Electric bicycles have the potential to revolutionise the way many people relate to their ability to use a bicycle for general transport and utility. These machines “cross the gap” between driving a car and non power-assist cycling, and provide a great gateway experience for those looking to get into cycling for daily transport.
By giving a degree of assistance - distance, hills and loads seem less intense. The ability to ride quickly to a destination without getting overly hot can be quite appealing. In addition, with the right equipment, shopping and errands become all the more easier.
However, despite all this, unlike in the rest of the word, electric bicycles have been slow to catch on in Australia. Why is this so? What are the barriers to getting more people to consider using a power assisted electric bike? What can be done to make the use of the electric bicycle a viable and mainstream travel option?
With these questions in mind I have embarked on a week long trial of an electric bicycle and an accompanying shopping trailer.
The trial is being run to look at both those new to cycling who may not have considered an electric bike, and those with regular experience of conventional bicycles. For those of you who don't know me, I very much fall into the latter. I own a number of bicycles for different purposes and enjoy riding them as much as possible. I live with my partner and our three children (aged between 5 and 16) in a car-free household. I have, however, had only a limited exposure to electric bikes – but have been considering the purchase of one – one that would suit a variety of riders (heights) and trip uses. I have even considered building one up from scratch, or using one of my cargo bikes (like the Xtracycle) with a front wheel motor.
So, for the trial I have been given an Urban Mover UM44 – a fairly unisex machine, with upright ‘sit up and beg’ European style handlebars and a My Smart Trolley shopping trailer. The idea is that I will use the bike this week – my daughter Chrissy and partner Sophia are also keen to put the bike through its paces. Both the bike and trailer came from Mic Chapman.
So, I can report from day one of the trial that I was pleasantly surprised. I did a couple of modifications to the bike as soon as I got it. One was to swap out the seat post and seat that came with it (the post was WAY too short and the seat was WAY too wide) and put in the seat post of my city / hybrid bike (thanks cycling Gods for smiling on me – the seat posts were the same width – what is the chance of that!!), and zip tied a basket on the back. I wanted to make it approx exactly the same as my normal bike in set up.
One thing that I can report concerns the weight of the bike. I’ve seen comments in the past about the weight of electric bikes, that they are heavy and cumbersome. The UM44 is positively nimble. It has 700c wheels and semi slick tyres with a really nice rider position. While obviously not as light as a road bike – it is certainly lighter than my Xtracycle, and the battery, being a 26v 9Ah Lithium weighs about as much as a laptop. Also, the charger is really light and small- so effectively it could be taken with you to work etc. to recharge the battery during the day.
I got the bike on Friday morning, rode to North Adelaide for a lunch meeting, then to Hindley Street via the Linear Park, into Rundle Mall to do some shopping, then over to Unley to pick my daughter up from school.
She got tot ride it home and absolutely LOVED it. The look on her face as she took off with the motor kicking in was priceless. For us riding together (as we do a fair bit) it would make the ride more equal – I get frustrated having to ride slowly and stop and wait for her, and she does not like it when I ride ahead. I also expect that it would make riding when the weather is either quite hot, or cold and wet, a slightly more enjoyable experience (we will see with the wet weather forecast this week!)
So, my first impressions are good – the bike is easy to use, straightforward to ride and seemingly well built. I am looking forward to riding it to work on Monday and showing it off to my colleagues.
Now I am about to hook up the shopping trailer and go for a ride to the shops. Should be interesting – might practice folding it up and down a few times!