Electric Bikes - A New Generation


The Compy bike from Power Pedals


With the World Electric Bike Championship looming at the end of the month, Ecologist Managing Editor Susan Clark is spending June getting to grips with two wheels, plus the bonus of a handy throttle for those long Devon hills. It's been some time since she got on any kind of bike - here's how she is getting on ....
I start to appreciate the quiet; maybe I can even hear those cows chewing the cud

Today's the Big Day - the first day I (electric) bike to work. I have been organized. I have planned and trialed the most scenic route I can find; up and over the back country lanes that give the very best views across the endless stretch of Atlantic ocean that curls around and embraces the jagged Hartland peninsula where the Ecologist is now based.

I have borrowed my husband's cycle helmet, adjusted the size to fit me and dug out a pair of loud and too-trendy trainers. The dog has been walked early, the sun is shining, there's a perfect breeze rustling the perky red campions and the uninvited Japanese knotweed in the hedgerow and I am off... to work...eco-style.

So, far, so good.

I had woken in the night and thought maybe the battery needs recharging after my pre-trial sessions in the week leading up to the Big Day. I woke up the following morning and completely forgot.

Having spent those sessions mastering the art of stopping and starting which is quite a handy skill if you want to actually leave home on time and arrive at your preferred destination and not shoot straight past it, I had probably been out on the bike for two hours in total but it's not how long you're powering around the lanes, it's how much throttle you are using that counts.

This new generation of electric bikes look sleeker than those first electric bike prototypes and the model I have borrowed for the month (see details below) is good-looking and much admired by my eco-neighbours who know about these things. But these bikes are still relatively heavy and the one I have under my care and control for a few weeks takes some wielding.

In fact, I learn my lessons (as usual) the hard way. After one short ride around the block, I wheel the bike through my back gate and wait whilst my husband unlocks the back door to the house. This passage is quite narrow and the front wheel jams at an angle in a groove in the paving so I lift it to free it and the whole bike rears like a stallion - which only makes me panic and lift it higher triggering even more rearing.

You've guessed it; I had my left hand on the throttle and had forgotten to switch the power off. I have not made this error since!

I start to appreciate the quiet; maybe I can even hear those cows chewing the cud

So, back to my first bike ride to work. I master the first steep hill in sixth gear (the bike has eight) with the motor set to medium and with a little help from the throttle. I have already discovered that the more you pedal, the more power you get from the bike. And unlike my first few sessions, I don't wobble or head for the hedge at the first sight of anything else moving - car, cow, tractor, dog, small child...the list of potential hazards is shockingly endless.

I start to appreciate the quiet; maybe I can even hear those cows chewing the cud. I can definitely hear the birds singing. I can definitely see that the sea has changed from yesterday's pea green blue to a more dazzling marine colour. This is what it will be like from now on; I will make my way to work feeling Zen and arrive knowing I have done some exercise beyond answering 100 emails for the day.

And suddenly it has gone too quiet.

And the bike is feeling very, very, very heavy.

I glance at the dashboard and nothing. No lights. No motor. No throttle for the next big hill which I know (from my pre-planning ride) is just around the corner.

Yup. The battery is dead.

Phil, who imports these bikes from China and who advised me to charge the battery LITTLE & OFTEN will be shaking his head in a sorry kind of a fashion. I don't think he will go as far as to say I TOLD YOU SO because he now already knows from the rearing bike incident I only learn my lessons the hard way....

But then so did Scarlett O'Hara and I am damn sure she wouldn't have let the small matter of a spent battery stop her from getting back to Tara and so I turn my bike back toward home thinking (as Scartlett would say): "Never mind, after all... tomorrow is another day. "

I will be back on my borrowed bike tomorrow....

Susan Clark is Managing Editor of the Ecologist. Follow her: @suzresurgence

She has borrowed a Compy bike from Power Pedals, details here. 

The World Electric Bike Championship is being held in Bristol at the end of June. All the details here.


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