By Peter Thompson

I HAVE been riding an e-bike for a couple of months and offer these observations for readers who are considering buying one.

Most obviously, the bikes weigh close to double a decent road bike, so the feel, the balance, the centre of gravity, the momentum and the responsiveness are all completely different, and take a bit of getting used to. The weight isn’t a problem for the traffic light Grand Prix, or on hills, because the power assistance does much more than compensate. But loading an e-bike on to a car roof carrier could be tricky.

The power assistance is modulated, according to the speed of travel, power setting selected, the gear in use, and how hard and fast one pedals; this works fine, but the assistance progressively reduces from about 15mph, and cuts out altogether at around 17mph (by law). On a flattish road, an enthusiastic rider would simply be pedalling a very heavy piece of inert machinery. So, an e-bike commute, say from Cutteslowe to the city centre, would likely be slower, and harder work than on a half-decent road bike. This can either be frustrating or better exercise than riding a road bike, depending on your point of view! Of course, you can just relax and cruise at 15mph up hill and down dale.

Talking of hills, e-power completely takes the sting out of hills like Headington Hill or Headley Way. Even picking strawberries at Stanton St John is no strain. On downhills the weight and stability seem to make descents faster, too – I have hit 32mph. Very effective hydraulic disk brakes inspire confidence.

Another novelty is hub gears – a winner in my book for this kind of bike, for the instant gear shift, constant chain alignment and elimination of a vulnerable derailleur mechanism. The Nexus unit seems bomb-proof, 8 ratios are more than enough, and any weight penalty is irrelevant with power assistance.

Travel range, is pretty unpredictable, though the display shows both remaining charge and estimated range availability. If you pedal hard, or ride at 17mph or above, you can go forever. But successive steep hills would, I guess, reduce the range to around 20 miles. We find re-charging (from a 13amp socket) about every 2 weeks, seems sensible, but the batteries have never been more than 50% discharged. Suffice to say, range isn’t an issue in normal daily use, but might be on, say, a touring holiday.

There is no battery regeneration on downhills, like, say, with a e-car, which is probably sensible, since it allows the bike to run free (no resistance from the motor), and regeneration is apparently very inefficient anyway. Incidentally, the batteries can be recharged on or off the bikes, and can be taken off the bikes quite easily, so a power supply to the bike shed is not essential.

Incidental benefits? Built-in lights, powered off the main battery; built-in luggage capacity.

The big question everyone asks is “What did it cost?” The answer is around 3-4 times the price of an equivalent leg-bike. But that’s probably 1/5th or less than the cost of a car, and an e-bike has definite potential to get people out of cars. Or to keep old folks like us out of cars. It is much healthier, eliminates parking problems and the terrors of hills and headwinds, and makes transporting the shopping easy. But its value does mean you need an even bigger lock than ever!