I recently had the pleasure of riding an electric bike, loaned to me by Volt Bikes UK, for the ‘Mayor’s e-bike challenge’. The challenge was for me and a member of my team to use e-bikes to travel to as many of my appointments around Bristol as possible.
In any given day, I might have to travel to destinations as far apart as Whitchurch and Avonmouth, so it’s easier said than done to ditch the car to get to my engagements on time. A member of my team always accompanies me to my appointments, to take actions and follow up with the people I meet, so this adds another caveat – we have to get to our destination in time, looking tidy and in one piece.
Apart from a couple of trips on my mum’s, I haven’t ridden an electric bike before. I must say, it was great.
My first long trip was from City Hall to Brislington trading estate to visit Hamilton Litestat. It was a breeze. Enough effort to feel good about moving but not so much required that you end up covered in sweat. It’s a great feeling when you peddle and the power kicks in, pushing you along at a gentle 15mph.
You have to get on top of the battery charging. It’s a liberating feeling when its fully charged, but there was a day I had plugged it in without realising the socket had not been switched on. I put the battery back into the bike later that day, full of confidence and optimism for my ride home. The power died a couple of minutes in. That was a heavy ride, all up hill. But that was down to me. The e-bike was great.
Let me take a little space here to share that one of the best features of the bike wasn’t actually the tech. It was the fixed mudguards. I’d never had mud guards before – leaving me trying to avoid puddles on those wet days or falling prey to the brown mud line up the back and the splashed socks and trousers. I have tried those fix yourself rear mud guards but never managed to get on top of how you stop them eventually spinning out of place, sticking out to the side of the bike. In the end, I always just take them off.
I did come across a situation that disappointed me. I was on the railway path around school home time and a father was standing on the side with his two children waiting to cross. He had an arm stretched across their chests. People just rode past. I stopped to let them cross, and someone behind me gave me a mouthful about stopping on the railway path. I advised the chap to ride a little slower and anticipate he might have to stop, especially in a shared space, especially when there are primary aged school children or other vulnerable children in that shared space.
I had some interesting feedback on social media. Some suspected that like the 1969 moon landing, my e-bike challenge had been faked. They cited evidence such as my wearing work shoes – apparently it’s too difficult to ride with work shoes. Someone pointed out it wouldn’t be possible to fit my black jacket over a suit jacket. One person attempted to lead people to conclude that my engaging in the e-bike challenge was evidence I don’t ride a bike any other time. I don’t often directly engage with online conspiracies but this one has the potential to get out of control so I want to put on the record – I did ride the e-bike and it wasn’t the only time I have cycled.
Other feedback criticised me for the clothing I was wearing, or not wearing. There were occasions I’d worn a black jacket (the same black jacket that could not fit over a suit jacket) and on a couple of occasions I hadn’t had a helmet on – to be honest this also makes my wife a little irritated although she just told me rather than taking to social media.
This question of kit is an issue. We want more people on bikes. One of the challenges is to get to a point where people can feel welcomed to ride bikes without having to become fully fledged cyclists. It means that for most people, a bike will be a means of transport. I had a chat with someone from Sustrans about this the other day. It’s a quick statement, but it is important. And probably a discussion for another occasion.
I know that e-bikes are not for everyone. They’re significantly heavier than regular bikes, can be bulky to store inside small terraced houses or flats and charging can be tricky depending on the way the battery is stored. This has been a real challenge for my mum who is now in her 70s. They’re also expensive, meaning they can be out of reach for those on lower incomes.
Fortunately, in Bristol we have an e-bike loan scheme so you can give one a try without the commitment. Better By Bike loaned 180 bikes in the Bristol area last year, including e-bikes. They do require a £250 deposit, but there is no charge for being loaned the e-bike itself.
We will be exploring more avenues of making e-bikes more accessible because with all of our city’s hills, they will be a key part of our future transport solution.