Why choose an ELECTRIC bike? - an English view
Ten good reasons from A to B magazine...
1. Hill Climbing
That may sound obvious, but it's the primary advantage. A good electric bike effectively flattens hills, increasing your average speed and eliminating the 'groan' factor when a gradient comes into view. Provided you supply a reasonable amount of effort, you can expect to climb hills of 1 in 10 (10%) on an electric bike with ease, and clear a maximum gradient of 1 in 7 (14%), or much more. In hilly country, the effect is nothing short of miraculous
It sounds unlikely, doesn't it? But the mathematics is compelling. Think of a steep and busy road, with cars climbing at 30mph. If you previously slogged up the hill at 6mph, but can tackle the same gradient at 12mph with an electric bike, you will see 33% fewer cars, and they will pass you at 18mph rather than 24mph. Or at least, we think that's correct. Whatever the figures, there's no doubt that an electric bike helps to keep you out of danger. The same general principle applies to road junctions - the faster your acceleration, the sooner you can get out of trouble. And with no need to rush the hills, you won't be tempted to ride downhill at breakneck speed... another useful safety feature
3. Running Costs
Purchase cost is a little more than a conventional bike, mechanical wear and tear is about the same, and electricity is so cheap as to be largely irrelevant, but there is an extra expense in terms of battery depreciation. Consequently, an electric bike costs more to run - typically 5 - 8 pence per mile against 4.2 pence per mile for a non-assisted bike (a).
However, electric bike running costs should really be compared with those of a moped, or a car, when the electric bike replaces car mileage. With cars costing 50 - 80 pence per mile, an electric bike can save a great deal of money
4. Personal Fitness
Surely a conventional bike will keep you fitter? That, of course, depends how much - if at all - you use it. Research (b) has found that 46% of conventional bikes are used only once or twice a week, with a further 30% being used once a fortnight or even less. By contrast, a recent survey of electric bicycle owners reveals that a third ride their bike at least once a day and 81% use the bike at least once a week (c). The figures confirm our experience that an electric bike typically gets used at least twice as often as a conventional machine.
Because riding an electric bike is a great deal more enjoyable in hilly country, into strong winds, or when carrying heavy loads, users tend to make better use of them. The motor provides up to half the effort, but more regular use means more exercise for the rider
5. No Sweat!
Sweat may not be a serious issue when you're out for a leisure ride, but it's more important if you're cycling to work. Although some employers are rather grudgingly providing showers and other facilities for cyclists, the great majority have no intention of doing so. An electric bike eliminates the problem at source. Oddly enough, you won't sweat on an electric bike, even if you put in the same amount of effort as you do on an ordinary bike. This is because you will be going faster, and the 'wind chill' effect is greater, keeping you cool. In hot weather, it's possible to maintain a normal schedule by transferring a bit more load to the electric motor. In colder weather - or if you feel in need of exercise - just throttle back, or turn the motor off
6. Clean & Green
Electric bikes obviously consume energy, where a conventional bikes does not (provided we ignore the environmental cost of growing and processing food - see below). However, the amount of energy used is very small compared to a moped, motorcycle or car. Besides fuel, the only consumables are the batteries, and these can normally be recycled when life-expired. As for energy use, electric bikes typically consume fuel at an average rate of 100 to 150 watts of electrical energy, against 15,000 or so for a car (admittedly travelling faster, out of town at least). In terms of fuel consumption, an electric bike achieves about 800-2,000mpg (280 - 700 km/litre) (d). No other commercially available vehicle can match figures of this kind.
If it's hard to place these numbers in your own lifestyle, think of a 100 watt electric light bulb burning for an evening - that's enough energy to propel an electrically-assisted bike for 20 to 40 miles..
7. Genuinely Sustainable
There's a lot of nonsense talked about sustainability in transport, but an electric bicycle can be made genuinely sustainable. Purchase electricity from a 'green' supplier, or generate your own with a roof-mounted windmill or solar panel array, and the vehicles' fossil fuel consumption will be zero. Surely a conventional bike does that already? Only if you grow the food you consume whilst riding it. Unfortunately, most modern food production and distribution is so fuel-intensive that the consumption of a typical cyclist is not terribly good. To see this in practise, take a look at our Climate Change pages
8. Faster Travel
In theory a car can average a high speed, but in practise speed often falls below 10mph in cities. The problem is congestion - motorcycles get around this to some extent, but they're still confined to the road network. An electric bike can maintain a higher average speed than a bicycle but take advantage of the same network of cycle facilities, giving access to routes that cars and motorcycles cannot reach. The result is often a faster door-to-door journey time than any other mode. And by taking advantage of the uncongested cycle network, but eliminating hills and headwinds, electric bikes are often the most consistent mode of travel
9. High Resale Value
Electric bikes are new technology, and these are early days, but the evidence points to a much better resale value than a conventional bike. True, a typical electric bike costs more to buy, at £400-£1,000, but it seems you'll get most of that back if you sell the machine on
10. Motorised, but no Red Tape!
You know how it is... MOT due, log book missing, insurance costs rising year on year. Electric bikes are treated just like ordinary bicycles for legislative purposes, so there's absolutely no registration or legislation to worry about. You are of course free to insure the machine if you wish, but there's no compulsion to do anything but enjoy yourself!
(a) Conventional bike costs from London Cycling Campaign. Additional electric bike running costs from A to B magazine data
(b) Transport Research Laboratory report: 'New Cycle Owners - Expectations and Experiences' (Davies and Hartley 1998)
(c) Leeds University report: 'The New Generation of Private Vehicles in the UK. Should their use be encouraged and can they attract drivers of conventional cars?' (Neil Guthrie 2001)
(d) A to B magazine Issue 14 (October 1999)