Jeremiah and Katie Peck zoomed along Brighton Beach. Their 1-year-old son, Odin, sat snug in a car seat — mounted on the back of a bicycle.
“It’s like a Minnesota rickshaw,” Katie said.
The Pecks purchased an electric cargo bike in the fall. Along with a chariot in the back, their 4-year-old can sit “shotgun,” his feet in little Mac Ride stirrups on the bike’s top tube.
It has become a way for the Duluth father to involve his kids with one of his passions and connect them with nature. And it’s caught on in the neighborhood.
Peck started carpooling-by-bike neighborhood kids, along with his own, to and from Hartley Nature Preschool.
“I usually have an open seat, and I like to fill it when I can,” he said, adding that it’s fun to see all he can carry on one ride.
It started when the pandemic prompted Jeremiah, a year-long bike commuter, to shift duties from full-time employee to stay-at-home parent.
He started transporting his sons wherever they needed to go. “I’d much rather haul the kids on a bike than in a car,” he said.
At the time, that meant carrying two kids on a mountain bike from the family's Lakeside home about 5 miles uphill to the preschool.
Jeremiah heard about electric cargo bikes. He convinced his wife and said it has turned out great.
“It has been the best decision ever,” Katie wrote to the News Tribune. “My boys go everywhere in town on the bike.”
It’s perfect for Duluth’s hills, and “it’s easier than being crushed physically every day,” Jeremiah said.
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The Pecks appreciate the experience it is adding for their children, and the time it takes is comparable: 13 minutes by electric bike, 10-11 by car.
“In Duluth, you can ride as fast as traffic a lot of the time. Makes for a nice place to commute,” he said.
Also, instead of parking, you can roll up and get front-door service.
“I don’t have to get in a car with the window rolled up. I can hear the birds. If it’s snowing a little bit, is it a wet snow or that real frigid burns of cold winter air? That connects more with the immediate surroundings. And I love sharing the experience with them,” he said.
They ride in temperatures 10 and above. Navigating the e-bike and towing the chariot can take some getting used to. It covers more surface area, you have to watch what’s behind you and be very cognizant of your route.
Their e-bike is computer-controlled assistance. Some models have a throttle, and you don’t have to pedal. They go up to 20 mph. The Pecks have to pedal for assistance with their model.
The price of an electric bicycle is equivalent to a used car, Jeremiah said. He has a $5,000 Surly Big Easy electric bike. It can hold 400 pounds and go 40 miles on the battery life if they use the most economical setting; 20 miles if they go faster. How much weight you’re carrying is a factor, but there are many plug-ins around the city, he said. The removable battery plugs into a home outlet.
And yes, Jeremiah has run out of battery before.
They’re in the process of selling a car to get another e-bike, and Jeremiah foresees a carless future for their family. It helps their kids get a lot of sunshine and fresh air, everyone seems to be much happier for it. Riding with the kids, they get many smiles and wild head turns.
“Hopefully, they can inspire others to commute by bike,” he said.
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Matti and Kaitlin Erpestad rode in with their kids in tow.
Seppo and Silvo, 3, sat one in front of the other in a “kid corral,” like motorcycle riders behind Matti. Suvi, 1, rested in a chariot pulled behind the electric bike.
When they stopped, Matti showed the bike’s different speed settings — eco mode to turbo — on the tiny handlebar display.
Hugging the rear of the bike was an expandable bag capable of fitting two backpacks, a kid bag, a baby bag and groceries. It can be tricky stabilizing it when trying to get on and off, he said, but it's a pretty sweet setup.
The Erpestads used to bike commute to work year-round. With three children, “that’s darn near impossible,” Kaitlin said.
Hauling three kiddos from 9th street up to Skyline is a trek. “If you want to get to work all sweaty and totally done for the day and a half an hour late, that works. But it wasn’t something possible for the chaos of our family logistics,” she said.
That’s why they got an electric bike in late August.
Kaitlin was first concerned about safety, but the electric bike feels much like a regular one. They don’t go much faster than that other than when they’re riding uphill, she said, and it feels very controllable. They bought new, well-fitting helmets. The Erpestads are also strategic with the routes they take and the weather in which they’ll ride because this machine is quite large. The bike chain is twice the size of a regular one, and the whole setup is as long as a canoe.
It’s “a beast” to ride without electric assist, so you have to remember to charge the battery, she said.
The second time they rode it, they left the house with too little charge from East Hillside to Brighton Beach. They had to push the bike up the trail from Tischer Creek from Fourth Street to get home.
“That was a memorable experience involving three crying children,” she said.
Now, they charge it after each use.
This is a fair weather activity. They like to bike to Leif Erikson Park, Lester, Park Point. They’re a one-car home, and the bike makes it easy, and we're always all together, Matti said.
The children absolutely love to ride, Kaitlin said. Bike commuting is self-care and building a connection with the children.
One of their family values is getting outdoors every day. The motivation is to develop a connection with the natural world and to impart a positive impression on their children that may help them grow to be good stewards.
“It makes the day feel a little bit memorable, and in this time of COVID, and in a time of having young children, a little micro adventure like biking to work might be the adventure of the day,” she said.
While Kaitlin said she was skeptical of using an electric bike at first, she is sold today.
“If we want to bike commute, we need a little help right now,” she said. “It’s our small piece of being good stewards of this place and good for our family’s values.”