If I’m honest, I’ve never really seen the point in electric bicycles until now. They’re not really quick enough to mix it up with other traffic, like you can on a scooter, and if you’re going to pootle along at 10-15mph on cycle paths then you may as well just pedal a normal bike and get some exercise in the process. Still, I was offered one for the weekend so I thought I’d give it a go.
Essentially it’s a regular town bike with a motor inside the front hub. The battery for the motor is where your bottle would usually sit (it’s about the same size) and the right hand handlebar grip doubles up as a throttle. There’s also a small control box sitting on the rear pannier rack and a bunch of wires connecting it all up. It still has front and rear mechs and shifters so can be pedaled like a regular bike without any assistance if you so wish.
Once on the go, it makes surprisingly rapid progress. The motor is limited to a maximum speed of 15mph which sounds slow but is actually plenty quick enough for buzzing about on cycle lanes and you can always use a bit of pedal power to boost that if you wish. I passed four other cyclists puffing away uphill on regular bikes on my 15 minute commute, like they were standing still. On the flat it’s up to speed in a few seconds, although there is a second of so of lag between twisting the throttle and the motor kicking in. On the uphills it struggles a little but will still get you up slowly without pedaling. However, it really only takes the lightest of effort on the pedals (imagine an exercise bike on low resistance) to assist the motor up hills without losing any speed at all.
I’ve now ridden the bike both to and from work and in both directions it took pretty much exactly the same amount of time to do the door to door journey of around 3 or 4 miles as it does in the car. Milton Keynes has an excellent network of cycle and foot paths that mean I can do the journey without touching any roads, however I’d feel fine riding this on the road through town in 30mph zones. Anything more than that and a scooter becomes more appropriate. Range is supposedly around 25 miles, but the battery unclips easily and can be recharged at your desk in a few hours. I believe this model had a 250W motor although there are bikes available with over double that power which would be better suited to hilly locations.
The two barriers for me that make riding to work difficult are secure storage and shower/changing facilities at work. The electric bike doesn’t solve the secure storage issue but does mean you can ride into work in a shirt and smart trousers without needing to shower or change when you get in, which is a big plus point over a regular bike. I don’t really have a need for one at the moment but if I had a commute of up to about 10 miles each way then I would seriously consider one of these as my daily transport. Bought through one of the employee tax free cycle schemes, it would work out pretty cheap. No road tax or insurance to pay and a daily charge only costs a few pence of electricity (I’m led to believe that it’s less than 10p).