Electric bikes a welcome boost for pedal power

HAVING never seen an electric bike before, I had the false preconception that it was a first cousin to the electric car and that you could drive it like those bicycles you sometimes see in France with a little motor attached to the front wheel.

But that, I was informed by Derek at City View Wheels in Cork, would make it a self-propelled vehicle that would require a licence, tax and insurance.

The difference between this bike and a more conventional one is that, as you pedal, an electric motor assists you. It works along the same lines as the power of prayer: just as God only helps those who help themselves, so too will the power of the electric motor intervene only when you start pedalling.

There are three strength settings for the motor assist. ‘Low’ is for cycling on flat terrain with a little help. ‘Mid’ is usable for moderate hills or for facing a strong head wind, with the motor matching your energy at a ratio of 1:1. ‘High’ assists you at a ratio of 1.3:1, so the assistance is stronger than the energy you expend. This is the one for tackling those long tough hills that require months of conditioning to conquer.

I set the bike on ‘Mid’ and started in third gear (it’s an eight-speed bike). It didn’t feel too different to a normal bicycle at first. The effect is barely perceptible most of the time — it’s as if, for all the world, you were getting a gentle push on the back as you cycled.

From the bottom of Blarney Street, I headed out to a shop by the Kinsale Rd roundabout — a good 7km trek, with some moderate hills.

I noticed that bicycle lanes in Ireland today seem to be at the point where motorways were about 15 years ago: ie, they only exist in fleeting, tantalising glimpses without connecting any two significant points. I also noticed that some motorists like to park on them and some pedestrians like to walk on them, and that the orange ones are not maintained properly and have a broken rough surface. It was easier just to avoid them altogether.

Heading back into town and anxious to give the electric bike the acid test, I took on the notoriously steep Patrick’s Hill. Ordinarily, this one would be an impossible task for the likes of me, but I managed it in first gear with some sweating.

Even more impressively, I cycled all the way up Summerhill North — a continuous steep climb of 1.5km. On the way, I passed a number of cyclists with regular bikes, including some with light racers. They were all walking, while I arrived at the top with plenty more in the legs.

By the time I paused for a sandwich way up at one of the highest points of Cork city, I was beginning to think that I just might be able to keep going all day on this bike. This, I thought, is how an EPO-doped professional cyclist must feel.

When I got back into the city centre, my legs were finally beginning to feel a little tired. I found that for sauntering around town, 5th gear on “high” assist is very pleasant — a good push with the pedal is rewarded 1.3-fold and you cruise so beautifully through the city centre crowds, you just can’t help smiling.

It’s how cycling should be: plenty of exercise with the ability to cover huge distances like a Duracell bunny and where no hill can stop you.



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