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A future on two wheels: the rise of the electric bike

Faxi’s Head of Engineering, Lewis Kite, visited the Cycle Show in Birmingham on 23rd September, where he witnessed the growing culture of the electric bike. We catch up with him to find out how this trend is shaping the future of our commuting behaviours.

Hi Lewis, so tell us what you saw at the Cycle Show – a lot of electric bikes, we hear?
Absolutely. It’s one of the UK’s biggest cycle shows so all the newest trends are there. What was interesting was that compared to previous years, every manufacturer there had some form of electric bike – even the very purist cycling brands. Clearly there is a need to cater for this growing market. The variety of electric bikes was really interesting – they had off road bikes with suspension and a full simulated course with ramps to test the uphill power, as well as smart looking road bikes, plenty of folding commuter style bikes and even long delivery bikes with seats and storage areas on the front.

Why are electric bikes a growing trend?
The electrically-powered element of these new bikes fundamentally makes travelling by bike more accessible for everyone. It’s encouraging people to cycle who wouldn’t ordinarily cycle – electric bikes are a gateway to get people into cycling and enables them to travel further with less effort. It was interesting to see older people and also a number of disabled people trying out electric bikes at the show – these bikes are opening doors to people that cannot use a conventional bicycle. There is also a rising trend in cycle touring holidays and electric bikes enable people to see more in new places yet without the fatigue that a conventional bike would incur. In cities, electric bikes also help people to get around more easily and also get to their destination faster – you can effectively multiply the distance you can commute with the same effort. Another added benefit is that you can arrive at the office without being sweaty!

Do you think more and more people will convert to the idea of commuting by using an electric bike?
I think as they become more commonplace people will start to latch on to the benefits they bring – especially now all the main retailers are offering them. Plus the price is coming down so it will make them a more accessible purchase for people - you can get an electric bike for as little as £500 now. Folding electric bikes are easy to combine with train journeys and also have the capacity to reduce both the time and the cost of a daily commute. Some of them now even fold up into a bag and are really lightweight – the technology is developing all the time.

What are the main benefits of using an electric bike?
There are multiple benefits – not only will electric bikes encourage people to actually pedal (there is some pedalling involved) which increases daily exercise yet with less risk of sweating as when riding a conventional bike; but they are also a really cost-effective way to get around. Because you can go longer and further with an electric bike using the same effort, it means that people who have never considered commuting via bike can now consider this as an alternative transport method. Other than an initial investment and a little bit of maintenance now and then, they offer a completely free method of transportation, and have practically zero impact on the environment. In congested areas you can probably also get around much faster because a bike is more nimble than a car and you can weave in and out of traffic. In some cases it’s a no brainer to start using them!

What are the main barriers to people adopting this new style of transportation?
At the moment, the cost is probably the main barrier as they are still in the region of £1,000, however, that has come down a lot even in the past year. Also the fact that not every bike shop has them yet – but again, that is also quickly changing. People will begin to realise that once they have invested in the initial purchase it could make their commute much cheaper. But there’s also a cultural/behaviour element – people are just so used to driving or getting the train/tube, and probably don’t even contemplate using a bike to get to work. There’s also probably a slight fear factor involved – people may not be keen on cycling in traffic, but as soon as people begin to realise that using an electric bike can be effortless and cost nothing on a day to day basis, it is sure to only become more and more popular.

Ok, we’re sold. So how do we get started?
Most of the main bike retailers now stock electric bikes, so the best thing to do is have a look online and check which retailers are located near to you. Go along and try one to get a feel for how they work – there is a bit of a learning curve to using them as they operate a bit differently from conventional bikes – as soon as you put pressure on the pedals the engine kicks in, it’s quite a unique sensation to begin with! Some retailers are also now offering 0% finance for two years so if you’re worried about the cost, there are solutions out there.