Although I was quite young, I vividly remember the first time I actually got rolling on two wheels by myself. That feeling of achievement, exhilaration, and freedom as I wobbled my way successfully along the laneway in the back of the apartment building we lived in. I also remember my bike, with its glittering handlebar tassels and annoying-sounding spokey dokes that I of course didn’t find annoying at all and thought made me the coolest kid in school. That bike, and that moment, were what started my love of bicycling.
Fast forward 25 (ish) years, and I was pregnant with my first child. I knew even before he was born that I wanted him to think bicycles were as great as I did, so I invested in a Dutch-made bicycle that was specially made to carry children. It had one baby seat in the front and one in the back. It was perfect for us until we had two more children, who all ended up being HUGE and exceeded the weight capacity of the baby seats far earlier than I had anticipated. It also made climbing hills nearly impossible, and I was a sweaty, irritated mess at the end of every ride. We also happen to live at the top of a large hill, so there was no getting around it. How, oh how was I to solve this situation? How to continue to use the bicycle for carrying the kids around without starting to hate it, or getting injured pushing myself and 100+ pounds of bike and kid everywhere?
Enter the Pedego Stretch, electric-assist cargo bike! At first, I had resisted even investigating the possibility of e-assist because I kind of felt like it was cheating. Wasn’t one of the main purposes of riding a bicycle to get exercise? Wouldn’t the bike then be just like a motorcycle? Isn’t it just for people who aren’t REAL cyclists? No, no, and NO, as I later came to realize. As my kids grew and the difficulty of getting them around began to weigh me down, I started looking at my options. I needed something that could carry my weight, 2 kids, and all the gear that came along with us. Coincidentally around the same time, a new bike shop opened up in town, that specialized in electric-assist bicycles and bikes for every day riding for ‘normal’ people. We took a family bike ride over to Practical Cycle one weekend morning, tested out 2 of their cargo bike options, and immediately fell in love with the Pedego Stretch.
It was straightforward and easy to use, and made me feel like Superwoman. I felt like I was still biking, but there was an invisible force giving me just the amount of help I needed when I started struggling to pedal up a hill. Even with 3 kids on the back! The kids might even have been more enthusiastic than I was, and during that initial ride my 5-year-old son couldn’t stop yelling “I love this electric-assist cargo bike!”. It was glorious.
My 5-year-old is already a strong cyclist, and can bike himself most places we need to go, so the rear seat on the Stretch is primarily for my 1-year-old and 3-year-old. I have to add that my littlest guy is actually almost 2 years old, and despite my initial reservation about having him sit with his sister on the back bench seat with no seatbelt or footrests, it’s worked out well. He hasn’t wanted to jump off, and although he occasionally pokes my daughter to bug her, they don’t fight too much and I feel quite safe with them on the back. It’s possible to configure the Stretch with two child seats on the back too, but the option with the bars to hold on to seemed like our best choice, especially since I also planned to use the bike for my older guy when needed.
We bike to school, to soccer practice, to the farmer’s market, to restaurants, to grocery stores, to friend’s houses, on the trails just for fun; pretty much anywhere we need to go we can take the Stretch instead of the car. Sometimes I don’t use the e-assist function, when I’m feeling like I want to work harder, and sometimes it’s on full throttle (yes, there actually IS a real throttle on the handlebar grip!), like when we’re late for practice and the field is all the way at the top of a mile-long hill. The beauty of this bike, for me, is that it eliminates the stress and intimidation of biking longer distances, while enhancing a host of other positives that you get with cycling on a regular bicycle. And all while doing it WITH my children. Even when the kids have outgrown the bike, it will still be a wonderfully useful tool for carting around everything we need and getting to where we need to go.
This brings me to my list of the other benefits I see using this bike. For readability and to break things up a little, I’ll bullet my points.
- Bicycling is way cheaper than owning a car, and by effectively using my Stretch as a second vehicle we are saving a lot of money every year.
- The kids love it. I’m not sure if it’s the fresh air, not being strapped in, being close to mom, or really getting to look at what’s around them that makes them beg to get on the bike.
- Both the kids and I are more engaged with our surroundings. We have the best conversations while we’re riding together and observing birds, construction equipment, or chatting about whatever we’re passing at the moment. We notice things more, and it makes me feel more connected to where I live.
- It’s less stressful. The road-rage is minimized, and although we encounter the odd angry driver, most people love seeing us on the bike and often even roll down their windows to chat as we’re stopped at a light.
- I can carry SO MUCH on this bike! It easily handles two kids in the back, and I found that a milk crate fits perfectly in the front holder and easily fits 2 backpacks, a diaper bag, my purse, a bike lock, and other miscellaneous items. I could probably upgrade to something that looks nicer than a milk crate, but for now it’s hard to beat the functionality and durability.
- There’s no argument that bicycling is better for the environment than driving. It’s much less resource-intensive to build and maintain compared to a car.
- Hills are no longer the intimidating inconvenience they used to be, which makes me more inclined to take trips by bike than by car. It’s a huge thrill to sometimes pass a vehicle too!
- Even with the e-assist function, bicycling still gets you out and moving, and exercise usually makes you feel better.
- The electric assist is QUIET. Nobody can really tell you’re getting help, and most people think you’re just an inhumanly strong cyclist! Like passing a car, passing a racing bike while carrying two kids is also pretty satisfying.
- It’s user friendly and can accommodate a variety of different configurations to meet whatever your carrying needs are at the time.
- You don’t need to understand all the technical aspects of riding and how the electric motor works in order to ride the bike.
- It’s easy to adjust the assist levels to accommodate changing speeds and terrain.
No honest review comes without listing the cons, as well. Though the positives far outweigh the negatives, here are the issues I’ve found so far with owning and using the Stretch. Although I mentioned above that it’s cheaper than owning a car, it’s still expensive for what most people consider spending on a bicycle. The initial investment is currently usually at least $4K for the bike I have, and more if you want to upgrade or add features.
Related to the initial cost is also the replacement cost of the battery, which is only expected to last 2-4 years officially. With proper care it will likely last longer, but replacements are also not cheap (estimate more than $1K currently).
The bike is heavy. If you run out of battery juice and have to pedal home without the e-assist it’s completely doable, but tough on the inclines.
The battery charger also doesn’t give any options for setting the charge level, so maximizing battery lifetime requires a bit more monitoring than I would consider ideal.
If your kids decide to have a dance party on the back seat, or rock-out to an imaginary song by swaying back and forth, it’s obviously hard to maintain good balance on the bike. And the bike is so fun that they WILL probably want to party.
If you’re riding in the dark, the LCD screen is nicely lit up, but the buttons for adjusting speed levels for the electric assist are not. It’s a small thing, but it was something that threw me off as I was getting used to where the buttons were on the bike.
The kickstand is wonderfully stable once it’s deployed, but it’s tough to get it down and even tougher to get it up. It’s recommended NOT load the bike while the kickstand is down, but I confess that I usually lift my youngest (and sometimes the 3-year-old too) on to the seat before putting it up. I figure it’s better than having the bike fall on top of me or my kid?
One last aspect I want to mention in this review, that I think deserves its own section, is the aspect of community-building that bicycling promotes. I can see and talk to people while riding, and wave or have friendly conversations. It makes me feel visible and connected. We need this more than ever in our car-centered culture that unintentionally emphasizes loneliness, stress, and division. It’s difficult sometimes, with our current transportation infrastructure, to make the decision to bicycle instead of drive, but I feel it’s a decision we need to make more often. We always say we want a better world for our children, and we know that children learn by example, so it’s up to us to take the initiative to get out there and ride. The more people that ride, the more visibility we have and the more awareness we will have as a culture to keep the discussion going on how to move forward and continue to build the kind of communities we want to live (and bike!) in.