Huge advances in e-bike technology mean that this odd-ball of the cycling world is having a moment. We find out why they might be a key part of the solution for Bristol’s traffic problems and meet the city’s early adopters.
Bristol is a city well-known for its hilly terrain – from the aptly named Totterdown, where residents of Vale Street have almost a 22-degree gradient to contend with, as well as the occasional skier in particularly wintry weather, to Marlborough or ‘Heart Attack’ Hill, connecting Kingsdown to the city centre. For those trying to forego the car and commute in and out by foot or bike, the local landscape can be far more exercise than they bargained for; especially if you live in Lodge Hill, our highest point at 369 feet.
But now the next generation of electric bikes – lighter, cheaper and even more energy efficient – are making the idea of biking through the city, even up its steepest hills, feel like a breeze. “Traffic jams, parking, pollution and ill health are four key problems facing us all in the modern world,” says Philip Adkins, director of the annual city-centre cycling race Bristol Grand Prix. “There are few tools that can take on all of these problems with aplomb, but the e-bike is most definitely one of them – providing a city-wide commuting and travel option that is cheaper, faster and cleaner than a car.”
Over the last two years, e-bikes have seen a dramatic increase in popularity, accounting for more than one in 10 of all bikes sold across Europe (according to pedelec.com), an increase in sales of over 20% year on year (statistic courtesy of bike-eu.com).
“Alistair Machardy of Atmosphere Electric Bikes, Bristol’s first e-bike specialist, was inspired to start selling them 10 years ago, by the daily traffic queues outside his shop at the bottom of Jacob’s Wells Road,” continues Philip. “The ‘traditional’ e-bike manufacturers, such as Haibike, still retain the majority of the market with commuter-style, functional bikes. However, other, more well known, bike manufacturers, including Trek, Specialized and Giant, have seen the way that the wheels of change are spinning and have advanced e-bikes dramatically.”
Cycling’s biggest players have mountain, road and commuter e-bikes as part of their range. 2017 even saw Team Sky’s bike sponsor, Pinarello, launch an e-bike that is not that different in appearance to their standard models as ridden by none other than Chris Froome.
“While dodging traffic jams is the prerogative of the cyclist, arriving at work dishevelled and needing a shower is not so practical,” adds Philip. “The e-bike takes away some of the harder work of Bristol’s hilly streets, providing a healthier, less sweaty and more practical transport option for even the beginner cyclist. Easily transportable, rechargeable and seemingly a cure-all for 21st-century inner city traffic problems. Image courtesy of Brompton Electric.
“They’ve been championed by many members of the city council as low-cost, healthy transport options, including ex-Bristol mayor George Ferguson,” he tells us. “Leonardo di Caprio is also well known for riding an e-bike, although he hasn’t yet been spotted on Jacob’s Wells Road or Park Street…”
With as little as four pence worth of electricity covering 120 miles, e-bikes are also far healthier for the environment. Detachable batteries are a useful security feature and mean that you can charge your bike wherever you are, without the trouble of finding a parking space. “E-bikes can also provide great physical and mental therapy for rehabilitation and lifestyle change,” says Philip. “The motor assists the rider, encouraging muscle movement and adventure with only part of the effort required for a normal bike. It can also be a useful back-up should your fitness fall short of your ambition.”
Finding alternatives to using the car in our city centre is something we need to tackle head-on, with levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution often exceeding the legal limits in several parts of Bristol, according to reports; and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs putting out a warning that the city was to reach its highest level of air pollution back in September 2017.
But there are positive signs. “We’ve had an average 30% increase in sales every single year since we opened seven years ago,” says David Tod, owner of e-bike specialist Take Charge Bikes. Stocking more than 70 models and able to order in most brands, he’s sold battery-powered cycles to people from all walks of life and thinks parts of the South West are set to embrace the new technology in a big way.
“Earlier this year we sold six e-bikes to Bristol City Council for their workplace travel programme,” Jake Voelcker at Bristol Bicycles tells us, “and workplaces in the city can borrow an electric bike for free for up to six months to encourage their staff to cycle (check out bristolbicycles.co.uk/for-business). Bristol Bicycles e-bikes are ideal for this kind of workplace use because they look pretty smart, understated and business-like, and they are lighter than most e-bikes. Even if you need to carry a heavy laptop or lots of paperwork, it’s no problem because the electric motor helps with the weight. The scheme has proved so popular that the council ordered another 10 e-bikes from us a couple of months ago.”
Also pushing for change is transport minister Jesse Norman, who’s contemplating an e-bike version of the incentive given to those who buy electric cars; at present people buying electric cars receive up to £4,500 off the purchase price. But many locals are already converted, citing health benefits as just as key as the ecological ones. E-bikers will burn, on average, 350 calories an hour, and a recent Norwegian study, undertaken to better understand the intensity of exercise a cyclist gets from pedalling an e-bike, found they were almost as active as conventional cyclists, even when resting. Of course, going via peddle also means you don’t have to negotiate the city’s parking charges. “Once people try them, the benefits are so huge that they never look back,” says David Tod. “Who knows, in five years’ time we could give Amsterdam a run for its money.”
If it all sounds too good to be true, there are opportunities for you to find out for yourself. Better By Bike (betterbybike.info) and the Create Centre (createbristol.org) can both help you get involved with trying an e-bike, and there are even salary exchange schemes to help you get your first bike on the road. The e-bike makes cycling more practical and accessible than ever before and may even be able to turn your commute into a traffic free, money saving, health boosting pleasure. So leave the car at home and enjoy the freedom of the city…
Need to know
• You can buy one for as little as £600, for a no-frills commuter bike (expect a 25-mile run on a six-hour charge) to a to a limited edition Blacktrail BT-01 for a touch under £60,000.
• For a stylish ride, try the Faraday Cortland. Built to look like a Dutch roadster, it has an unobtrusive 306-watt-hour battery behind the seat and is lightweight at 42lbs. If you’re a fold-up fan, Brompton have just released their first electric bike with prices starting at £2,595.
• Riding an e-bike cost costs just 0.4p per mile, while a medium-sized diesel car costs 34p per mile. They can travel at up to 15.5mph with the motor on, and some bikes can cover 70 miles on a single charge.
• An e-bike is like a normal bike, with the addition of a built-in electric motor and battery. Riders still have to pedal, but the motor will kick in to help. E-bike batteries are much lighter in weight than they used to be, thanks to the introduction of lithium batteries.
• With the modern systems on e-bikes, you can choose how hard you want to work yourself and how much assistance you want from the bike. The electric motor won’t assist you when you’re travelling more than 25km (15.5mph) making it no more dangerous, speed-wise, than a conventional bike.
The anatomy of an e-bike
Model shown is the Trek Super Commuter 8+. One of the latest generation of e-bikes. Featuring the new Bosch 500 wH Powerpack battery and a powerful 250w CX motor which is fully integrated into the frame, RRP: £3,800.
1. Weight – Most e-bikes are heavier than traditional pedal bikes due to the added weight of the motor and the battery. On the road this is not a problem as the motor assists your ride. However it may be worth spending more on a lighter bike if you need to lift the bike regularly. e.g. if you live in an apartment.
2. Controller – Sensors constantly communicate ride data to a built in computer that calculates how and when torque is required, and then activate the motor to assist the rider.
3. LCD Display, and power indication – Depending on the bike, the power options, digital displays and switching will vary. Most now have a digital dashboard that will display things like speed, distance, power and battery life.
4. Battery – Top of the range e-bikes are now incorporating the latest Li-ion battery technology housed into the frame. Some can be charged in under two hours, and will have a range of 75Km on a single charge.
5. Lights – Many e-bikes now come with lights as standard built in equipment, powered directly by the main battery.
6. Brakes – Like traditional bikes, the braking options are generally disc or calliper. The latest in e-bike technology senses when the brakes are engaged and will cut the e-bike motor motor to increase safety.
7. Gears – Most e-bikes have gears. These are either traditional manual pedal bike gears operated by a gearshift on the handlebars, or fully automatic.
8. Motor – There are two main types of motor: hubdrive and crank-drive. Hub driven motors deliver power to the front or back wheel. Crank driven motors are housed in the frame and deliver power to the pedal crank.
9. Connectivity – The trend is now integrated connectivity with bluetooth chips built in and smartphone apps starting to become available, such as a find my bike app, map tracking and remote central locking and anti theft control.
For details visit: Mud Dock 40 The Grove, Bristol BS1 4RB.
Tel: 0117 929 2151 Web: mud-dock.com