People look at electric cars and autonomous vehicles and say this is the future of urban transport, while quietly, the electric bicycle is taking over. They are phenomenal pieces of kit that really are transformative. Once I owned one, I was able to sell my car and we are now a one car family. It has saved me a fortune as well as an immense amount of time.
However Bath’s SEVEN hills with many of them having 15% climbs means you cannot simply buy just any old cheap eBike.
So here are my top tips for buying a bike that copes with Bath’s hills.
- Buy from a local bike shop. Ebikes are machines and as such they will go wrong. You do not want to find that your eBike has gone wrong under warranty and have to pack it up in a box for collection by courier. Also some bike shops will lend you a replacement bike while yours is being repaired. 😉
- You need good amount of torque. Some of the hub (wheel) drives produce about 30Nm of torque and will not get you up the hills of Bath without you putting in a lot of your own effort. Stick with crank mid drives. Some of the cheap crank drives (around the bottom bracket where the pedals are) will only produce about 40Nm of torque. This might be enough if you are on the light side, the bike has good gearing, and don’t want to carry a lot around with you. Ideally go for 50-75+Nm. As somebody weighing over 120kg I went with 75Nm mid drive. I have carried myself and somebody else up a hill on my bike. I regularly take Greenway Lane on my way home at around 10-12mph (except for that corner) 😉
- Hydraulic disc brakes are also recommended. Not only are these heavy bikes but you won’t think twice about popping up a hill which means you have to come down again where these brakes shine.
- Be practical. This is a car replacement easily capable of taking you and 50kg of shopping up any hill in Bath. Get panniers, good mudguards. Even consider a front basket or pannier mounts. Seriously consider a sit-up and beg, dutch style, step through bike.
- It doesn’t need to cost the earth. The Panda MDRIVE is an electric bike kit that can be fitted to most bikes and costs around £500-700 depending on battery. Green Park Bike Station currently sell and fit them.
- Ebikes are not cheating. Neither are they a sit on it and use the throttle. They assist your pedalling up to 15mph. They simply let you get around the city faster than any other form of transport door to door and remember, if you want a workout on your way home, just turn down the electric assist.
- Try one! The council offers a two week eBike loan scheme through Take Charge Bikes on Lower Bristol Road. All bike shops will lend you one to test ride for an hour or so. Just make sure you ride it up a steep hill to get a feel for the way it climbs.
- Do your research. http://ebiketips.road.cc/ Nov-Feb can be a good time to buy last years model but don’t hold back. They pay for themselves within two years. When I bought mine, I started with the premise that I wanted a 75Nm+ crank drive due to my weight, then went looking for practical bikes on sale. I got mine for £1,700 when the retail was £3,000. It was an ex-demo one off import from Germany a bike shop in Bristol was testing. Note it did go wrong under warranty and I did have to get it to the bike shop in Bristol. It would have been a LOT easier to drop it off at a local bike shop. I will buy local next time.
- Ebikes are heavy 20-25kg. Cheaper ones even more so. Ideally you want to be able to be able to wheel them to where you want to store them. I store mine in my hallway much to the annoyance of my family. Most eBikes come with a walking mode, which allows you to walk the bike up any stair ramp. Carrying an eBike is not going to work. If you live in a flat, write to your councillors and ask for Bike Hangars to be installed in your street as done in Bristol.
- Consider looking at bike theft insurance. Your household insurance might have a limit on the value of the bikes covered. Always have a D-lock.
- Consider working with your employer to get an eBike through a Cycle Scheme (yes you can get one up to £2k+)
- Electric Cargo Bikes are unbelievable practical workhorses.
- You do get what you pay for. It will pay for itself within a couple of years. I stopped using the family car to go to meetings, taxis, and buses. Everything in Bath is pretty much reachable door to door in 20 minutes.
Comment from Luke Ludwell (Avon Valley Cyclery) and Dave Atkinson (eBike Tips and Road.cc) on the Cycle Bath Facebook Page discussing this page:
Dave: – A bosch active line motor with sensible gearing will easily get me up Bloomfield with power to spare, so i don’t think 60Nm is a hard line. Similarly many of the STEPS E6000 bikes have been no trouble, and that’s not because i’m fit, you barely have to put any effort in. it’ll depend a lot on your weight. I’d definitely say stick with mid motors though. I’d also definitely look for hydraulic disc brakes
Luke:- There is no magic one size fits all with ebikes just like there isn’t with regular bikes. Cheap bikes are (usually) cheap for a reason and good bikes (usually) cost more.
If you can afford it; buy a mid-drive bike. All of the ‘big 4’ mid-motor manufacturers (Shimano, Bosh, Yamaha & Brose) make good product and you’d be happy with any of them. My personal preference is towards the Yamaha motors but if the bike I need/want only comes with a motor from one of the others then it’s not going to stop me buying that bike. I’d imagine Dave would prefer Bosch(?). Bottom line, try some bikes on a big hill and see what works for you. Don’t dismiss anything, try as many as you can – different motors, small wheels, dutch style, sports style.. give them all a go; you might be surprised! You don’t need to try a bike for days on end to know if it’s good but you do need to ride it up a big hill.
If you are thinking about carrying panniers or kids some of the small wheeled bikes are brilliant at this as they keep the centre of gravity low. Models like the Riese & Müller Tinker or the Winora Radius or true folders like the Tern Bicycles Vektron are ace.
Bikes with the battery in the rear rack are less suitable for lugging kid seats as the centre of balance is very high with the battery and child seat both up high. Rack mounted batteries usually keeps the cost down though!
As an aside my dream bike at the moment is the £4K Tern GSD Probably the most practical bike on the market that can cope with some of the tighter access points to Bath’s traffic free cycle routes while carrying a full shop and two kids.
Local Bike Shop Electric Bikes:
- http://www.greenparkbikestation.info/electric-bikes/ (Also MDRIVE kit)