10 things you should know about e-bikes

E-bikes in Culver City, Los Angeles. Image: Getty.

So, e-bikes. Electric bikes. Wondering what all the fuss is about? E-curious?

I took the plunge in January. Here’s 10 things I’ve learnt, and why you should pay attention to something that’s turning out to be subtly revolutionary.

1. First surprise: quite how much FUN e-bikes are

You know those days when the wind is at your back, you feel strong, and eating up the miles? The sheer uplifting joy of that feeling? Riding an e-bike is like that all the time.
Ride an e-bike and try not to say, “Wheeee!”

2. E-bikes are simple & natural

There’s no throttle to think about, it senses how hard you pedal, your speed, your gear, while electronic controls make everything else work. The motor just amplifies what you’re doing.
If you can ride a bike, you can ride an e-bike.

No need for special bike-charging points, just unlock the battery, bring it inside to charge.

3. E-bikes aren’t fast, but are quick

The motor cuts out at 15.5mph, by law. You won’t go any faster than usual. But you’ll go slow much less often.

That long slog of a hill? 15mph.

That fierce headwind? 15mph.

Tired after a long day? Still 15mph.

It’s really cut my journey times.

4. E-bikes are still safe

Beforehand, I worried extra speed would be risky. But mostly you’re not going above 15mph, and that extra push gets you ahead of the turning traffic when the lights go green.

Or if the safest route is too long, hilly or stop-start, then a motor makes it an easier choice.

5. E-bikes aren’t cheating

Commuting and utility cycling is not sport, it’s transport. Get over yourself.

It’s not a motorbike, this is e-assist. You still won’t get anywhere without pedalling. 

And you will still get fit on an e-bike. Maybe even more than on a normal bike, because:

6. E-bikes get you cycling further and more often

E-biking is so easy, it takes away that “Can I be bothered to cycle today?” feeling.

Tired? Weather not great? Late meeting? Hungover? Trip’s a bit far? Doesn’t matter, e-bikes takes the effort out.

They will change our perception of what is just an “easy cycle” away. The Dutch are already responding with a network of cycle lanes designed for longer-distance commutes.


7. E-bikes are convenient

In the UK we ride sports bikes, not designed as transport. You know it would be so handy to have mudguards, built-in lights, luggage rack, fat tyres for potholes. But the weight!

Got a motor? No problem. You can ride a tank as if it was air. And e-bikes make it effortless to carry stuff.

8. On an e-bike you don’t have to be “A Cyclist”

Cycle commuting can be a rigmarole. Changing, showers, gear. The British treat it as the equivalent of driving to work in a Formula 1 car dressed like Lewis Hamilton.

E-bikes literally take the sweat out. Drop the Lycra and do it Dutch-style. I now cycle seven miles, in my suit, and just stroll into the office like a normal person. Dress for your destination, not your journey.

9. E-bikes are inclusive 
Most people just want to get around, not chase their Strava times. E-bikes will attract people who don’t identify themselves as cyclists.

Also older or less fit people. Asthma stopped me cycling in cold winter air for years: the e-bike changed that overnight.

10. Now the bad news: e-bikes are expensive

Recharging only costs pennies. But e-bikes are expensive to buy, repair, and insure.

This will change, quite quickly I think, as we reach mass-market adoption. It’s already cheaper than driving or public transport.

11. Finally, why now?

E-bikes aren’t new, but these things are:

  • Lithium batteries light, cheap & powerful enough. 
  • Neodymium magnets for powerful, compact & light motors.

So advances in chemistry, packaged with new electronic controls, add up to something completely new, with really broad appeal.

E-bikes are the future.

Sales are exponential, close to overtaking conventional bikes in some countries, and way ahead of electric car sales. They have the potential to change lots of what we take for granted about cycling.

Just try one, you’ll be hooked. It was hiring an electric Lime bike that convinced me.

It’s time you found out what the fuss is about.

 
 
 
 

As EU funding is lost, “levelling up” needs investment, not just rhetoric

Oh, well. Image: Getty.

Regional inequality was the foundation of Boris Johnson’s election victory and has since become one of the main focuses of his government. However, the enthusiasm of ministers championing the “levelling up” agenda rings hollow when compared with their inertia in preparing a UK replacement for European structural funding. 

Local government, already bearing the brunt of severe funding cuts, relies on European funding to support projects that boost growth in struggling local economies and help people build skills and find secure work. Now that the UK has withdrawn its EU membership, councils’ concerns over how EU funds will be replaced from 2021 are becoming more pronounced.

Johnson’s government has committed to create a domestic structural funding programme, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), to replace the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). However, other than pledging that UKSPF will “reduce inequalities between communities”, it has offered few details on how funds will be allocated. A public consultation on UKSPF promised by May’s government in 2018 has yet to materialise.

The government’s continued silence on UKSPF is generating a growing sense of unease among councils, especially after the failure of successive governments to prioritise investment in regional development. Indeed, inequalities within the UK have been allowed to grow so much that the UK’s poorest region by EU standards (West Wales & the Valleys) has a GDP of 68 per cent of the average EU GDP, while the UK’s richest region (Inner London) has a GDP of 614 per cent of the EU average – an intra-national disparity that is unique in Europe. If the UK had remained a member of the EU, its number of ‘less developed’ regions in need of most structural funding support would have increased from two to five in 2021-27: South Yorkshire, Tees Valley & Durham and Lincolnshire joining Cornwall & Isles of Scilly and West Wales & the Valley. Ministers have not given guarantees that any region, whether ‘less developed’ or otherwise, will obtain the same amount of funding under UKSPF to which they would have been entitled under ESIF.


The government is reportedly contemplating changing the Treasury’s fiscal rules so public spending favours programmes that reduce regional inequalities as well as provide value for money, but this alone will not rebalance the economy. A shared prosperity fund like UKSPF has the potential to be the master key that unlocks inclusive growth throughout the country, particularly if it involves less bureaucracy than ESIF and aligns funding more effectively with the priorities of local people. 

In NLGN’s Community Commissioning report, we recommended that this funding should be devolved to communities directly to decide local priorities for the investment. By enabling community ownership of design and administration, the UK government would create an innovative domestic structural funding scheme that promotes inclusion in its process as well as its outcomes.

NLGN’s latest report, Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth: In Practice, highlights the range of policy levers and resources that councils can use to promote inclusive growth in their area. It demonstrates that, through collaboration with communities and cross-sector partners, councils are already doing sterling work to enhance economic and social inclusion. Their efforts could be further enhanced with a fund that learns lessons from ESIF’s successes and flaws: a UKSPF that is easier to access, designed and delivered by local communities, properly funded, and specifically targeted at promoting social and economic inclusion in regions that need it most. “Getting Brexit done” was meant to free up the government’s time to focus once more on pressing domestic priorities. “Getting inclusive growth done” should be at the top of any new to-do list.

Charlotte Morgan is senior researcher at the New Local Government Network.