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.

 
 
 
 

“You don’t look like a train buff”: on sexism in the trainspotting community

A female guard on London’s former Metropolitan Railway. Image: Getty.

I am a railway enthusiast. I like looking at trains, I like travelling by train and I like the quirks of the vast number of different train units, transit maps and train operating companies.

I get goosebumps standing on a platform watching my train approach, eyeballing the names of the destinations on the dot matrix display over and over again, straining to hear the tinny departure announcements on the tannoy.  I’m fortunate enough to work on the site of a former railway station that not only houses beautiful old goods sheds, but still has an active railway line running alongside it. You can imagine my colleagues’ elation as I exclaim: “Wow! Look at that one!” for the sixth time that day, as another brilliantly gaudy freight train trundles past.

I am also a woman in my twenties. A few weeks my request to join a railway-related Facebook group was declined because I – and I quote here – “don’t look like a train buff”.

After posting about this exchange on Twitter, my outrage was widely shared. “They should be thrilled to have you!” said one. “What does a train buff look like?!” many others asked.

The answer, of course, is a middle-aged white man with an anorak and notebook. Supposedly, anyway. That’s the ancient stereotype of a “trainspotter”, which sadly shows no sign of waning.

I’m not alone in feeling marginalised in the railway community. Sarah, a railway enthusiast from Bournemouth, says she is used to funny looks when she tells people that she is not only into trains, but an engineer.

She speaks of her annoyance at seeing a poster bearing the phrase: “Beware Rail Enthusiasts Disease: Highly Infectious To Males Of All Ages”. “That did bug me,” she says, “because women can enjoy trains just as much as men.”


Vicki Pipe is best known as being one half of the YouTube sensation All The Stations, which saw her and her partner Geoff Marshall spend 2017 visiting every railway station in Great Britain.

“During our 2017 adventure I was often asked ‘How did your boyfriend persuade you to come along?’” she says. “I think some found it unusual that a woman might be independently interested or excited enough about the railways to spend sixteen weeks travelling to every station on the network.”

Pipe, who earlier this year travelled to all the stations in Ireland and Northern Ireland, is passionate about changing the way in which people think of the railways, including the perception of women in the industry.

“For me it’s the people that make the railways such an exciting place to explore – and many of these are women,” she explains. “Women have historically and continue to play an important part in the railway industry – throughout our journey we met female train drivers, conductors, station staff, signallers and engineers. I feel it is important that more female voices are heard so that women of the future recognise the railways as a place they too can be part of.”

Despite the progress being made, it’s clear there is still a long way to go in challenging stereotypes and proving that girls can like trains, too.

I’m appalled that in 2019 our life choices are still subjected to critique. This is why I want to encourage women to embrace their interests and aspirations – however “nerdy”, or unusual, or untraditionally “female” they may be – and to speak up for things that I was worried to speak about for so long.

We might not change the world by doing so but, one by one, we’ll let others know that we’ll do what we want – because we can.