The last thing I bought before the pandemic also happens to be the best thing I’ve bought all year.
In March, I bought a Tern GSD electric cargo bike, specced for carrying my 6 year old son (and occasionally a buddy) on the back. I had big plans for this thing: I would ride it across town to pick him up from school. We’d explore all our DC parks. We’d have picnics and playdates and all kinds of adventures.
But, you know: 2020 happened.
I had saved up for my bike for months, figuring I’d buy it in early spring to get maximum use out of it before the weather got bad again. I took a deep breath and placed the order for it on March 8th. The last day of in-person school was March 13th. I picked up the bike March 14th. And then DC locked down, even parks and playgrounds. I spent a month or so with buyer’s remorse; I had just spent thousands of dollars on a fancy bike to carry the kid around on and we had nowhere to go!
But as the weather warmed up, we started to find our rhythm with it. We scheduled outdoor, masked playdates on the college campus quad up the street. Eventually playgrounds re-opened. And since outdoors is the safest way for my extroverted, only child to get the social interaction he craves, we started finding ways to make long stretches of outdoor time more comfortable.
DC summers are extremely humid. I didn’t understand what “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” truly meant until I moved here. And we have tons of mosquitoes, especially in our neighborhood. Congress’ annual August recess started because it’s so terrible here at that time. Usually I spend summer indoors, avoiding the sweat, the sunburn, and the bugs, but that wasn’t going to work for us this year. So we had to find ways to make outdoors work for us. Enter the GSD.
The thing about a bike is that unlike a car, you can roll it right up to wherever you happen to be hanging out, instead of parking it on the street and walking. And of course, a cargo bike can carry much more than passengers, and the electric assist makes it feasible to take on the extra weight. So in addition to being a mode of transport, a cargo bike is also an excellent cart for transporting all the creature comforts that make a long stretch of outdoor socializing comfortable. Here are a few of the things we’ve taken to bringing along with us (none of these links are affiliate links):
- Ultralight camp chair: Bringing your own chair means that you can always place it in shade instead of being at the mercy of whatever park benches are available. I like this one from Helinox, because it has a high weight rating (critical for the plus-sized user!) and packs down to practically nothing. I can and have carried a standard camp chair with us on outings with the help of some bungies for stability, but this weighs practically nothing, fits entirely inside my pannier, and doesn’t make it awkward for my son to sit on the back of the bike. This pretty much just lives in my pannier now.
- Growler of ice water: We always bring our water bottles, but running around and playing with your buddies is thirsty work, and especially in humidity, wearing a mask over your nose and mouth no less. Having enough water can turn an hour-long playdate into a multi-hour one. So I bring a half-gallon, insulated growler of ice water from home to refill water bottles with. It’s enough for us and his friends. We usually use this one from Swig Savvy, but we’ve used this one from Duluth Trading Company as well. The key is that they’re well-insulated, and the mouths are wide enough to fit ice in.
- Lightweight beach blanket: Eventually the kids get tired/cranky and want to rest, but don’t have their own camp chair in the shade. So I put out a blanket to lie on. I use this one because I had it on hand from an actual trip to the beach, but I like it because it folds down to fit in a tiny stuff sack, and being water-resistant and sand-resistant means it stays pretty clean when spread out on grass, too. I just put stuff on the corners of it to keep it from blowing away.
- Other miscellaneous comforts: I keep sun screen and bug spray in the front basket. Charlie usually likes to bring a variety of Hot Wheels cars to share with whoever we’re meeting up with. There’s usually a frisbee stuck in a pannier, a bag of snacks, a light-colored towel (good for draping over seats if the bike is parked in the sun, good for wiping down playground equipment after a rain), and a tote bag stashed to bring things into the house with when we’re done.
- Bluetooth shower speaker (UPDATED 9/17/20): I added a $20 speaker to the rear bars of the bike so we can listen to music while we ride. This seems to have been the tipping point. Now my son actually asks me to take him places on the bike instead of the car. The model I bought has a rubber strap on the back so it affixes firmly to the child bars, and it gets about 4-5 hours of playtime from a charge, which is enough for many jaunts around the neighborhood, or one long afternoon playdate.