Battery and motor technology has moved very fast in recent years. Although the concept of electric bicycles is certainly not new, the technology behind it is constantly moving with the times.
The words “Electric Bicycle” used to conjure up images of short trips along a seafront, or assistance bikes for those otherwise unable to ride a long distance. Heavy, ugly bikes with no range that are practically un-ridable when empty. There is also a fair amount of snobbery from the bicycle community. The words “lazy” or “cheating” is used a lot. It may be time to re-think any prejudices you have about them and here’s why…
Firstly, myself and my wife Jess are keen cyclists. We have more bicycles between us than I care to admit (X+1). I am fascinated by their simple elegant technology (both old and new). I love the feeling of freedom that I get every time I get on one; even now. I love the “this much fun should not be free” feeling I get from bombing down my favourite piece of single-track, or the way they shrink cities and get me off tubes/buses.
For us riding a bike is a pleasure, because it’s our passion. For others, it is a necessity. A way to get from A to B, while transporting the weekly shop etc. We are also in a time where luxuries like the 2nd (or 3rd) car are getting evaluated by households due to climate change conscious, budget, or parking factors. That thing that sits on your driveway most of the time is sitting there depreciating, costing you tax and insurance. It probably gives you a nice unsurprising repair bill every year too right? Let alone the climate change impact from burning fossil fuel everytime you turn that key.
We were really keen to see how eBikes could fit into our lives around all these factors.
CUE THE HOOKY EBIKES
We were so pleased to hear, around 3 years ago, Hook Norton Low Carbon had enrolled in an eBike scheme. Compass Bikes had initiated a 6 month innovation trial designed to promote the usage of electric bikes amongst community groups. Led by Sustainable Venture Development Partners, Compass Bikes involved 18 electric bikes (Raleigh Captus) being deployed in various locations across southern England, in partnership with registered housing providers and community groups. The e-bikes, which offer cyclists pedal assistance to make their journeys, were available to local community members on a shared usage basis.
Compass Bikes was one of eleven projects funded by the Department of Transport’s Shared Electric Bike Programme in order to accelerate e-bike uptake across the UK, which lagged behind continental uptake; in 2012 30,000 e-bikes were sold in the UK, compared to 175,000 in the Netherlands and 380,000 in Germany.
The bikes were placed in various cities such as Cambridge, Lowestoft, Ipswich, Felixstowe and… the little village of Hook Norton through the Hook Norton Low Carbon (HNLC) community group. The scheme was popular, and when it ended in 2018 HNLC bought the 4 bikes, so residents could continue to benefit from their use.
When these became available 3 years ago, it gave me a great chance to answer a question. Could an e-bike perform well enough to negate a household getting a second car? Could it be used to get to the local town, pick up some shopping and head back home? All of this, without being clad in lycra or arriving at the location in a sweaty mess.
We put it to the test. The destination was a very modest 5.7miles away, in Chipping Norton. The sort of journey we would not think twice about doing on a bike, but for fitness, leisure and social reasons rather than practical reasons. For most people, this is a car journey. Especially as there is a big hill going out of Hooky.
The bike model used in the scheme is a Raleigh Captus. New, they retailed at £1750, but through HNLC, they can be hired for only £2 per day (plus a one of £1 membership fee to HNLC, and the eBike club of £5). The most important part of this bike is the drivetrain, which uses the BOSCH Active Line system. It’s a true pedal assist only system, with five modes: Off, Eco, Tour, Sport and TURBO! This is a very good system and a pleasant surprise at this price point. The bike was also fitted with a 9 speed rapid fire gear system, which can be used in any mode.
The step-over frame also comes with a useful pannier rack which doubles as a battery holder. For a communal bike, I can see why the step-over style works well for ease to get on and off.
What are they like then? Grin inducing fantastic buzz – and they really do shift! We used ours in tour mode mostly, which kept us moving at a good pace without draining the battery. The display is very intuitive and showed how the range was reduced by using sport or turbo modes.
From the moment you set off you can feel the assistance. I liken it to the instant power you feel in an electric car, or the boost from a modern diesel car with a good turbo. Hills require a lot less effort than a regular bike, especially if you knock it up to Sport, and in Turbo mode it’s almost effortless, as you get more from the assistance.
You do have to still use your gears though. Going down the gears while climbing a hill will reduce the torque required for the motor to pull you up. But boy does it pull you up.
We deliberately didn’t wear bike apparel; I even wore a button shirt, and Jess wore a casual top and jeans (jeggings apparently). Apart from helmets, we looked exactly as if we were going in a car. We took panniers, to emulate going shopping which didn’t impede the bicycle at all. We flew out of Hooky up the hill and before we knew it we were in Chippy. I’d say it was a 25 min journey; maybe less. On the return journey we had loads of juice left, so we knocked it up to turbo mode. We came home in under 20 minutes, thanks to the extra assistance and some good hills! Both times we arrived not sweaty, but feeling we had done some comfortable exercise. We have since done several long rides on the eBikes, and have achieved beyond 60 miles range in Eco mode in and around the surrounding areas.
The conclusion is… yes! An eBike can save you burning that fuel unnecessarily on short journeys, or even replace that 2nd (3rd) car. We fit a lot of shopping in our panniers between the 2 bikes, plus had plenty of time to stop for a half pint, apres shop. We are now regular users, and pop to Chippy, Banbury, the local farm shop instead of jumping in the car. Our favourite loop is to the Straw Kitchen in Whichford. Sometimes we’ll even end in the brewery, or one of the village pubs. Of course, the weather, carrying bulkier items and longer journeys is a factor, however, solved by being part of the HNLC car club, which currently has 2 electric cars plus 2 cars running on HVO fuel (90% less emissions) to choose from.
Feel free to ask us any questions if you see us around, or use the email below, as we are now part of HNLC, and help maintain the bikes and contribute to marketing.
Keith Musson and Jessica D’Souza
Spring is in the air – what better time for a free trial of the Hooky eBikes:
Visit www.hn-lc.org.uk to find out more or email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.