Life without a car: a week of electric pedal power

With World Environment Day held on Sunday, reporter Nick Gill swapped his petrol guzzling car for a green electric bike machine to commute into work on for a week - with mixed results.

NO-ONE likes sitting in traffic during the morning rush hour, so an offer to experience a week of care-free commuting certainly appealed.

Armed with an electric bike named Trek Ride+, I left my 1.4 litre run-about on the drive and saddled up for five days of pedal power.

The first thing that struck me when I picked up my wheels from Letchworth GC sport retailer Trisports was that it looked like your average road bike, complete with thin tyres and a stack load of gears.

But when trialling it in the shop’s car park on Station Road, one press of a ‘+’ button saw me motor forward in a way that no off-the-saddle pedalling ever could. Bring on the fun, I thought.

So my modest four-mile daily journey across Stevenage began, with helmet on and battery fully charged.

The concept is simple enough, every time you press the + button, the more power is released from the electric motor.

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One beep gives you a boost of 25 per cent more power, two is 50 per cent, and so on.

Hitting Stevenage’s pioneering cycle path network, the stress of navigating the countless underpasses simply disappear.

Whack ‘electric assist’, as it is called, up to the maximum setting of four and you zoom up any back-breaking hill without a thought for perspiration. All the joys of cycling, without too much effort.

Such is the speed you can be propelled forward – once I recorded 18mph when barely pedalling – that my biggest fear quickly became negotiating corners without crashing into fellow, less well-equipped cyclists.

At one point I got carried away and took on a moped – I narrowly lost, but not without a sense that really I’d won.

But it’s not all about speed. Along with four ‘+’ settings, there are four ‘–’ settings on assist too which when turned on convert downhill momentum into energy which charges the battery.

Clever stuff, and a useful braking tool too – put it up to four at the bottom of a hill and you’ll quickly lose speed, without fears of a head-over-handlebars moment.

I’ve heard the removable battery is very easy to charge too with a standard mains connection, but having managed to leave the charger at the Trisports store I can’t confirm that. What I do know is that it lasted long enough that I never had to find out.

After a couple of days I got to love my Trek Ride+. My average journey time is just a couple of minutes longer than my commute by car, I’m doing my bit for the environment and saving a fair few pennies all the while.

Michael Humphris, owner-manager at Trisports, agrees. He said: “We’re seeing more and more interest in our range of commuting bikes. They’re economical, environmentally friendly, and best of all, fun.

“With the cost of motoring always on the rise and families feeling the pinch, we’re finding that our commute bikes are making the two-wheeled commute a sensible option for people locally.”

Then one morning, it pelts it down with rain. For all the extra clothing and streamlined helmet, I still get soaked and arrive at the office not sweating, but with too much of a different kind of moisture.

My choice of vehicle has no heaters to speed the drying process either.

Apart from the whims of the British weather, in truth it’s not quite all plain riding.

While the removable battery is exactly that, a sudden jolt can lead it to disconnecting, often resulting in you having to hop off the bike to whack it back on again.

This may be one glitch but it quickly becomes aggravating, slowing you up and defeating the care-free premise the bike is built on. Each little bump along the cycle path made me wince with dread.

That said, my electric bike experience has convinced me it is – provided you can afford the initial outlay – a real commuting alternative to the all-encompassing car. As long as you don’t mind getting wet.