How an electric bike improved my fitness

After a month together, Susan Clark and her borrowed electric bike part company but is she hooked and will she spend £1,000 plus to make their relationship a permanent one?

To buy ... or not to buy?

For most of us, the answer or the beginning of the reasoning that will take us to a final answer will usually start with cost. And electric bikes, for all the refinements that have taken place over the last decade or so in terms of weight, powering mechanisms and speeds, still do not come cheap.

The Compy model (see here) I have borrowed - originally just for June but extended to the end of July after I had a non-bike related accident that meant I could not cycle for several weeks - retails at £1,150 which is significantly cheaper than many of the better known brands. This bike is imported from China. I can't speak for those other brands and am not enough of an engaged expert in the market place to explain why I have seen other models three times this price.

So, in my debate (mainly with myself) about whether or not to invest in an electric bike I tick the box marked good value (relatively) for the money.

My next question is how often would I use the bike. Well that's easy - because I would be aiming to use it as often as I have used the borrowed one, which is every working day, to and from work, injury and rain allowing. Actually, I don't mind walking, cycling or swimming in the rain as long as I can change when I reach my destination and since the plan is to cycle to work, I can easily keep a change of dry clothes in my desk drawer. So that's another big tick.

So how about ease of use? I'm not sure what I had expected but what I feel I have been riding is something that is a cross between a scooter and a bike and probably a bit closer to the former. It's been great having that back-up of electric power and a throttle to tackle the more daunting of those Devon hills but that back up comes at a price which is the fact this bike is very heavy and so not the easiest thing to handle.

It took me a while to master both stopping and starting and not least because of this weight although once I had got to grips with the basics, riding to work and back again (a round trip of about five miles) was an absolute pleasure. But I would say it remains very different from riding a bike in the old fashioned and traditional sense of those words.

If you are single, you can ignore the next stage of my reasoning because it probably won't apply to you but I am long-time married and spending anything over fifty quid impacts on the joint finances and so I would, out of marital courtesy, need to ask him what he thinks, in the same way he would need to discuss the idea with me any time he wants to spend a similar amount on a new surf board!

Actually, this was the bit I was not looking forward to because although said husband has been super supportive through the whole bike-loan-blog-trial thing, I know that what he really thinks is that I am way fitter than I think I am and that I don't really need the boost of electric power to get up those Devon hills because I am in possession (luckily) of a pair of perfectly sturdy Devon legs.

Now if he were the only one of this opinion I might be tempted to think perhaps he has his eye on a new wetsuit or surfboard and that he is only saying this so there will be funds left at the end of the year to make a surf-related purchase. But if I am honest I know my sister thinks the same and so does my teenage niece. And latterly, even one or two my Lady work colleagues - mainly the cyclists amongst us - have raised a polite eyebrow and suggested I am probably fit enough to tackle the dreaded hills between my home and our office.

And deep down, I know they are right.

I walk my dog at least an hour, often more, every working day and again, we're not talking taking a gentle stroll. We march, no... stride ... and frequently tramp up hill and down dale in all weathers, tackling anything that lies ahead and completing our rugged circuit in less and less time, and with less and less of a sweat, with each passing week.

Towards the end of the electric bike loan I had, deliberately, been using the power boost less and less; mainly because I wanted to see if I could tackle those hills and just how strong my legs really were. It was a struggle but mostly, I suspected, because of the bike's own weight.

Finally, as with all important decision-making, I decided to sleep on it and then dig out my old (very old) non power assisted bike, dust off over a decade of neglect, and test my theory that I am now strong and fit enough to cycle to work and back relying on my own leg power.

And I am pleased to learn I am right. And this is in no small part thanks to the electric bike the loan of which, it turns out, has given me the confidence to get back out on the roads on two wheels, the time to slowly improve my fitness and a taste for cycling that I didn't expect to enjoy quite this much.

My old (very old) bike has scrubbed up a treat. The brakes still work (just) and so for now, I will stick with her and see if I am as motivated to cycle to work when I don't have the safety net of an electric boost to power me up those hills.

And if life ever lands me somewhere even hillier - say, the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas - then I won't think twice about a bike that's more like a scooter that will get me up those mountain roads with barely a sweat bead on my brow!

And if that day ever comes, I know just where to get that bike.

Susan Clark is Managing Editor at The Ecologist. Follow her: @suzresurgence

She is riding the Compy e-bike on loan from Power Pedals. Details here:


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