Could electric mountain bikes spark a cycling revolution?
Gervase Poulden of The Ecologist reviews the Haibike XDuro FS in and out of London…
I confess that as I sat excitedly waiting for my electric Haibike eQ Xduro FS to be delivered to the office, my head was filled with visions of flying past my racing rivals on the daily commute through the city. At the same time I was sceptical; after all, how can an electric bike pose as an eco-option when it clearly has a bigger carbon footprint than any normal bike? And more pertinently, who in their right mind would actually be willing to shell out almost three thousand pounds on a bicycle?
I put these concerns to one side as I took the Xduro for a spin for the first time. The sensation, even on flat terrain, is akin to that of someone pushing you along as you ride, but instead of your arthritic old granddad gently helping you off stabilisers, it feels like a whole football team is throwing their weight behind you. Despite this immense power you never left feel out of control: the pedal crank is equipped with a torque sensor that detect how hard you are pushing so the less force you apply to the pedals, the less thrust the motor delivers. The motor cuts out at around 16mph, in line with EU regulations, at which point you’re on your own in terms of pedalling. Although this ruined my fantasies of racing past the budding Mark Cavendishes who tear across city cycle lanes, it does make for a safer ride. It also demonstrates the fact that rather than being designed for cycling speed-junkies, electric bikes are aimed at people who don’t really cycle at all. ‘If there’s a steep hill between you and your place or work, or if you often need to cycle to work in smart clothes and don’t want to get too dishevelled, the extra boost of an electric bike could remove that last barrier to getting you cycling,’ says Sian Berry from the Campaign for Better Transport (www.bettertransport.org.uk).
As only three per cent of the population currently cycles on a regular basis, this leaves a hefty potential market for the electric bike. Having said that, the Xduro is aimed at a different type of customer from that of most electric bikes. Previous models produced by companies such as Sparta and Koga come in the rather elegant Dutch style – very pretty, but a tad effete. For a slightly more macho look, the Xduro fits the bill. The motor is also hidden so you might even avoid the sneers of lyrca-clad cycling purists as you wait alongside them at the traffic lights. But the Xduro’s difference is not simply one of aesthetics. With its 120mm travel front and rear suspension and its superior motor position allowing for higher ground clearance; it is one of the first serious electric mountain bikes to retail in the UK. As such, it has the potential to open up mountain biking to a far wider audience than usual.
To put its hill climbing potential to the test, I took the Xduro for a ride around the rugged countryside near Guilford. The motor meant that it was possible to tackle the most imposing off-road hills that Surrey has to offer without having to worry about whether I had remembered my portable defibrillator. With a bewildering array of 12 different assistance modes, there was also the opportunity to switch to a more intense workout before boosting the assistance level, allowing me to catch my breath. A full day’s mountain biking, which amounted to about 40 miles in total, was done on a single charge of the battery, at the cost of around 2p.
But what about maintenance? For upkeep, Justebikes (www.justebikes.co.uk) offers a full servicing package including home collection and repairs for £200 a year. The big outlay, of course is the initial price tag: a whopping £2,795. Yet the headline figure is deceiving. Firstly, a discount of up to 40 per cent can be secured through the government’s cycle to work scheme. In addition, if you end up ditching public transport in favour of the Xduro for your daily commute, the savings that you make from no longer paying for underground fares, fuel costs or a season parking pass at a train station could easily amount to over £1000 a year.
So could electric bikes like the Haibike play a major part in the creation of a sustainable transport industry for the UK? Their environmental credentials are strong when compared with other forms of short-range transport such as scooters and even electric cars. When the CO2 emissions produced to generate the electricity to charge the bike are factored in, the total comes to 2.6 grams of CO2 per mile compared to 150 grams for most electric cars, and 136 grams for scooters. With such impressively low emissions levels, the lack of government interest seems a little perplexing: the Department of Transport’s website has no mention of electric bikes whatsoever in its ‘Sustainable Travel’ section. A representative from the department informed me that this was because, ‘it is not in our role as a department to be promoting any particular mode of transport,’ which seems a little odd considering their website contains a section on ‘strategies for promoting cycling as an alternative form of transport for local journeys.’
Justebikes founder James FitzGerald argues that the real problem is successive government’s – and the transport industry’s – obsession with funding and offering tax breaks for electric cars instead of encouraging the use of electric bikes for shorter journeys. ‘It doesn’t matter what electric cars are powered with,’ says FitzGerald, ‘You’ve still got a one tonne box, with a frontal area of three squared metres, with a person in it. It’s always going to be a ludicrous waste of energy.‘ Justebikes’ parent company Low Emission Vehicles Ltd surveyed 43’000 workers last year and found that 22 per cent currently drive under five miles to work every day. If they used e-bikes instead, 3.9 megatons of carbon emissions per annum could be saved each year. That is roughly the equivalent of the entire annual transport emissions of the NHS. The electric bike offers an important opportunity for drastic carbon emissions reductions but it’s the added promise of cost-efficiency and leisure potential that makes the Xduro a wise investment. The Haibike eQ Xduro FS is on sale now. Prices start at £2,795. www.justebikes.co.uk
Link to original news item: The Ecologist