This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 137.
I was given the chance to try out a ‘pedelec’, an electrically-assisted pedal cycle, fromCambridge Electric Transport Ltd last summer. The experience has positively changed my life. Initially, I didn’t think that I needed a pedelec because I live 2.5 miles away from the city centre, I have been regularly cycling within Cambridge for years and I think that I have a fairly ‘normal’ fitness level. The tipping point came after I twisted my ankle while running, which caused me some pain during subsequent cycling. I have had the pedelec since then and found that it fits my everyday needs, and my attitude towards it has completely changed.
Contrary to my original expectations, riding a pedelec gives me exercise. The immediate intensity is slightly lower but that is easily balanced out by how much more often I ride. The feeling is great: I can go places with the grace and reliability of cycling, I don’t get stuck in traffic, I don’t have to think about changing clothes, and the experience is quiet and relaxing compared to a noisy motorcycle or car.
Electrically-assisted pedal cycles are allowed to provide motor power up to a speed of 15.5mph, which puts me closer to the front of traffic instead of trailing behind. I am able to overtake people who pedal more slowly and cars caught in congestion, which is a new experience for me. This has changed my behaviour: now for utility purposes I always prioritise cycling when going anywhere around Cambridge, my average speed has increased without sweating, climbing Castle Street is no longer a problem and I don’t miss my old hybrid bike at all. I did need to adjust myself to the power assistance and my enhanced capabilities on the road. More advanced (and expensive) control systems are available that carefully modulate motor power in direct response to rider effort and are easier to use.
- Avoids expense of driving, parking, buses, taxis, etc.
- Cycling becomes more enjoyable.
- Opens up more kinds of trips for cycling.
- More expensive than a conventional bike.
- The battery and motor add weight.
- Have to adjust yourself to power-assistance.
Charging and storing my pedelec has not been a problem because I have a garage with an outdoor plug, but you can also remove the battery easily to take it indoors. My battery has never run out in Cambridge; I was told that the range is 35 miles, which more than meets my needs. On the downside, the pedelec is significantly heavier, and the price is a few hundred pounds more than for a conventional hybrid, even with this budget model that I have.
My wife and I have a young daughter whom we need to start taking to nursery soon. I can attach the usual range of child-carrying accessories to the pedelec with confidence that I won’t be bogged down. I will be able to ride as strongly with a trailer as any other parent out there. There’s room for improvement, though. I think that when I look to buy another pedelec, I will set a higher budget (above £750) and get one with features such as disc brakes, suspension and slightly lighter weight.
I think it is clear that electrically-assisted pedal cycles have the potential to greatly change urban transportation. The everyday rush hour will look completely different when many of the people currently driving change over to using pedelecs, which I believe could be a realistic scenario in Cambridge. There will be more pressure to improve the infrastructure to accommodate the many more people who will have access to cycling thanks to electric assistance. What will it look like? I don’t know, but I would be curious to see simulations that try to tackle this positive challenge.
Dr Jan Storgards