Many people in Surrey would love to cycle but don't. They yearn for the wind in their hair and to glide past traffic. However they don't want to huff, puff and sweat their way over the steep inclines of the Surrey Hills or the North Downs. Does that describe how you feel? If so, an electric bike is for you. Here's a beginners' guide from Surrey-based electric bike specialist, Cycling Made Easy.
I've never heard of electric bikes. What are they like?
Imagine being on the ground floor. There are two routes to go upstairs; a staircase and an escalator.
Walking up the stairs would be like cycling a traditional bike. Your legs provide all the power to get to your destination. Standing on an escalator is like sitting in a car or on a scooter. The motor alone moves your forward.
You can also walk up the escalator. That's like an electric bike. The effort is shared between your legs and the motor. This leaves you with the energy to tackle steeper inclines or longer journeys than you could otherwise.
How do they work?
The Motor: Electric bikes are pedal bikes which have an intelligent, electric motor fitted over the wheel hub or integrated with the frame where it meets the pedals. As the rider pedals, the motor takes on some of the effort of cycling. The amount the motor does for you depends on how hard the rider pedals and on the power setting that the rider chooses. You may choose to turn off the motor.
The Battery: E-bikes mostly use lithium-ion batteries. These can be plugged into the mains and charged like a laptop or mobile phone. Depending on the model, they will take 3-5 hours to charge fully. The amount of electricity used is surprisingly small – between 5 and 10 pence worth.
Who uses electric bikes?
Lots of people! Sales of electric bikes in Europe grew from 100,000 sold in 2006 to 850,000 sold in 2012. In China, 200 million have been sold! There is a misconception that electric bikes are for older people only but in Germany and the Netherlands, where half of all bicycles sold are electric, everybody seems to enjoy e-bikes.
Where can I use one?
Roads: Electric bikes may be used on British roads. The motors are capped at 15mph which means that by law, they are classed as bicycles and not motorbikes. So, no licence is needed to ride one. You must be over 14-year-old to ride one on the road though.
Trains: Folding electric bikes may be taken on the train network at any time, even at peak times, provided they are folded.
Off-road: There are also electric mountain bikes so you
can enjoy the boost from an e-bike while charging over rough terrain.
How much are they?
Prices vary depending on the model. The least expensive, reliable electric bike will start at £700. E-bikes with better features will range between £1000-£2500.
Will an electric bike save me money?
E-bikes are a great way to save money. There are no insurance, road tax or petrol bills to pay and they are also exempt from London's congestion charge. You can park them anywhere you'd park a conventional bike so expensive parking tickets won't be a problem either.
If you travel to work by train, stopping a few stations early and cycling the rest of the way on an e-bike will also reduce the price of your commute.
Will an e-bike get me fit? Isn't it cheating?
No, it's not cheating – unless you're in a race with non-electric bikes. It is definitely not cheating if the alternative is to sit idle in a car.
The great advantage of an e-bike in getting people fit is that you don't feel drained after every ride. You get active but not exhausted. Studies show that e-cyclists use their bikes up to five times more than people with conventional bikes. The extra cycling means extra calories burned.
Can I try one?
If you're in the Surrey area, the electric bike specialist, Cycling Made Easy, in Coulsdon do accompanied test rides for free. Contact them directly to arrange one: 020 8660 8823.
Electric Bikes Guildford is based in the centre of Guildford and stocks an extensive range of electric hybrid, mountain, Dutch and folding bikes. They offer free delivery and test rides on all the bikes which can be purchased using the Cycle to Work Scheme. Telephone: 01483 808765.