An e-bike can take you places

An e-bike can take you places

By Nick Thorn

Head shot of Nick Thorn, middle-aged white man

Like a great number of regular cyclists, I am also a car user. There are things I need my car for – such as hauling heavy materials or visiting remote places that are not served by our railways. This means I am likely to be wedded to four wheels for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, the inaccessibility of areas such as city centres to cars makes the bike an ideal mode of local transport. So, a hybrid approach to personal transport needs seems to me to be the most sensible one for able-bodied people living in places such as Oxford.

In the four years I have had it, my Cube e-bike has taken most of the burden of transporting me and my belongings around the city (and sometimes to meetings up to 25 miles away). This has helped to bring my annual car mileage down substantially. I live on the edge of Oxford, on Hurst Hill, and the added push of the electric motor makes carrying home a couple of panniers of shopping, or a trip to the pub, an absolute breeze. I no longer have to psych myself up before getting out on the bike.

It’s still good exercise

It is also pretty good exercise. It’s a common belief that you don’t need to pedal on an e-bike. You do. The motor will help you (similar to when an adult pushed you along by the back of the saddle when you learned to ride), but above 15.5 mph you are on your own. They are pretty heavy beasts, so manoeuvring them in and out of a bike shed can be a bit of an effort, but once they are on the road they fly along.

The range on my Cube is anywhere between 40 and 80 miles, depending on the terrain and the amount of human energy I am willing to contribute.

Touring hilly Brittany with two heavy panniers a couple of years ago was a much more pleasurable cycling experience than with my old bike. In that part of France e-bikes are part of the local transport infrastructure, with car-free town centres and dedicated cycle routes to outlying rural settlements. I saw many older people using similar bikes to mine to remain connected to their communities.

Covering the cost

Like most of us, I am conscious of the burden my car places on the environment. Last year I looked into replacing my old diesel VW with an electric vehicle. After looking at all the options, I took a test-drive. Given the price-tag, I was disappointed with the quality of the build, and the capacity of the boot was no good for my needs. The price included a government grant of £1,500 – about 5% of the total cost, but it was still poor value compared to fossil-fuel powered vehicles.

E-bikes are expensive too. Although cheaper options are out there, you need to pay £2,000 to ensure you get the range and durability you are going to want. This puts them beyond the purse of many people for whom they would be an ideal transport solution.

If the government was to subsidise e-bikes in a similar way to plug-in cars, e-bikes would be affordable for most working people.

A pilot scheme has recently been announced that will enable people to try before they buy, but the total amount of state subsidy involved is miserly and the price-barrier will remain. Electric vehicles reduce emissions, but e-bikes also reduce congestion in cities, and they get people exercising more. Introducing e-bike subsidies would be an easy way for the government to encourage us all to leave the car in the garage more often.


6 Responses

  1. Mike Drummond says:

    I think e-bikes are great in terms of their ability and have both an electric full suspension mountain bike for off road use and an electrified Brompton for road use along with a road bike etc. The problem is that due to their desirability they are extremely stealable and I have already lost one that I paid £3500 for 2nd hand. I am now extremely reluctant to leave this bike anywhere around the town even with a high end D-lock. The car is actually my more preferred option primarily for this peace of mind. This seems to defeat the whole purpose of encouraging bike use and I for one would much rather that the money spent on cycle paths was aimed more at secure storage and some way of vastly reducing bike theft. I have had numerous bikes stolen over the years and my son has gone through 7. As for cycle paths in Oxford I have had more accidents and close calls on these in a few years here than I have had in about 50years of cycling in Scotland in heavy Glasgow traffic since I was about 10. Personally I prefer mixing with the cars.

    One other problem is that e-bikes seem to go through parts fairly rapidly and as an an example the rear gear cassette for mine comes in at £350. I have broken 2 chains on the mountain bike and 1 on the Brompton in the last 2-3 years. One battery has failed at a cost of £600. Both require quite a bit of maintenance.

    So I guess for me bikes are actually better ridden out of town and, on the few journeys into town by bike, I am constantly in fear of that sinking feeling in your stomach when you come back to a wheel or a broken lock. I did try the hand sprayed, abused and worn out looking bike for my son but even that was stolen.

    No doubt if you can take your bike inside at work then this changes things but theft needs to be vastly reduced in my opinion.

    • Jane Carlton Smith says:

      Gosh, you’ve had appalling luck. None of the bad things you describe have ever happened to me in 39 years in Oxford, except when I left my Trek unlocked in the Cowley Road. The police returned it a year later. I do not take or leave my e-bike into the City. As an experienced cyclist, you may not feel you need cycle lanes, but if we want more people to cycle, we need to make it safer for them.

    • Steve says:

      I use the Cycle Hub at the Westgate when cycling into Oxford on an ebike – much more secure than the streets. You can get a (free) pass by visiting the information centre at the Westgate.

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