Electric bikes aren’t traditionally considered sexy, in the way that the newest, hottest aero bike is. They don’t tend to elicit longing stares and the desire to lift the bike up, shaking it gently whilst drawing similarities between the weight and other low mass items.
More space on the roads, though, reduced strain on the NHS and a healthier, happier nation – those all sound pretty appealing to me. Perhaps even more so than the latest carbon, moulded into the fastest guise.
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Over the weekend, the government announced a refresh to the Cycle to Work guidelines, without the £1000 cap which has often been touted previously, and making it clear that electric bikes are far from off the menu.
The reality is that the £1000 cap only ever applied to small bike shops and employers (those not registered with the Financial Conduct Authority) – and larger employers and bike shops have always been clear to authorise bigger spends. But the misconception has been around so long it’s almost become fact, so the refreshed guidelines seek to quash that confusion.
Electric bikes represent an excellent commuting option: less effort means less sweat, the ability to ride in civvies, and long or hilly journeys are made significantly more approachable. Whilst the hills are flattened out and speed is generally increased, the rider still gets some exercise from pushing the pedals, opening them up to all the health benefits of cycling.
They’re also a great option for people coming to cycling for the first time, often later in life.
Both of my parents have contemplated e-bike life, my dad testing out a Giant FastRoad E+ a few months ago on the search for his perfect two wheeled buddy. Both of them want to get active, but are equally intimidated by the hills that lead to their home and the discrepancy between their unassisted pace and that of traffic.
For someone contemplating cycling, but put off by distance, fitness or convenience, an e-bike is the most obvious compromise. They’re getting pretty nifty, too – like the Ribble SLe which comes in at only 11kg, built.
Whilst a number of cycling’s heroes have expounded the benefits of electric bikes – Sean Yates being a prime example as health issues prevent him from raising his heart rate – there’s still a percentage of cyclists who roll their eyes at electric bikes, or claim getting aboard one is ‘cheating’.
Whilst ever increasing pageview figures tell us there’s huge interest in e-bikes, comment threads on our power assisted machines tend to draw in two themes – one of which is mocking and dripping with distaste.
And yet, ask any cyclist if they’d like to see more drivers get out of their metal boxes and onto two wheels, and they’d likely say yes.
Elsewhere in Europe, electric bikes are booming. In the Netherlands, e-bikes outsold standard bikes in 2018 and in Germany they account for one in four. Whilst e-bikes are on the rise in the UK, by an estimated 20 per cent per year, they’re still a minority of sales.
There are many factors which could help to encourage drivers out of their cars and on to an e-bike: improved infrastructure, fewer close passes, a reduction in the number of pot holes that threaten to swallow our front wheels at any minute, and a re-think on the 15mph limit.
Most of us can’t get out and shovel fresh asphalt into our country’s holes (please don’t try) and we can’t single handedly change driver’s behaviour towards all bike riders. But we can change our own attitudes: we can be less dismissive, more welcoming, and altogether more friendly. Less eye-rolling, more back patting – and you never know, that e-bike rider might give you a tow next time you get stuck in the wind on the false flat you hate.