The Observer Sparta RX+ Electric Bike Review
The Observer’s Sarah Phillips tries out the latest electric bike for pedal power and panache…
I am suspicious of electric bikes. It’s cheating, and besides, who needs extra assistance when you can multitask while travelling, getting some much needed exercise there is never time for otherwise? However, I have just moved and, while my new, longer, seven-mile commute to work is extremely pleasant, on my breakage-prone vintage racer it takes 45 minutes. More often than not I arrive late, dishevelled, with the chain hanging off. This is an existence I tolerate having had an expensive bike stolen. Could a week in an electrified saddle convert me?
Sarah Philips tries the new electric-powered Sparta RX Plus e-bike. Photo: Andy Hall for the Observer
Justebikes in west London, run by husband and wife duo James FitzGerald and Clare Elwes, kindly loan me a Dutch-made Sparta RX Plus. E-bikes are not mainstream in the UK – estimates suggest 20,000 are sold each year – but interest is growing. “We are trying to change the world,” FitzGerald says. “To debunk this notion that you have to buy a £20,000 metal box to get from A to B.”
Once Elwes has briefed me on how the rather clunky step-through bike works, I am all set. “You’ll feel like you’re 16 again,” Clare shouts, as I head out. And boy, does it go. It’s quite a sensation, the undeniable boost the motor gives when activated by pedalling, and it’s surprisingly silent, too. Some have suggested it’s akin to a jet pack. I feel like I am Elliott, about to take off with ET perched on my pannier.
Traversing central London, I sail past buses, Lycra-ed up blokes and Boris bikes – some of which are now set to go electric.
What is instantly striking is how much safer I feel with a little extra speed to get away at a junction, which as a female cyclist in London can only be a good thing.
A motorcyclist pulls off his helmet at the lights to get a proper look. “Is that an electric bike?” he questions, bemused. “Don’t go too fast.” Legislation means that e-bikes can’t exceed about 15 mph but you can get into the 20s if you make use of the eight gears. Riding up hills has never been such fun.
The prospect of leaving an expensive bike out on the street is nerve-wracking. Yet Spartas are renowned for their sophisticated locking systems: the electricity won’t work without a detachable digital screen; they have a frame security mechanism as standard with an option of a huge chain that fits into it. Justebikes have only known one to be nicked in eight years – and it was returned four days later.
On the second day I come back down to earth with a bump. As I prepare to depart and pump up the assistance to max, an error message flashes up — the electricity isn’t working. Without power Spartas are heavy and I have to cycle the whole route like this. When I get hold of the shop it turns out my test electric bike wasn’t registered so after a certain amount of miles the electricity cuts out as yet another security measure. First rule of using an electric bike: don’t run out of power. The battery, which has to be purchased separately (choose between 300Wh, 400Wh, 500Wh and 600Wh), can be easily removed and charged, and diminishes depending on the amount of assistance and weight.
This puts a bit of a damper on things. Despite my love of this whizziness, I can’t help but feel that, while I can reduce my commute by 10-15 minutes, I am losing it elsewhere: lugging the chain around or carrying the cumbersome thing up steps. But being part of the paltry 2.8% of the population riding to work, I am not the target market. E-bikes are perfect for people who aren’t into cycling, to enjoy the freedom of being able to cruise around town in an eco-friendly way. And how much better would our city streets be if the bike-phobic were tempted to get on two wheels by devices like these? I for one would happily let them overtake me.
Read original Sparta electric bike review here
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