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  • Writer's pictureThe Guardian

Power through your work commute on an electric bike

by Simon Birch

When it comes to commuting Philip Dalton has seen the light, or more precisely the electric light. The 44-year-old film producer from Lower Godney in Somerset is the latest convert to electric bikes, the two-wheeled commuting revolution storming across the UK.

Dalton verges on the evangelical when describing how, by ditching the car in favour of his electric bike (or e-bike as their devotees call them), he’s transformed his daily 56-mile round-trip commute to Bristol. “I’ve got to get across the Mendips where there are some big hills to climb,” he says. “The e-bike is brilliant as it helps me keep a good speed climbing up the hills, meaning that when I get to work I’m not exhausted. It’s almost as fast as taking the car, plus it’s a great way to start the day. I love it.”

What exactly, then, is an e-bike? In essence it is a regular bike that has been pimped up by adding a battery, an electric motor and some hi-tech gadgetry on the handlebars. The motor kicks in automatically as soon as you start pedalling, although some models let you choose when the motor starts, and you can alter how much help you get. So when you’re flagging and need some extra va-va-voom it’s there in an instant, rather like you’ve just acquired Chris Hoy’s legs.

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But you can’t just let the motor do all the hard work, as e-bikes are neither mini scooters nor mopeds. For e-bikes to be road legal in the UK the motor can only kick in once you start pedalling and will cut out once you hit 15mph. Yes, you’ll be able to go faster by either pedalling like the clappers or freewheeling downhill, but the point is that this will be down to your own effort and not that of the motor. The battery will usually let you cycle anything from 10-100 miles depending on the model, and unlike electric cars if the worst does happen and you run out of juice you can still get home using pedal power.

You don’t need a licence to ride an e-bike or pass any kind of test, and you are not legally obliged to wear a helmet, though you would be wise to do so.

Of course many people take up cycling to get fitter, but given that you’ve got a motor to help you whizz up the steepest of hills, can an e-bike really help you shift those unwanted pounds? “Most definitely,” says Dalton. “You still need to make some effort on an e-bike, but you can manage the amount of help you get. If I’m not feeling that energetic then I can use more power, but if I’m up for it I can use less.

“In the four months I’ve been using my e-bike I’ve got much fitter without really noticing it and don’t have to waste time at the gym because I’ve had my workout getting to the office.”

The big difference between e-bikes and regular bikes, though, comes with the cost – as most decent e-bikes are priced at upwards of $3,000. “There’s a lot of cheap tat out there and e-bikes under $1800 just aren’t worth it,” says Chris Moody from the Electric Bike Sales shop in Bristol.

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