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I have been riding bikes for decades. When I was growing up, men’s shoes were black or brown, laced or slip-ons. Runners were for running. Bikes were either ordinary, delivery or racing. Yes, there were pretend racers, bikes that looked like proper racing bikes until you went to lift them. Now we have hybrid, folding, mountain, time-trial, racing, tri-bikes and so on. And I now have a pair of navy blue slip-on men’s shoes. And now we are on the cusp of another revolution with electric bikes. Sales of e-bikes in Halfords have risen by about 130 per cent in the last year and make up about 4 per cent of total bike sales.
We can have a great laugh in our house with bikes. Two years ago we bought a bike for herself that did four spins over the two years – just like a lot of people who bought bikes with great notions that this would encourage them to exercise.
One day I took her for a spin on an e-bike and she was in love. Not with me – with the bike. They are a complete doddle to ride. They have improved in leaps and bounds over the last few years and are increasing in popularity worldwide. And it is easy to see why. My good wife loves riding a bike. We’ve gone on cycling holidays on a tandem in Germany along the Moselle, the Rhine and the Danube. Clue: Water does not go uphill. However, if she has to cycle into a wind or up a hill she gets rapidly discouraged. And this is where the e-bike comes into its element. Depending on the model, they will come with a small button to increase or decrease the assistance from the motor. And just like that, the bike can sail uphill at 15mph (if you need to go faster you can get the bike de-restricted, but that would be breaking the law, so private road use only!). Some people confuse these with an electric motorcycle: they don’t work as if they had a twist grip action, you need to pedal and then they help. Hence the name, pedal assist.
This year, my good wife has not been out on a bike until she got her e-bike, yet her first spin was 47km She was surprised herself. And now she will take it to the shop (two miles) for small shopping and is delighted with herself.
So what to look out for? We bought one second-hand on the basis if it did not work out she said she’d rather have a €400 bike stuck in a garage than a €2,000 one. The acknowledged leader in e-bikes is probably Kalkhoff. However, they are expensive. There are others and in my opinion anything with a Bosch electric motor is worth considering. Sanyo and Panasonic motors are good too. These are located at the bottom bracket and drive through the chain. They give a lower centre of gravity and are more stable motors than the hub-driven units. All the bikes imported into Ireland will have a 250 watt motor, whereas the Americans (of course) have bigger motors. The cost to charge the top-of-the-range e-bikes is about 10 cent over a three-to-four hour period and the range of an e-bike after the charge can be over 100km. If you want to do more than that in one go, I’d have to ask, ‘why’? Maybe you should just get a good road bike.
After that you need to consider your battery pack, and different sizes give different distances. If you plan on only doing short journeys, then a lighter pack will do. No point going for a battery that can bring you 100km when you just use the bike to travel 10km to work. I would also recommend staying away from higher maintenance derailleur gears, (and chains) and go for a bike with hub gears like the Rohloff, Pinion or better again, the great value Shimano Nexus system. The advantage is that the chain is not subject to lateral stresses and hence is less prone to wear. After that, chose your Giant/Trek/Gazelle (or whatever) frame and away you go.
The bikes are heavier than average – let’s face it, they’ve to carry an electric drive and battery pack so the tyres and frame are heavier for support. I often get asked whether the bikes recharge the batteries as they pedal, but that would increase the resistance to an unacceptable level. It’s far easier to plug in the battery pack when you’re home. The battery packs are designed to last for years. And here’s a little known fact: they can be repaired. Similar to the Toyota Prius cars, the manufacturers run courses in battery repair from time to time. The cells can be bought on eBay for about €30 and replaced easily by a trained technician.
And they are available on the bike to work scheme.