How I fell in love with an electric bike

The world of e-bikes is a fast growing one with international courier companies and the super rich yachting set amongst their fans. In China e-bike use has gone from virtually zero in 2005 to an estimated 230 million this year. This represents the largest adoption of an alternative fuel technology in the history of motorisation. 

In Europe for every electric car bought, 60 e-bikes are sold. They are available in every shape and size, form e-cargo bikes, to foldable e-bikes, to luxury e-bikes encrusted with Swarovski crystals.


And as
75% of oil use in the UK  is from transport, it’s clear that something has to change in how we get around if we’re to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. E-bikes may well be part of the solution. They’re much cheaper than a car, retailing at as little as £500 in the UK, take up less space on the roads and – since a high proportion of car journeys transport only one person – are suitable for many people’s needs.

The test ride: Auckland’s uphill challenge

So why should we be so excited about these two-wheeled wonders? I decided to find out.

I’d never thought about riding an e-bike. I’ve been a cyclist all my adult life and and have been quite happy whizzing about London on my normal push bike for the past 15 years.. Alongside buses, my bike’s been my main form of transport. But in the last 18 months, two things changed. My family grew and we moved to Auckland – a very hilly city with a fairly useless public transport system. Before we left London, I’d been plotting to get a trailer for my bike to take the kids around but in Auckland I’ve been struggling to get just myself up the hills, let alone two small children. I’d resigned myself to having to accept car use as part of my almost daily life, albeit with lots of walking, the odd bus and biking where possible.

So when I started reading about electric cargo bikes I got quite excited – and even more so when the only Auckland retailer of e-bikes agreed to let me test drive one for a week. Christian Hoff-Nielsen, a Dane (of course) living in New Zealand, started a business hiring and selling e-bikes in Auckland when he realised how great they are for overcoming the city’s hills. He told me how many of his customers are buying e-bikes to do long commutes over the very spread-out city and to avoid its notorious traffic congestion. He’s also beginning to sell e-cargo bikes to local businesses who recognise the efficiency savings in making deliveries by bike. British companies are also embracing cargo bikes for deliveries in urban areas and motorising them means that heavier cargo can be carried over longer distances.

E-bullitt

My cargo is of the human variety, so Christian lent me this e-bullitt with a covered seat for two children at the front. It’s a big and heavy contraption and I was glad I didn’t have the kids with me when I went to collect it. My first attempt at riding was wobbly, short and almost took out a couple of tables at a pavement cafe. But once I’d gone around a local park for a bit, I was away. It was brilliant. I loved it. I wanted one.

Picking the kids up from daycare, I had a smug-factor of 10. I live in an affluent neighbourhood where every other car is humongous 4×4 but there we were whizzing around on our bike. it felt good to have the children in front of me, instead of trailing behind. And they got to sit together and squabble – just like in a family car –  but with a great view of the world. Later I went to the supermarket and easily fit the weekly shop into the box (admittedly not with the children). For the rest of the week that I had the bike, the car sat moribund outside the house on all but one day – when some of New Zealand’s finest torrential rain put off this slightly fair-weather cyclist.

Contrary to popular belief, the e-bike didn’t feel like a lazy option. I still worked up a sweat getting up hills.  Most of the time I chose to have the motor on one of its lowest settings, so that I’d still be putting in the effort.  Using it just for short journeys around the city, I only had to charge the lithium battery once in the week. According to Christian, the batteries should last for should for around 8 years and with battery technology improving all the time, that will most likely change.

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 22.56.00

It was a sad moment when I had to give back the ‘bike with two seats’, as it became known in our house. And at $6000 (£3000) we’re unlikely to be buying one soon. But the seed of what e-mobility can do for us has been firmly planted and we might well look at other options, like buying a trailer and fitting motors to our existing bikes. Of course not everybody needs an electric bike. In flat areas for shorter journeys  pedal power alone can see you through. And with environmental concerns about batteries they’re not a completely green solution. But where hills and long distances put people off, e-bikes definitely provide an excellent low or, even zero-carbon alternative to cars.

A version of this blog was originally published on Energydesk.

Many thanks to Christian Hoff-Nielsen of Bikes and Barbers, Auckland for the loan of the e-bike.

Emily Armistead

Emily Armistead is a campaigns consultant currently based in London. She blogs about how to make our campaigns and organisations more effective.

2 thoughts on “How I fell in love with an electric bike

  1. I love my e-bike. It’s a perfect urban transport solution. I’ve been using it to commute to work, and to grocery shop on weekends for a little over 2 years now. The bike has well and truly paid for itself in savings on fuel and public transport fares. And it makes errands fun – always. The environmental benefits are easily apparent, but there’s also a major improvement in convenience. I can lug a stack of groceries in my panniers, and totally avoid the headache of parking and gridlock that is the curse of my city (Brisbane, Australia). I hope your post encourages more people to take up this transport method.
    Cheers
    Michael

    Like

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