After several months of research and procrastination I’ve finally bought a power assisted bicycle – an e-bike. Power assisted means that you have to pedal; you can’t ride it like a motorbike or moped. Over 15.5 mph you’re on your own as the motorised assistance ceases at that speed. Above that you ride it like an ordinary pushbike. What sold me on the idea was a ride I did round the 38 mile Isle of Man TT Mountain Circuit a few weeks ago, a ride I wrote about here and which I could not have done on any of my conventional road bikes. I did a fair bit of the ride at over 15.5 mph so unassisted and reached speeds of over 30mph freewheeling down the mountain but made shameless use of the electric motor up the 7 mile mountain climb. It also makes hill starts and setting off quickly and smoothly in traffic much easier and controlled.
The other thing that prompted me to look into e-bikes was an experience I had a few weeks ago riding with my friend David in the hilly terrain around Settle and Bolton-by-Bowland over the Lancashire border. We only managed 26 miles and David, apart from on the flat and downhill, David was soft pedalling up all the hills or waiting for me. I had to get off on several occasions and walk for a bit to recover my breathing and heart rate on the steeper climbs. Depsite this being a ride long planned and looked forward to I’m sorry to say that on the whole it was not a pleasant experience. To put this in perspective David is 76 and, unlike me, has never given up cycling even doing the odd time trial up unto a year or two ago. Also he is only 11 stone compared with my 14 stone. Combine this with the fact that he is certainly able to produce as much power as me and probably more, the difference in our up hill performance is obvious, especially since I was suffering from the effects of a long term cold. Never-the-less, to match David I would either have to lose another 3 stone or increase my power by about 33% none of which is likely.
It’s the hills that are the killer for me and even though I’m OK one the flat or mildly undulating roads a hilly ride means I run out of energy quite quickly. The e-bike will allow me to enjoy longer leisure rides than I am capable of on my conventional bikes. My limit at the moment seems to be about 35 miles, less on hilly terrain and I’m often knackered when I get home. In fact often the last few miles are hardly pleasurable at all. I’m hoping this can still improve but I will never get back to the sorts or beautiful rides I had in my teens, 20s and 30s. I posted a picture here sometime ago of a certificate I got in the early 1980s for a CTC event covering 240 miles in 24 hours. At 72 those days are long gone. I used to cycle from Leeds to Burnsall in the Yorkshire Dales on Saturday mornings and be back for lunch! Now I can just about do a trip to Bingley 5 Rise lock to the café and back along the canal! With my e-bike 50 mile round trips like Burnsall will be back on the agenda. I will also be able to use the bike to visit friends who live too far away to cycle to and get there without being a sweaty mess and needing a lie down when I arrive. And I will still be getting exercise through cycling but will be in control of just how much effort I want to make rather than this being dictated by the hills and wind. It also means I can wrap up properly against cold and rain as with the power assistance I won’t be marinating in my own juices when the going gets tough.
I can’t think of a downside to this decision for me but time will tell. I’ll let you know what problems I have if any.
Last week we went to the Isle of Man with friends and while we were there I hired an e-bike to ride round the TT motorcycle race course, the Mountain circuit. I hired the bike for a day from The Green Wheelers Electric Bike Company at the Sea Terminal at Douglas who I can thoroughly recommend. When I picked up the bike it took about 5 minutes to have everything explained to me. Basically, you ride it like a normal bike. You use the gears as normal – lower gears on hills and at low speed, higher gears on the flat or downhill at higher speeds. The bike I hired had 9 gears I think (I forgot to count them!) and I only had levers on the right handlebar as the bike had a single chain wheel. The electric motor (250 watts) was controlled by a small unit with a display operated by my left hand. There were two big easy to use buttons marked + and – which cycled through the various ‘assistance’ modes. Smaller buttons were to turn the motor on and off and to vary the information displayed – time on the move, current speed, average speed and so on. The display also showed how much of your battery charge you had left and which of the assistance modes you are in.
Most e-bikes in the UK are described as ‘pedelecs’. This means that they don’t go anywhere under motor alone. This would make it a electric motorbike. Apart from freewheeling (when the motor turns off anyway) the bike won’t go anywhere if you’re not pedaling. The motor will assist your pedaling, not replace it. It does this by increasing the power you are producing through the pedals by a percentage. In ‘eco’ mode (in which the battery will last longest) the power you produce is increased by 40%. I can pedal along quite comfortably on a bike producing about 120 watts of power. In eco mode this would be increased to nearly 170 watts without any further effort by me. The other assistance modes are ‘tour’ (100% increase), ‘sport’ (170%) and ‘turbo’ (250%). So using the turbo assist my 120 watts would be increased to 420 watts, the sort of power a top professional cyclist would use climbing an alpine climb!
Obviously the battery life varies with how much assistance you use. When I rode round the Isle of Man TT circuit I used mainly the ‘eco’ assist mode and only used the ‘tour’ mode on the 12 kilometre climb. For this section I averaged about 9 mph and probably pushed myself up to 150 watts or so. Without the assistance I would have worked much harder and probably would have to have stopped a couple of times on the way up. I tried the sport and turbo modes briefly to see what they were like and it reminded me of how I used to ride at the height of my racing career in my 20s! However, I stayed in eco mode most of the time as I wanted a good workout. I rode 45 miles altogether as I took a detour off the circuit at Tynwald to meet friends in Peel for lunch. At the end of the ride I had used about 80% of the battery. It would probably last about 70 miles on eco.
Another thing that helps battery life is that the motor turns off at 15.5 mph (25 kph). On the flat or wind assisted I was bowling along at 17 or so mph. On the long descent of the mountain I was over 30 mph most of the time, touching 40. With a little practice on normal undulating roads you can keep the speed just under the 15.5 mph and ‘surf’ the motor. This makes riding very easy indeed. This has been described as feeling like your dad is riding beside you with his hand on the back of your saddle. Others have said it’s like the hills have been flattened out. For me it was like I was 45 years younger!
The bike I hired was a heavy mountain bike and the technology, motor and battery, have already been superseded. None-the-less it was impressive. There are many excellent off road routes on the Isle of Man for which it would have been ideal. When the day comes for me to buy an e-bike I will probably buy a lighter more road orientated version that would be easier to ride as a conventional bike. If the battery had run out on my hired mountain bike it would have been very hard work to get it home under my own power.