Sunday 27 August 2017 10.00 BST
The idea of power-assisted cycling seems to exasperate some people. When I talk about e-bikes, I hear: “It’s cheating!” and “The point of cycling is exercise.” It’s not cheating because we are not racing, life is not a competition and neither is going to the shops. Nor does it mean you don’t exercise on an electric bike – you still have to pedal – it’s just that your pedalling can be assisted when the wind is against you or you need help up a hill. It feels like someone is giving you a push through the difficult bits. The motor can help you on the flat as well, but is legally required to cut out at 15.5mph, making an electric bike no more dangerous than an ordinary one. They are great for long, hilly, blowy jaunts and commutes, and allow people to choose this greener form of getting around over a car or public transport when it would not work for them, for whatever reason, to use an ordinary bicycle.
The legitimate reasons for using an electric bike are many. The first of these, for me, is because I want to, but there are others. Here are some quotes I’ve collected: “Since getting his electric bike my 80-year-old dad has been given a new lease of life”; “I live on the South Downs – I’d have to use my car far more often if I didn’t have one”; “All the rage here in hilly Oslo, especially for hauling kids and bulky goods”; “Perfect for cobbled, windy Edinburgh”; “As an ex-athlete with knackered knees, I need the electric bike for hills I could not otherwise do”; “On my e-bike I can keep up with my fitter friends so we can ride together”; “Good for the days I would’ve opted for the car because too tired to go on my regular bike”; “If we didn’t have one, we’d have to have two cars”; “I’ve got a walking disability and the electric bike means I can get out.”
My own, other, justification for it though is because it’s fun.
The more you pay for your e-bike, the longer your battery will last – a full charge will take you from 25 up to 70 miles, but it depends how you use it and in what conditions. Hills, winds and weight (yours and the bike’s) will impact on battery life.
Prices start from about £650 for a bog-standard commuter bike that will do about 25 miles on a six-hour charge, to a limited edition Blacktrail BT-01 which retails at over £60,000, and I suspect is mainly for posing on. However much you pay upfront, an e-bike is likely to be cheaper than running a car, more fun than public transport and less strenuous than ordinary pedal power.
Despite all this, the “cheating” jeer still hangs around, and many people feel too embarrassed to ride an e-bike with the battery in plain view. In my unscientific Twitter poll, 60% of people said they would be more likely to use an electric bike if no one could tell it was electric. They will like the Coboc One Soho (£3,199, 13.7kg) – a sleek single-speed model in satin aluminium.
The single-speed bike became popular in the 90s with New York couriers, then got picked up by hipsters in the rest of America and Europe. Like all things cool, there is an impracticality. New York may be flat but other places have hills. If you want the pared-down cool of a single-speed without ever breaking into a sweat, the Coboc One Soho is the bike for you. The battery is hidden in the frame, and the motor is discreet. It would suit any bun-loving-beardy wanting a bit more oomph as they make their way between pop-up coffee shops.
The motor seems silent on busier streets, although you can hear a faint hum on quiet ones. My main gripe is that I never felt comfortable . The lack of suspension made me feel like the Princess and her Pea every time a road was less than recently resurfaced.