The advantages of going electric


David Johnston has had bikes for as long as he can remember, but his working life limited the amount of time he spent on them. At the age of 66, and feeling he just wasn’t fit enough to go very far on a bike, it looked like the end of his cycling days. But thanks to the gift of an e-bike, he’s more active and fitter now than ever. Here’s his experience of going electric…

For those people who think an electric bike is cheating I can tell you it's not. If you don't pedal you don't move. Yes, I do get a little assistance on steeper hills, but the power modes can be decreased or increased at the touch of a button and I am finding I have been using no power or Eco mode more frequently.

I have had bicycles for as long as I can remember. During my childhood and teens, I spent a lot of time on my bike. Once I started working though, the bike was set aside. Whilst I have had several new bikes since, they really haven't featured much. I'm now retired and to be honest, until recently, I just wasn't fit enough to go very far on a bike. But 6 weeks ago, my wife bought me an electric bike, and everything has changed for me as result. As I’m fortunate to live in Bushmills, I have been out on it every day since, exploring the beautiful north Antrim coast, and I’ve managed to clock up over 400 miles so far!

My bike is an Electra (TREK) Townie Go. It is finished in a metallic navy blue with black swept back handlebars, black leather grips and a large comfortable seat. It has black finished wheels, and tyres which are inflated to approximately 50psi. The bike has hydraulic disc brakes, and there are thumb and finger controls and a display for Shimano 8 speed gears. I have also fitted something I believe is an essential for safe riding - a small mirror on the end of the right-hand grip. This gives me a clear view of who or what is coming up from the rear.

My bike is a ‘step over’ bike. This means it has a lower and downward angled crossbar. This would differ from the traditional crossbar on what I would call a ‘man’s bike’ which goes straight across and could cause difficulty for some individuals who may have more limited movement. I have found the step over is a bit easier to mount. It is also possible to purchase a ‘step through’, which, as it would suggest, one simply puts a leg through the frame, and you’re immediately seated and in position to ride.

My previous conventional hybrid bike probably weighed in at about 9kgs, significantly less than the weight of this bike. Despite being larger and a heavier weight (25kgs), my e-bike is agile and easily maneuvered. The seat has been adjusted to a height which supports my full weight with my feet flat on the ground. Contrary to the position required by other bikes, your legs should be in a straight vertical position and knees not bent. This, in most cases, will ensure an appropriate riding position. I understand the pedals are positioned slightly forward to enable a more upright and relaxed riding position. I must admit I find this the most comfortable bike I have ever ridden. I believe cycling should be an enjoyable experience and this machine is certainly giving me that!

Although this bike was a present, to ensure it would be right for me, we did lots of research before the purchase. E-bikes are available in the same ranges as ordinary bikes (i.e. road, hybrid, mountain, commuter), and come with either a mid-drive or hub motor. These motors are positioned differently on the bike, with benefits and downsides to each. There are also differences in the type and size of battery and the assistance levels the bike can offer. Understanding the differences and comparing this to what you as an individual want and need is important when buying an e-bike.

Following our research, I opted for a bike which utilised a mid-drive motor to power the bike. This was because there are a lot of hilly areas where I live, and I felt that I would require the maximum assistance to begin. The motor is serviced by a Bosch 400WH lithium-ion battery which is key locked onto the front post of the bike and can be charged either on or off the bike. Some other bikes have them encased in the tube, or on the rear carrier shelf. The battery can be charged using a 2amp charger (which was provided), and a full charge takes 6.5 hours, and offers up to 75 miles on Eco mode. Batteries can be expensive to replace and obviously the more times they are charged the shorter the lifespan. However, Bosch have indicated that they are good for 1,500 full charge cycles which should equate to 10 years cycling for me!

The display unit on the left-hand grip provides a range of settings and controls such as lights, on and off, speed, range and power mode. The power selector is a simple thumb operated + or – selector button which is easily accessible and operated when travelling. Its use very quickly became intuitive and doesn’t distract me from the road ahead.

When riding an e-bike it is no different to a conventional bike in the sense that it is important to try and maintain a steady riding pace. However, the e-bike utilises the bike’s gears and different levels of electric assistance in order to maintain a steady pace and confront various terrain. As mentioned, the model and make of your e-bike determines the type and levels of assistance available.

My particular bike offers 5 levels of assistance, ranging from Off (conventional unassisted pedaling), Eco (+40% additional power), Tour (+100% additional power), Sport (+150% additional power), and Turbo (+225% additional power). When I purchased the bike, the dealer gave me a quick demonstration of the controls and displays. His advice was basically “suck it and see!”

My wife and I have a walking route from our home which is approximately 2-3 miles. We would do this most days and it usually takes us 30-35minutes. For my first ride, I decided I would take this route on the bike. There are a few gentle climbs along the way and I was amazed that I was out and home again in 10 minutes. I hadn’t been out on a busy road on a bike for a few years and was nervous both of the unfamiliar bike and of the speed with which the traffic passed.

I rode locally for a day or two and very quickly became familiar with the gears and changing, getting a feeling for the resistance on the pedals each gear selection made. I started off on Eco mode and worked my way through each setting, allowing myself to feel the difference each mode offered. I was surprised at how the additional power made the ride feel. It was a strange sensation; I didn’t experience an enormous surge of power which pushed me back on my seat. It was more of a feeling of a gentle and sustained push which enabled me to make it to the top of the hill!

So over the next few days I gradually increased my distance to 5, 8, 10, 15 miles or so and I have on a couple of occasions done 25 miles. Signing up for the Solo Rides on the website, has given me an extra bit of motivation to get out on the bike on those particular days, and I’m delighted to already have received my AXA Community Bike Rides buff! I look forward to earning the water bottle and t-shirt in the near future.

My e-bike has helped me to become fitter. The bike will not go anywhere unless I pedal it and whilst I don’t arrive home exhausted, I know that I have been out exercising. I have a range of power modes (assistance levels) to call on when required but I am now riding my bike much further, and as my fitness has increased, I’ve been able to keep the assistance down a notch or two!

If you are contemplating purchasing an e-bike, my advice would be do your research; look at the different types of bike, look at the frame and decide if it is a step through or a step over you require. Check the weight, the type of motor and strength of battery. How it handles and looks are obviously important too. But if it does what you want and enables you to get back on the road again, why not consider going electric?