Electric Bikes; Love 'em or Loathe 'em?

As cyclists who use their legs for power, Ride Velo can't help but feel superior to those who choose to rely on battery power - just look at the furore surrounding the suspected 'mechanical doping' of the U23 women's CX world championship race in Belgium on Saturday - proper cyclists don't use batteries! However, we can't deny that there are innumerable benefits to this recent technological boost to cycling. But do the pros outweigh the cons? Ride Velo investigates...

Back in September at the Cycle Show 2015, there was a whole area of the NEC devoted just to e-bikes. To us they looked ugly, clunky and very pricey. Why not just get fit? we thought. Buying a moped would be more honest than pretending to ride an e-bike? We had e-bike prejudice. 

At the same time, the Times published an article stating that 25,000 e-bikes were now sold in the UK every year, rising to 400,00 in Germany! Government restrictions were being lifted with speed limitations being raised to 15.5 mph, as well as Department of Transport funding for Boris-style e bike cycle schemes in 10 locations across the country. And the new Carrera Crossfire e-bike was launched, which can go for up to 80 miles on one charge, and costs less than £1,000 with models for both men and women.

OK, we accepted that e-bikes are growing in popularity and getting better all the time, but why not just promote actual cycling and fitness - do these battery-powered bikes offer any health benefits at all? Well it turns out that they do - you can select the level of help you receive from 100% to none at all, depending on how you feel. The battery will take you to 15.5 mph (which isn't really that fast) but you can override this with pedal power if you want. You can exercise or commute without getting hot under the collar unless you choose to.

It's hard work commuting over Crystal Palace hills

It's hard work commuting over Crystal Palace hills

Ride Velo regularly does a hill interval training climb of 64m over 1.5km up to Crystal Palace. One dark autumn evening, I spotted an elegantly dressed woman cyclist pedalling quickly, but apparently effortlessly, up the hardest part of the slope, leaving the lycra-clad road bikers in her wake. My heckles started to rise on witnessing this paragon of fitness and style, until I realised she was riding an e-bike!

I had to admit that I wouldn't like to have to commute over this particular hill twice daily, and that many would-be cyclists think they couldn't make it, or are worried about getting sweaty. Many of us don't have the option of getting showered or changed at work, and anyway it's such a faff to have to pack all your work clothes into a bag, only to get to work and realise you've left your office shoes at home. We've all been there... so chapeau to the e-bike lady of Crystal Palace! 

Then there's the flexibility argument: you can use an e-bike everywhere that you'd use an ordinary bike i.e. on cycle paths and lanes. The only rule is that you must be over 14 to use one but you don't need to tax it, or get a licence, or take a test like you do for a moped. You don't have to leave it on the street at night, but can bring it into the security of your own home, where you can charge it up using an ordinary mains charger. You don't even have to wear a helmet, though obviously this is advisable. 

But aren't they really expensive? Well no - they start at about £550, or £600 for a folding version, so about the same as a decent hybrid or road bike for commuting on. And the running costs work out at an average of 0.4p per mile, compared with 34p for a car, so there's no contest on that front! Also, there are tax-free cycle schemes for commuters which apply to e-bikes too - see the Green Commute Initiative and Cyclescheme.

Living in London, where the traffic congestion just seems to worsen by the day, anything that gets people out of their cars and into a more sustainable form of transport has got to be a good thing. And while e-bikes contain Lithium batteries, which have slightly dodgy eco-credentials and are never going to be as green as the real thing, e-bikes don't pollute and use very little electricity. So they are definitely on a par with cycling in helping reduce air-pollution in our cities.

What really changed my mind, though, was the prospect of taking a non-cyclist to the French Riviera this Easter. We want to climb up into the Southern Alps for spectacular scenery, trips around Cap Ferrat and up into Monte Carlo. How are we going to do that with Max in tow - just sticking to the beach road would be a pity for all of us. Of course - the answer was obvious - rent him an e-bike and he can go everywhere that we go - without having to train like Chris Froome for months before we leave. He'll undoubtedly beat us up the mountains and still look cool at the cafe! Hang on a minute... can I rent an e-bike too...?