River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Easy Rider

May 2003

Ron reviews his new electric bike

Without doubt one of the attractions of this area is the pleasant walks combined with the opportunity to observe wildlife. The flat terrain and waterways adding much to the appeal. Before my accident I much enjoyed walking and cycling locally but walking is now less enjoyable, and cycling is also less comfortable. I have, however, resolved the problem by getting an electric bike.

The machine is a 'Powabyke'. It is much like an ordinary bike but rather more chunky, it has a conventional 5speed shimano gear for the rear wheel with an electric motor built within the hub of the front wheel. The battery is mounted on the front downtube and neatly integrated. With the easily removed battery attached it is much heavier than an ordinary machine, it weighs 86lb whereas my old bike, for example, weighs 29lb. This extra weight does tend to make it a little more difficult to ride at very low speed. Nevertheless it is very easy to pedal on flat surfaces and, as you would expect, it is only on a gradient that you notice the extra effort required if you keep the power off, although, even then, not to the extent that I would have expected. The saddle is larger and more comfortable than those fitted on bikes, but it does not impede pedalling. The frame is unsprung but the saddle stem is sprung and damped, which certainly does help to remove the shocks to the system.

When using the electric power the speed is controlled by a conventional twist grip. The maximum speed on a flat road is between 15 and 18 mph, which is faster than I would normally cycle and the range, using the battery only, is put at between 20 and 30 miles depending on the terrain, although this could obviously be extended by pedalling at times. I cannot verify the truth of such claims but I can say that I have yet to see the battery charge indicator go from high to medium even after quite long rides. You are advised to always recharge the battery after use.

I have only had very limited experience to date but first impressions are very good. Care is needed when applying power to the front wheel on a loose surface, it is surprisingly gutsy. It is fairly quiet, although at 'full throttle' it does make a noise which reminds me of an old London tram, but with much less volume of course. It has surprised me by the manner in which it is not deterred by a headwind that would have me struggling. Overall then, the riding experience has been very pleasing so, as Des O'Connor said when he was explaining that his plan is to live forever "So far, so good". It is very cheap to run, there is no road tax or MoT and no compulsory insurance, the cost of recharging the battery cannot be more than a few pence.

As with all battery driven machines the battery is its Achilles heel, it is a sealed lead acid type, it is heavy, which demands a stronger frame and heavier tyres and that, in turn, increases the overall weight. The battery life is an unknown factor, it only carries a six month guarantee and new batteries are expensive. The technology behind the twist grip throttle is a mystery to me, it is clearly electronic and it is clever in as much as the battery condition lights, in conjunction with the twist grip, can be used for fault diagnosis. Durability is the unknown factor, if it proves to be durable and trouble free I will have to say that it is an excellent machine. I doubt if I will put it to the kind of test that someone who used it for regular commuting would, but I will let you know if I do have any problem with it.

It does seem to me, however, that it would be preferable to produce a similar bike powered by a small internal combustion engine which could be just as quiet and with a similar performance, rather like the old auto-bikes. Such a machine would be lighter, easily recharged (by filling the petrol tank) and almost certainly very durable and it would be more likely to lure some people out of their cars. All that is needed is to permit such a machine to be equally free of the red tape of tax, MoT, insurance and crash hat. Not much chance of that then.

Ron Watts

Copyright remains with independent content providers where specified, including but not limited to Village Pump contributors. All rights reserved.