Spoiler: it's easier than it looks!
Real Talk: How Hard is it To Ride?
By: Lelac Almagor June 29th, 2020
This was the biggest, scariest question on my mind when I started eyeing a Bunch Bike for our family back in 2018. Bigger even than the cost. Why? Because if I was really going to ride it everywhere, it would pay for itself pretty quickly by shrinking our Metro, gasoline, car insurance, and fitness budgets.
But I know myself. I know I’m lazy. In my twenties I kept deciding I was going to bike to work every day and shower when I got there; but my workday was long and stressful and the commute was uphill both ways and the weather wasn’t perfect and my resolve never lasted more than a week. And that was before I even had kids.
We could maybe afford to buy a Bunch, but we definitely couldn’t afford to buy a Bunch and then leave it sitting guiltily in the shed anytime I woke up tired.
So: How hard is it really?
The short answer is: That’s up to you.
In my first month of Bunching, I was still really nervous about getting through my commute. I turned the e-assist up to 6, the highest setting, which my older son calls “turbo mode,” and I kept it there.
The e-assist only kicks in when I’m pedaling, but it amplifies the force of my movements. At Assist 6, I am basically a superhero. A light push on the pedals makes the bike shoot forward. I’m flying faster than most of the non-Spandex-wearing bikers on the trail, but I’m exerting myself about as much as I would on a leisurely stroll. On level ground or mild hills, I could keep going indefinitely without getting tired. It’s wild.
I do have one long, steep hill on my daily commute. (For DC folks, it’s the Fort Totten Transfer Station hill on the Metropolitan Branch Trail extension.) Even at Assist 6, getting to the top takes some effort, probably comparable to walking up that same hill on foot, except it’s over a lot faster. At the top, I’m usually hot and sweaty but not actually breathing hard.
For reference, there is no way I could ever in a million years get up this hill on a normal bike. When my husband comes along, we wait for him at the top and he walks his bike up.
The only times I’ve really struggled are the ones where I’ve been forced to stop the bike for some reason when I’m only partway up the Big Hill. Then my options are to get off and push (hard but manageable, especially with the push assist)... or to turn around, ride all the way down, and start over again. No fun, but I’ve done it.
Oh, and the steering? It does feel quite different from an ordinary bike, but once you get the hang of it, it’s no harder or easier. For me it took about thirty minutes of riding to feel comfortable -- after that I was fine.
Anyway, after the first few months, I got a little more confident, and in spite of my laziness I also got a little more fit. These days I mostly tool around on Assist 2 or 3. At this level, getting around the neighborhood is comparable in effort to taking a brisk, active walk. I can ride comfortably for two or three hours, but I’ll definitely feel tired when I get home!
I’ll confess, when I’m coming up on any hill that’s steeper than a bunny slope, I still crank it up to Assist 5 or 6 and enjoy the effortless soaring effect. I do the same when I’m running late or feeling extra tired or having a bad day.
My personal preference is not to push myself. I want to just enjoy the bike, and trust it to get us around no matter what the terrain is like or how many groceries I’m carrying. I figure I’m still moving my body and getting much more exercise than I would in a car.
I want my ride to be relaxing, and it is. One year into our Bunch life, the bike is our default mode of transportation; we use it probably nine days out of ten, for commuting, errands, playdates, and just getting out of the house.
For folks who actually want the workout, of course, you’re free to keep the assist turned down low -- or all the way off. I salute you and admire you, but I will not be joining you anytime soon!
Want some advice on if a Bunch Bike is right for your family? Give us a call at 800-730-9497 , we'd love to answer your questions!
If you live in the D.C. area, you can contact Lelac for a test ride at email@example.com