty bikes to transport stuff. And I transported a lot of stuff. Garbage to the collection site, groceries, DIY supplies, and much more other stuff.
Every single time, the excitement of riding a 2,5 m long pedal powered vehicle through traffic was met with the sadness of returning the rented bike to its real home in front of an organic grocery shop. I got separation anxiety. I didn’t want to let go.
I was briefly distracted from my obsession when my kid was born. For a few months I had other things on my mind – until I realised that I now had another thing to transport, and this thing is much more fragile than the egg cartons I acquired by the dozen. I wanted, no, needed a cargo bike. With a seat, a bench even, safety straps, rain cover and enough space to put a kid next to all the eggs I’m buying.
After spending way too much time researching the best cargo bikes, we picked the second best and ordered it (for the best one I would have had to sell my first born and then I wouldn’t need the bike anymore, would I). Having never bought a car, I never experienced the joy of adding optional luxuries to the order of my vehicle. Instead of self-aware AC and leather covered passenger lights, I got the retro package with white tires and a two-tone bell – and an electric motor.
Suddenly, I was propelled through space not only by the power of my ham strings and calves but also by an autonomously shifting electric motor. Is this what driving feels like? So fast, so quick, so effortless? Is this why people control cars? Should I learn how to do it as well?
Nah. I prefer the open air and the potential to become fit if I ever turned off the eager electrical engine. Being propelled by electrons rushing from minus to plus brings its own problems. I call it being electro conscious. Us cyclists, we’re a people united by our struggle against the motorised vehicles and their constant demand for public space. But when I stand next to another cyclist at a red light, I feel the sweat dripping down my forehead. Of course, this is not due to my exhaustion from cycling, as I have an electric motor. I feel anxious because when the light turns green, I’ll zoom away, in my oversized, 28 kg bicycle, filled to the brim with eggs and beer, while the other cyclist, on their regular people bike, struggles to get going.
“I’M SORRY!”, I want to yell, “THIS BIKE IS ELECTRIC, DON’T FEEL BAD ABOUT LAGGING BEHIND, I’M NOT DOING ANYTHING MYSELF, IT’S ALL IN THE MOTOR! LOOK, I’M NOT EVEN PEDALLING PROPERLY! I’M NO DIFFERENT FROM YOU!”
I never do that, though. I just feel bad for showing other cyclists that they can’t even keep up with a fat guy on a cargo bike.