E-Bikes: My Experiences
Over at Eco-Velo, Alan is making the case for E-bikes as an introduction to the accessible benefits (and joys?) of two wheels over the illusory freedom of a four-wheeled metal cage:
"In our view, e-bikes are all about accessibility , which is perfectly in line with our mission of getting people out of their cars and onto bikes."
A lot of people get quite swivel-eyed about e-bikes, and there’s a lot of froth from people who’ve not tried them. Apparently, they’re not "proper" bikes.
Well here’s my experience of e-bikes:
- A guy in our office lives two miles further from work than I do, he’s in his late 50s and 210lbs. He loves the idea of biking to work, but he’s really not up to the ~35 mile round trip. So he got himself a Giant E-bike for about £1,000. On this, he CAN do the ride to and from work, pedaling along the flat & downhill, while the electric assist means he doesn’t even break into a sweat up the hills, and all the while hitting an average speed of somewhere around 17mph. I’ve had a go of his bike, and it’s great. I did a couple of miles with the motor kicking in whenever I started to mash the pedals, but for the most part just leaving me to do the work that I wanted to do. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Except like many bikes, it’s only been on the commuting run three times over the whole of this summer.
- Our LBS owner thinks that E-bikes are definitely The Next Big Thing. So he’s talked suppliers into giving him demonstration models that sit outside his shop with a price tag of five to ten times the other bikes he sells. I’ve had a go of these too. They’re a bit less bicycle in their styling than the Giant, and felt a lot more like riding a motorbike - even though like the Giant, they’re electric assist rather than electric powered. But in three months our LBS has sold precisely zero e-bikes.
- There’s a local guy who’s retrofitted some sort of front hub motor to his bike. The front wheel’s hub is about 8" diameter, and this thing really motors along. I’ve been on the road, head-down, bum-up at about 25mph, and been overtaken by this guy. The problem is that he rides along the shared pedestrian / cyclist route that runs along the sea front here - effectively a wide path (sidewalk) that cyclists can use. But there’s no segregated bike lane, so you get pedestrians meandering all over the place, while this guys cycling faster than the cars go - I’ve been running along this path when he’s come past, and if I hadn’t been such a hero, it would have scared the bejasus out of me. I do not foresee a happy ending to this!
So the conclusions I draw from the above:
1) Very practical, but given that it still means sharing roads with cars & using cyclist-unfriendly infrastructure, my sample of one uses his car about 98% of the time.
2) The price isn’t yet right. For the sort of money that quality e-bikes sell, you can get a petrol-driven moped. The e-bike just isn’t making its case against the incumbent technology.
3) Some serious attention needs to be given to the legislation governing e-bikes. Although for the most part they basically look like modified bicycles, the technology is now there to give them near-motorbike performance.