THE MEMO – Scared cyclist? How an e-bike helped me conquer the capital
The big ebike trend: Swap your fear and vulnerability for conviction and confidence.
What do the Prince of Wales and Miley Cyrus have in common?
Both have been spotted out on electric bicycles – or ‘ebike’ – and riding a part-powered two-wheeler is a growing trend.
Millions of ebikes are now sold each year on the continent, with some predicting as many as 6m of us will have them by 2020.
But why should you care? And can ebikes help you get out on the road?
Tackling big problems
Like many Londoners, I loathe cycling in the capital. Or at least I did, until now.
The feeling of vulnerability that comes from being on the capital’s busy roads is one that hundreds of commuters will know, and frequent horror stories in the papers don’t help.
Like many would-be cyclists, I also got sick of turning up to places hot and sweaty, and at some point the idea of wobbling up steep hills lost all appeal.
Most of us want to be a part of a greener future, but also to feel safe, confident and comfortable.
I heard that riding an ebike could help, and so I decided to trial one.
If you don’t want to be tempted to shell out £1,000+ for an ebike, you’d better stop reading now.
I picked up ‘Beauty’ (Yes, I nicknamed my e-bike) from Justebikes in Portobello Road.
Made by Bulls, a German e-bike manufacturer, she was a big bike (I am 6ft) but rather pretty in a cowgirl way with a cream frame, fat wheels and tan handles.
She was officially a Bulls Sturmvogel e Evo (Sturmvogel is German for Albatross) and appropriately wide and graceful-looking.
The experience that followed was powerful and completely changed the way I thought about bikes.
The feeling of e-boosts
Cycling the Sturmvogel made me feel free, like a kid going down a big hill.
To passers-by I was just a grinning idiot cycling along rather sensibly, but what they couldn’t see were the invisible electric boosts propelling me forward.
Beauty was able to give me assistance of up to 90 Nm torque – more than enough to make my journey effortless.
I could choose between five intensity settings and I could activate this invisible help simply by pressing harder on the pedals.
It was all very intuitive, and happened without thinking – the bike has gears but these are just backups really, for if you decide to ride the old-fashioned way.
On the hottest day of the year, on my 8 mile ride back to Peckham, I didn’t even break a sweat.
Safer on the roads
This uplifting feeling of riding an e-bike is not an empty one: riding an e-bike helped me make safer decisions.
Previously I would have described myself as a rider who (because of a lack of vigour and confidence), would prefer to slow down and hug the curb then overtake a bus, even when that’s the sensible thing to do.
Being able to give yourself a powerful boost changes that. You feel sturdy, swift and strong enough to make smart choices that you’d otherwise deem ‘too risky’ or ‘scary’.
In particular, I loved using it to take off from traffic lights, as it immediately put me at the speed of the traffic – removing the anxiety that comes when cars suddenly whizz past.
Even the simple fact that I was physically comfortable (I chose to ride with as little exertion as possible) meant my full focus could be on my surroundings – and the rules of the road.
It’s easy to imagine why smart-clothed employees might want to glide effortlessly into the office, and then switch up their settings for more of a workout on the way home.
The down side?
I called my e-bike a Beauty, but it only took one set of stairs for me realise she was really a beast.
Weighing in at 23.9kg, the Sturmvogel would only really suit an owner with a spacious hallway, ground floor flat or nearby bike hangers.
Charging wasn’t a problem for me (my battery easily lasted the full week, and can run for up to 110 miles), but you still have to remember to plug it in occasionally.
At least the fact you can remove the energy pack from the bike’s frame makes this chore less of a hassle.
On the last day of my trial the weather also took a turn for the worse. I should have taken the tube, but stuck with the ebike and regretted it.
However fancy the ebike, regular riders will always be at the mercy of the elements, and in Britain’s climate, that’s a serious consideration for most commuters.
But if you do seriously want to commit to cycling, it’s still arguably better to turn up to work on an ebike just a bit wet, than tired, sweaty and wet.
Will ebikes be for everyone?
Probably not. My partner cycles to work every day and practically scoffed out loud when I told him my ebike capped itself at about 16 mile per hour (27km/h) – this is the legal limit.
But it’s worth bearing in mind that this is a speed I’d personally never reach without help. The ebike pretty much halved my commute time – who doesn’t like an extra 20 minutes in bed?
Others might be put off by the price, but as a Londoner who now pays £1,296 a year on a travelcard, I’m still tempted.
The BULLS Sturmvogel might set you back £2,799, but it will pay for itself in two years, and I’ve been assured is likely to go without any need for maintenance for up to a decade.
One fab low-cost ebike maker is Quipplan; based in Madrid its range start at just £1500, weighing as little as 16kg, and they fold up (perfect for people in flats, or who’d rather hail a Uber than ride in the rain).
The Netherlands-based Sparta also make great city bikes (starting from around £1,900), which have detachable security devices that are required to start the bike – extra peace of mind if you have to lock up outside.
At the moment we wouldn’t recommend going for a much cheaper model – you’ll just find yourself needing repairs more regularly.
What’s more, most ebike stores let you pay in instalments, and there are discounts of up to 42% available through the government’s cycle to work scheme. An ebike is an investment, but it shouldn’t be one you regret.
A great leveller
I know I’m not alone in wanting to get over feeling scared on the roads: we know cycling is healthier, good for the environment, and often quicker.
Whether you want a big sturdy bike, something flashier, or foldable, everyone should feel empowered to get involved.
You can never completely remove the risks of cycling in the capital, but I’d highly recommend curious amateurs at least try an ebike.
I hope you’ll feel as triumphant as I do.
Intrigued by ebikes? Justebikes have shops in London, Suffolk and the Midlands.