After sales of e-bikes grew at Halfords by 220% in 2016, the company declared that 2017 would be the ‘year of the e-bike’. So what are they and why should you consider one?
Back to basics – the e-bike
To be classed as an ‘e-bike’ the machine has to have a pedal assist motor. These are not e-mopeds where you sit and pull a throttle to go. E-bikes look like normal bicycles, except for a battery usually mounted inside the frame and a motor and gearing system around the pedal crankshaft. You will find a computer control system on the handlebars too.
On riding one you will find that your start is feather light so you can go very quick from a standing start at a roundabout – speed often being the best defence against vehicles that may not have spotted you. You will also find that you can climb far steeper hills than when you were on a pedal bike, and you can travel far greater distances without breaking a sweat. Your writer has ridden one – it blew his mind!
For the London commuter, this means that you can travel a greater distance without needing to change or have a shower at the office, and you can get from a-b far more quickly than by car in perpetually congested Central London.
They are limited by law to 25km/h (15.5mph) and when you reach that speed (perhaps on a hill you know and love) the pedal assist system will cut out and all your speed is from your spinning legs.
The chief drawback is the cost by comparison to normal, expensive end bicycles. A low-end e-bike is going to cost at least £1500 and you can spend as much money as you like from there – how about a Swiss made, £5,000 Stromer ST1 X? Folding bike giants Brompton will begin making a low end e-bike in 2018 for £2000 (far more than that if you want), although you can fold it up and put it in a briefcase as part of the deal…
Here’s a hard figure for the car driver: an Evans Cycles survey of 2,000 cyclists suggested that a car driver switching to an e-bike for commuting could save £7791 over five years. Most people would notice an extra £1600 in their bank every year.
Let’s look at some figures
There have been headlines about growth of the e-bike market in the UK. We mentioned that Halfords saw 220% growth in 2016. Statistics hide a lot of things. What if that meant that Halfords sold 220 bikes across the UK after only selling one in 2015?
The actual figures of e-bikes are promising but not huge. According to cycle industry magazine Bike EU, the national sales figures for e-bikes hit around 35,000 units in 2016. Martin Brown, director of E-Bikeshop, told Bike EU, “I think the UK market hasn’t even seen the big ‘boom’ yet, as sales continue to grow at a fast pace. E-bikes are becoming more familiar and understood by the nation. I predict that in the next 18 – 24 months we’ll see a sharp spike similar to what particular countries on the continent have experienced.”
While 35,000 is a steady figure, it doesn’t quite match that of the Netherlands, where one in three bikes sold in 2016 were e-bikes. In the UK, 3 million bikes are sold every year, so we have some way to go before 30,000 e-bike sales reaches anything comparing to the Netherlands – a million would have to be sold annually to match that.
A final word
You look at buying a new hybrid or electric powered car and you’re not going to part with much less than £30,000 for a mid-range one. If you’re not into turning up at the office rosy faced and glowing on a standard bike yet want to save the world by going electric, you’re far more likely to find £2,000 for an e-bike than you will a mid-range e-car. E-bikes could make life a lot easier than driving, and now’s the time to start looking!