By Alison Hill

STEVE Unwin, Cyclox member and a volunteer with Wheels for All Oxford and Broken Spoke Co-op, gave an inspiring talk about electric bikes to a packed house at one of Cyclox’s regular meetings.

One of the questions he posed was ‘Are Electric Bikes Cheating?’ This is a question that is frequently asked. Isn’t it cheating to get on a bike that is electrically assisted? Aren’t they more like mopeds or scooters than bikes?

Steve convinced us that this is not the case.

Electric bikes are also called e-bikes, power assisted cycles, and pedelecs. Electric bikes are pedal-assist, which means they use a small electric motor to boost the power created by your own pedalling. The bikes also include an electronic controller so the motor does not assist when the rider is not pedalling, or when your speed exceeds 16mph. So to get anywhere on an electric bike requires muscle power. These features mean they are classified as bicycles rather then motorised vehicles.

Steve informed us about research that supports the argument that electric bikes are not cheating. A US study demonstrated that riders do indeed get an “effective workout” and the health benefits associated with pedal powered bikes. A Norwegian study of eight electric bike users aged 23-54 concluded that assisted cycling is far from cheating, by demonstrating that the riders made physical exertion “95 per cent of the time”.

E-bikes do make cycling easier, as they require less effort, but they enable you to cycle further and more frequently. Hills and headwinds, in particular, are a challenge to many people on pedal bikes, making a ride an endurance challenge and taking the joy out of a journey. Distance is also a deterrent. But hills, headwinds and longer distances are much less of a deterrent if you own an electric bike so cycling becomes a practical alternative to getting into your car or on to public transport. Steve says he uses his electric bicycle for many urban journeys instead of driving – and it is much more pleasant.

Steve describes cycling on an e-bike as like having a tail wind all the time. Electric assistance lets you choose the level of effort you put in irrespective of the terrain or weather conditions. Modern day e-bikes have a range of up to 75 miles, so there is little risk of running out of battery charge.

E-bikes allow many people to make journeys that they are unable to make by ordinary pedal bikes. Those with disabilities and older people, in particular, are examples of people for whom e-bikes create a unique opportunity for independent travel. But the same applies to anyone who finds cycling challenging. Steve described a range of other people who are turning to e-bikes. These include commuters, parents transporting children, couples where they cycle at different speeds, Brompton users, paramedics and policemen. And Oxford’s Pedal and Post, who do last mile deliveries, is now trialling e-cargo-bikes.

I give the final words to the leader of the county council, Ian Hudspeth. He lives in Bladon, and has discovered the wonders of the e-bike, thanks to Broken Spoke who leant one to him: “The pleasure of pedalling along the A44 at 16mph without exerting too much energy meant that I arrived at my office ready and able to start work.”