Firstly I have to say I have an axe to grind. I run a specialist business selling electric bikes. To really get things on the table let’s set the scene. Sale of e-bikes is the fastest growing sector in the UK bike industry. In Germany one in every three full sized bikes sold is an e-bike. Over 50 per cent of the bike industry turnover in the Benelux countries is attributed to power assisted bikes. So this is not a fringe ‘fad’ thing for sad old people who can’t make an effort or are past being able to ‘do it right’. E-bikes are here, are growing and are in use, like mobile phones, shopping centres, emails and tablets.
I will run through a much-heard script…
-“I sell electric bikes”
-“That’s cheating isn’t it?”
-“Not really. Do you cycle and if so do you enjoy it?”
-“Regularly? When did you last cycle?”
-“Well not much this year”
You find that the alleged keen cyclist, keen to dismiss electric bikers as ‘cheats’ doesn’t cycle at all and hasn’t for many years. They often carry a fair bit of weight and could do with exercise, any exercise, urgently.
So who benefits from electric bikes? Anybody. Even keen road or mountain bikers have other halves who are reluctant to cycle, but would welcome e assist. In this way the keenie can have cycling away breaks, days out, family outings, etc, and not feel guilty about going off and doing their own thing.
E-bikes enable people to rediscover cycling, reduce commuting cost and get around day-to-day for shopping, visiting friends or popping down to the pub.
There is no ‘stigma’ and do not need apology and shame attached. How better than to be out and about, independent and energised sooner than sit in front of a TV, sit in a car, bus or train? Please do not damn the category and users as the people who buy, use and enjoy e-bikes. They are savvy, out there and enjoy them. These days they also look cool and are brimful of clever technology which enables you to benefit from as much or as little e assist as you need. Pedal as normal with no assist on flat terrain then choose for more when you get on a more severe hill. The e power pedal assist enables you to flatten your ride but still get the benefit and exhilaration of exercise.
If someone is a lapsed cyclist or carries a niggling injury e-bikes are ideal for getting going again and rediscovering the joys of cycling – without the barriers and pain. ‘Real’ cyclists boast of miles covered, equipment, bought and tales of daring do. These active fit cyclists may not be the primary market for electric bikes but their scathing dismissiveness of electric bikes is damaging and (dare I say it) comes from a form of sheer arrogance.
There I have got it off my chest. The e-bike put downer (snob) does not exist on the continent. Mum, Dad, Grannie, Grandpa, daughter, son, Aunty, Uncle and even the dog and playgroup children all use bikes. They are fitter, lighter, have more vitality and save money on their travels. No cars to park, no petrol, maintenance, insurance, depreciation...
I love it when people say “it’s cheating” because then I am able to let them have it with both barrels. When I have finished my rant they probably still have their views and think of the shame and difficulty of declaring that they have “one foot in the grave” if they bought an electric bike. Funnily when they try an e-bike they say: “I didn’t think it would be as good as this”. An electric bike cannot be imagined only experienced. Go on, make my day!
Ray Wookey runs Cycling Made Easy, a specialist independent electric bike store based in Coulsdon, Surrey.
t. 020 8660 8823