To 'e' or not to 'e'
Martin belongs of our Over 55s cycling group. Here he tells us why switching to an e bike has changed his life.
I have recently bought an electric bike: it has transformed my life. Here’s my personal account of the why’s and how’s as it may be relevant to other people, especially those who may be quite a bit older than 55 and experiencing similar challenges to my own.
Why did I switch to an e bike?
I’m over 70 and have been cycling since I was six. In the past 30 years I’ve rediscovered the joys of longer distance cycling, in particular long canal towpath rides (e.g. London to Birmingham), but an increasingly painful arthritic knee has meant that my bike has been left un-ridden for the best part of 2019. Slightly wary of e bikes, I tried some out at the recent display at Filton and was totally convinced. So here are some thoughts that lay behind my decision-making:
Things to consider when choosing an e bike
My initial doubts centred on cost and weight.
Most e bikes I seemed to see were at least in four figures. Now they can be had from £500 or less. In the event I placed an ‘alert’ on Bristol Gumtree and one came up, a year old, which I bought for £380.
E bikes can be very heavy. This is principally due to the weight of the motor and the battery. Neither can be dispensed with. However, many e bikes I’d seen had front suspension forks which add considerable extra weight. I have no need of such things, and was able to find one without them.
The weight issue was also a problem for me as I like to pop my existing bike on to a rack and drive to where I want to start a ride. There is no way I can lift an e bike onto a rack. The answer? The one I bought is a folding bike and fits in the boot of my small Toyota Yaris.
What about the weight in ordinary cycling?
I admit to not having thought this through properly beforehand. Once you are moving, the weight is actually no longer a problem – even with the power turned off. To take a parallel: freight trains are hauled by diesel locomotives, whose power is measured in lbs. of maximum tractive effort. Once a 2,000-ton train is moving, the required tractive effort drops dramatically; at operating speed a diesel loco is using no more than 20% of its power.
Same with a bike: we know it’s a struggle to ‘get going’ and after that we don’t pedal so hard. An e bike takes strain off that initial ‘getting going’, and for someone with an arthritic knee, this was the solution.
Even so, the weight of an e bike may be problematic for some – just the manhandling into a shed, lifting over a pavement, propping up, etc., so it’s not just about the riding.
Drawbacks and quirks
I’ve not yet discovered any drawbacks - but plenty of quirks:
- E bike batteries left in a cold garage will die (temporarily). They should be kept at room temperature. Builders find this with their battery operated tools, so it’s not just e bikes.
- E bikes are, of course, only electrically assisted, so you have to keep pedalling – even lightly – otherwise the motor will stop and will actually feel as if it is braking.
- Beware: in slow moving traffic don’t get too close to the car in front, as the slightest pedal will shoot you forward! I have had several occasions when I’ve narrowly avoided a rear-end shunt.
For under £400 I have a bike that I’ve fallen in love with: I've been out on it every day - even in winter. As I remarked earlier, it has transformed my life. I think an e bike is well worth considering if normal cycling is becoming problematic for you.
Martin Firth, April 2020