OPINION - E-bikes are too slow for me, but they may just kill the car

 (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

IT was the gang I never wanted to join. Fought the urge for years. But, in the interests of journalism, I surrendered. Reader, I have ridden an e-bike.

No, not the ugly duckling rental bikes discarded on our pavements. Nor the “adapted” mountain bikes upon which couriers bring terror to pedestrians for the price of a lukewarm burger. Rather, I’ve had the pleasure of Volt’s sleek new “London” e-bike.

And for the most part, pleasure it was, even if the £2,200 price tag had me in fear of thieves. The squeeze on the throttle that took me up Powerscroft Road in Hackney at 15.5mph on my ride into work was joyous.

Without going all spokes and sprockets, what e-bikes do is take the effort out of cycling. They’re no sweat, literally. Riding an hour to work in “normal” clothes is feasible. In winter it will be a necessity: as e-bikes require only the gentlest of pedalling, you’ll never heat up in Lycra.

Volt’s London e-bike: the ride into work was joyous (Volt)
Volt’s London e-bike: the ride into work was joyous (Volt)

I thought the e-bike was going to change my life. But why did I return to my trusty road bike for my 26-mile round trip to Kensington? Two reasons: Fitness — and speed.

On flat roads, 15.5mph is pretty modest. Trying to pedal on an e-bike beyond that (legally capped) maximum is like wading through treacle. It’s no fun.

Nor do e-bikes do much to burn off the lockdown pounds. For much of the week, my cycle commute is the only real exercise I get.

Personal gripes aside, I learned that e-bikes have the potential to change the way we travel in cities. Neighbours looked on enviously. Within days, one was trialling an e-cargo bike to transport her child to nursery. That’s another car journey that won’t be happening.

An old friend of substantial proportions once described himself as “built for comfort, not for speed”. The same could be said of (legal) e-bikes. Not everyone wants to exhaust themselves on a carbon fibre racer.

The next great leap forward will come in a matter of days, when the first electric “Boris bikes” join TfL’s fleet of Santander hire bikes.

Dare Sadiq Khan go further and include e-bikes as a “trade-in” option for his car scrappage scheme when the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) expands across Greater London next August (potential slogan: “Ditch your banger for an e-bike”)? You read it here first.