Simon Christie tries a University “eCycle”

Simon Christie, Campus Facilities Manager at Moray House School of Education and the Centre for Open Learning, writes about his recent experience of using an electric bike to commute to work.

The University’s Transport Office asked me to write a blog about my experience with a month-long free loan of an electric bike. Before reading any further it’s important you should know that you don’t even need to like cycling to ride an electric bike! In my experience it was the quickest, most cost effective and most environmentally friendly way to travel -more so than taking the car, bus, or the tram.

You might be surprised about how quick and easy it is to get around on an electric bike so READ ON!

Around a year ago I started to get a really sore back which got worse whenever I cycled. After a while I was eventually diagnosed with a trapped nerve in my lower back.

I’ll be honest I’ll admit that it was quite depressing to comprehend that I might not be able to cycle again. Only once I couldn’t do it anymore did I realise how much cycling had become part of my daily routine, without even thinking about it. Over the years I had become more confident on my bike, and so I stopped wearing the bright clothing I started with and dressed for my destination (rather than as if I was working on some construction project). Rather than waiting in traffic on the bus or in a car, cycling had become my stress release for the day.

Cycling was also as important to me physically as it was mentally. Cycling was just something I did to get from A to B, in normal everyday clothes. But it made me feel great, it was free, and with my bike, I didn’t need a gym membership (others might disagree on that point)!

Knowing all of this, when I heard the University was offering staff the chance to borrow one of their eCycles for a month and for free, I jumped at the chance to try it out.

I didn’t really have reservations about the eCycle: what’s not to like about going twice the distance for half the effort?! After paying a refundable deposit and going through the basics with the very enthusiastic and helpful Alex, Cycling Officer for the University, I was on my way.

Over the course of the month I rode all over Edinburgh, from Leith to Ratho, as much I could. I used it for commuting, doing the weekly shop (weight doesn’t really matter as the battery takes all the strain), and just for fun. The upright position of the bike meant my back felt much better, and I could also see much more, so I felt really confident in my surroundings. The pedal assist meant that with the minimal of effort I could cross the city in around 30 minutes without even breaking a sweat.

It struck me how accessible the eCycle could be, given how easy to ride it is. If you can ride a bike, you can ride an electric bike. You get a bit of exercise, you’ll get to your destination more quickly, and you’re not contributing to any emissions that contribute to asthma or other ill health. You also get free parking at the end of it! After speaking to family, colleagues, and friends about the eCycle I found out that they knew people who had used electric bikes for years and loved them.

They were just people who wanted to get to their destination quickly but didn’t want to arrive at work a bit sweaty – or they might not be as young as they used to be, and needed a bit of a help on the Edinburgh hills. Some people have suggested the eCycles are “cheating” but it’s really not. I wouldn’t have been able to get about town in the quick and efficient way I was used too, had it not been for the electric bike.

I hadn’t cycled for about a year and at no point did I ever feel that I was unfit when using the electric bike. If I felt stronger I put the bike on the ‘Eco’ mode, but I felt tired but it up to ‘Sport’ and got a wee extra push from the electric motor. I’m not sure we should consider anyone who uses an electric bike to get around as cheating. Getting from A to B shouldn’t be made into a competition.

In my role, I am often asked “what about disabled parking?”. There seems to be a preconception that people with limited mobility are restricted to driving as a mode of transport. In fact, the ease of an electric bike could allow people to gain more independence, by not relying on driving or others driving them. I think it would be a positive thing for more consideration be given to facilities for those who use bikes or electric bikes as a mobility aid.

If you’re injured, not very confident on a bike, not as fit as you used to be, live at the top of the hill, live at the bottom of a hill, or just want to try something new, then an electric bike could be for you. University staff can try out commuting on an electric bike, free for a month. Contact the Transport Office to sign up for the eCycle scheme with the University by emailing them at transport@ed.ac.uk.

You could also drop into your local cycle retailer to try them out there. Harts Cyclery and the Electric Bike Company are both ones I’ve spoken to and are very helpful. They can offer rental or trials for you to try before you decide if it’s something for you. The University is part of the Cycle to Work scheme which enables staff to save at least 30% on the cost of acquiring a bike for cycling to work. There’s no reason not to try them out!

On to the practicalities of cycling to work. “What if the battery runs out?” is a question you might have. The electric bike I used had three settings and could go for around 70kms on the ‘Eco’ mode with around 30kms in the ‘Sport’ mode. In short, never long enough around town where you couldn’t charge it back up again. You can easily take the charger with you so if you wanted you can charge up at stop over points, or keep the charger at work so that you always have enough power to get you back home in the evening.

The electric bikes are a little bit heavier than a typical bike so I would take off the battery and bags before carrying up the stairs, and make two trips – but it was no worse than carrying my usual bike up the stairs after greater exertion. While you are on the bike the weight isn’t an issue as the motor is taking the strain.

You really don’t need any special clothing or equipment if you don’t want to wear it. The bikes have lights already built onto them and they are powered by the battery so that’s one less thing to worry about. It’s a good idea to have waterproof jacket and trousers in the bag that you can carry on the bike.

Some gloves and wearing an extra pair of socks are a good idea if it’s cold. You might be surprised how much it doesn’t rain though, most of the time rides will be dry but it’s always good to be prepared just in case and that’s no different to any other form of transport or remembering to pick up a brolly.

It is sometimes perceived that cycling it dangerous but in reality, it’s really not. I’m told you’re much more likely to die of inactivity then you ever are in an accident which is maybe something to consider. If you are not too confident on a bike, why not ask someone is more confident to cycle with you? The University had lots of different initiatives and information that will help you feel more confident on a bike. Take a look here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/transport/cycling

If you are interested in more, safer, and better infrastructure for cycling why not let your councillor know? You can contact them here: https://www.gov.uk/find-your-local-councillors

If you are interested in getting involved in making cycling more accessible these are great organisations and very worthwhile considering getting involved in.  http://walkcyclevote.scot/ http://pedalonparliament.org/ http://www.spokes.org.uk/

I hope my story will help you decide in favour of trying on electric bike, or even just getting back on your old bike that’s been collecting dust in the garage or shed. You might just be pleasantly surprised how much you like it. Happy riding!