THEY have been hailed as a solution to the UK’s traffic problems, and with 20 million already sold in China, electric bike sales are now stepping up a gear in Britain. JON REEVE swapped his car for one for a week to find out whether they really are a viable alternative.
THERE’S a steep hill near my parents’ home in Southampton that filled me with dread as a child.
Cycling all the way up Church Lane without stopping to push was considered a major achievement among my mates.
So armed with the extra helping hand of an electric motor to back up my pedalling, there seemed only one place to test out my new transport.
It may have been a few additional years, and pounds, since I’ve taken to two wheels, but suddenly the hill was far less daunting with the aid of electricity, even if you do have to put in some physical effort because the motor can’t cope alone with a severe gradient.
Having the electric assistance is a bit like it was having my dad to give me a gentle push when I was first learning to ride.
It was most noticeable when pulling away from traffic lights or junctions, when the motor kicked in to help me get moving.
But it also makes riding along straight flat roads simpler, and I feel I should apologise publicly to the many cyclists I overtook during my commute.
I come clean and admit – I was cheating. I’m sorry.
But it will no doubt be a relief to them to discover that I got my comeuppance when the bike ran out of juice.
Karma took its revenge, and it was on a particularly warm afternoon that I was made to struggle along without any artificial assistance.
My cycling experiment, as part of the Daily Echo’s continuing Don’t Be a Fuel Fool campaign, also made me particularly grateful to read the front page of Saturday’s Daily Echo, revealing thousands of potholes will be filled in thanks to Government cash.
On two wheels a hole in the road goes from a potential nuisance to a genuine cause for concern. Not only do you feel every bump – and cycling past Millbrook Trading Estate along Second and Third Avenues there are plenty – but they can knock you off your stride, if not the bike itself.
If Southampton City Council is serious about encouraging more of us to give up our cars, then it must not just consider motorists when it looks where to spend its £415,000 filling in potholes. And maybe there is scope to follow Westminster Council’s lead, and introduce free charging points to help encourage more use.
Last year the authority was due to double the network it introduced in 2006, while 2010 was also set to see national sales of electric bikes, which can cost from £500 to £4,000, break 30,000.
My trusty steed for the week was supplied by 2wheel electric, who are based at Haskins Garden Centre in West End where managing director John Heath said demand for bikes has increased.
• Fitness: Even with the electricity to help, cycling is clearly a much healthier way to travel.
• Cost: Even with the Chancellor’s generous 1p cut in fuel duty, using the car still costs me around £20 a week.
• Boost your green credentials: Cutting petrol consumption also means a smaller carbon footprint.
• Improved driving: Seeing things from the point of view of a cyclist has made me more aware as a driver.
• Sight-seeing: Travelling at a slower speed allows you to take in more of your surroundings, even if for me it was mostly a close-up of Western Docks.
• Storage space: Although there’s a bag you can attach to the side it’s a struggle to carry a week’s shopping home.
• At the mercy of the weather: I was lucky to have dry weather but factor in lashing rain and the prospect of being open to the elements is not so attractive.
• Speed: My average commute time was ten minutes longer.
• Potholes: They are a nuisance for car drivers, but potentially lethal for unsuspecting cyclists.