Let’s talk about E-Bikes!!
While a lot of the attention towards the push towards e-mobility has been focused on electric cars, as a means to cut down on CO2 emissions, we believe e-bikes should also be considered as an alternative.
When you think of e-bikes you tend to imagine road bikes ridden by older people as a step before they move on to terrorising pedestrians with their electric buggies. This just isn’t the case, as I found out speaking to Cyclelife in Poundbury, West Dorset.
I’m the reviewer who tested the Tesla for ecartestdrives. As with Tesla I had a lot of ideas what to expect and on walking through the door had to ditch them within seconds.
I’m a Poundbury resident and my 76 year old father uses an electric road bike he bought from them (he uses it so often he’s actually getting rid of his car as he hardly ever uses four wheels these days). Poundbury is a suburb of Dorchester in deepest West Dorset famously built by Prince Charles, around eight miles from the seaside resort of Weymouth. There are a lot of second homes here owned by Londoners and I presumed that I would find a range of electric road bikes aimed at ‘them Londoners’. Wrong!
The shop mostly sells serious mountain bikes with motors designed to add range to your mountain bike adventures. Cyclelife does sell the odd electric road bike to people like Dad, and indeed they find that when an older person owns one their children will test ride it and begin their conversion to the idea of an electric mountain bike.
Owner of Cyclelife Poundbury Peter Claxton told me, “There are two demographics who use e-bikes. The first is the older crowd like your dad who are affluent and middle class older people who wish to get on their bikes with their families. Increasingly, however, there is a younger crowd who are using them for serious riding. Professional mountain bikers are using them for training where they may have once gone to the gym or swimming pool.”
Serious mountain bikers?
In an article published last year, the mountain biking magazine MBR published an opinion piece that said that e-bikes could well be the future for long distance enduro mountain bike racing. The article stated, “We think e-bike enduro racing will become more popular and readily available as more of us start to own e-bikes.”
The article continued, “We’ve heard arguments that e-bikes ruin the trails, harm trail access and destroy the ‘spirit’ of cycling: We don’t think that’s really true in any of those cases, and it’s also exactly the same argument used against mountain biking for decades.”
In short, the leading lights of mountain biking think that e-bikes are the way forward. Claxton told me, “A rider could cover 50-60 miles in a single ride, depending on how fit they are,” where they may only cover 20 miles on a typical ride today.
I ride the byways and lanes of Dorset and know a few routes where a 40-mile range would be bloody epic. I could ride from home down to the Purbecks, have lunch in Swanage and come back having had an amazing time but be just as tired as if I had headed on a 25 miler today. In short, it would enable chubby pie eaters like me to do amazing rides that are only open to bean stick thin serious riders at the moment.
As with all new technologies, there are detractors. Claxton told me, “There are 40, 50-year-old accountant types who ride their bikes maybe once a week who sneer that they aren’t ‘proper mountain bikes’ but the irony is the younger, serious riders are moving to electric mountain bikes in droves.”
Claxton added “As soon as you try one you will understand!
The bikes themselves
My father spent £1,000 on his machine that has a power assist hub in the front wheel. This is what you will find at the cheaper end of the market. The most expensive machine Cyclelife sell is just over £15,000. Mountain bikes have the power assist motor installed right by the pedal crank and feed power via gearing into the chain. At the rear, you have the standard gearing system that you will find on a typical mountain bike. The battery lives on the frame, and on a typical machine the whole assembly will add about 100% extra weight to the machine itself – a 15kg basic bike will weigh in at around 30kg with the electric system.
These aren’t pedal bikes with throttles. All of them are power assist. That means that you only get power from the motor and battery when you pedal. I was let loose on their £4250 Diamondback Ranger on the lanes of Poundbury. Pedalling is significantly easier, and it feels much lighter pulling away and on fresh legs, you feel as if you could put on a serious turn of speed. On a reasonable climb in a higher gear, you put in as much effort as you would a lower gear on the flat on a traditional bike. You have three speeds on the motor that dictates how much it will push you, that can be 2.5 watts for every watt you put in (limited to 750 or so watts). The bike itself is very light. On 42-year-old legs my impression is that I could spend a long time doing the limited speed of 25kph across the lanes of Dorset. I can immediately see why people would want one.
What, the speed’s limited?
Yes, limited speed… E-bikes could be easily tuned up to do 40, 50mph and you could find kids outrunning the traffic even on A roads. That would be illegal. To be classed as a bicycle an e-bike must be limited to 25kph of speed. I was flying down a road the other day at 30mph on my pedal machine.
One of Cyclelife’s customers had their machine up to 50mph off road this weekend gone! You can do crazy speeds on a pedal bike but over 25kph the motor cuts out and leave you to do the riding.
Claxton told me that if a company were to build a bike capable of motorbike speeds (over 25kph) then the machine would have to be approved by the government VOSA car licensing agency, have license plates and the rider must wear a helmet and have a motorbike license.
Speed isn’t the point of these machines – endurance and distance are. Making a 40-mile ride possible for a fat pie addict like me, and helping the pros do longer distances without hurting themselves. If you want a motorbike, there are plenty of those to choose from!
Would I buy one?
Riding the e-bike was a Tesla moment for me. The last time I changed machines was from a 15-year-old Scott YZ4 to a modern Cannondale 29er. While the Scott was great in its day, moving to the Cannondale was a completely different experience. Riding the Scott I could manage just about 15 miles and then waddle around for a week as if I’d been raped by a JCB. Riding the Cannondale I have done 30 miles and recover in just a matter of hours. If I moved from the Cannondale to an e-bike? I could do 60 miles and feel the same as if I’d done the 30 on the Cannondale.
Welcome to the new world of mountain biking: the e-bike.
By Richard Shrubb