Two Wheels, October 24, 2014

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Several people have asked me recently what I think about electric bicycles. The purist in me can’t really see the point. What’s the point of buying a bicycle if it has a motor? Why not just buy an electric moped?

For me, the whole point of riding a bike is doing it by your own effort. If I’d had a little electric motor pushing me up those hills I wrote about last week I wouldn’t have felt so pleased with myself at the top, would ?

Electric-assisted bikes also tend to be heavy and expensive (although a lot cheaper than a car or motorbike). They also need regular charging as even the best only have a range of about 50 miles.

Even their most ardent enthusiasts are somewhat muted after pedalling a 30kg bike with a flat battery back from Hunstanton!

On the other hand, after a long day in the saddle, up a hill with a headwind, just sometimes I like the idea of flicking a switch and getting a bit of a boost.

Electric bikes have come a long way over the last decade: they’re lighter; the batteries last longer and charge quicker; and the controls are easier to use than early models.

Many people who would have had to give up cycling for health reasons have found a new lease of cycling life, and are often able to keep riding rather that jump back in the car or the bus. For that reason alone I think they’re a good thing.

A word of warning though – there are strict laws governing what is, and what isn’t, legal. To be still legally treated as a bicycle, an electrically-assisted cycle (often referred to as a ‘pedelec’) must be capable of being pedalled, it must not be electrically powered at over 15mph (if you want to go faster you’ll have to pedal) and the maximum output of the motor must be 200 watts or less. It must also weigh less than 40kg – although I can’t imagine anyone wanting to ride a bike that heavy!

If the bike doesn’t meet those criteria it’s classed as a moped and has to be insured and the rider must hold a driving licence, have insurance and wear an approved motorcycle helmet.

A pedelec is allowed anywhere a normal pedal cycle is, so you can ride it on roads or cycleways (although obviously not on pavements!). An electric moped is NOT allowed on any cycle path. Many are ridden on cycleways, and although this rule may seem academic it certainly won’t be if you’re involved in a collision.

For me, for the foreseeable future I’ll stick to good old muscle power but when (hopefully many years hence) my old legs start to struggle on the hills I dare say I’ll embrace modern technology and go for a human-electric hybrid.

Better that than stop riding!