Give cycling a motor-enhanced whirl

Artist and ebike owner Susan Mitchell
Artist and ebike owner Susan Mitchell

E-BIKES could be a green commuter option even in the rural Borders.

That’s the opinion of Peebles retailer Gary Robson at Bspoke on the town’s Innerleithen Road.

He said: “Realistically, if you are not able to cycle more than five miles, you can buy an electronic bike and go out for 20 miles. It means you can get to work and back without being sweaty or fighting with the terrain or wind.

“It’s a viable commuting tool, definitely the way to go – it’s huge in Europe.”

Sales have yet to take off on the battery-powered bikes which help pedalling. But unlike mopeds – and far from them being bikes for cheats – the engine cuts out and the help stops if the cyclist stops pedalling.

“It measures torque so it knows how much pressure is being put on the pedals and then gives you the power that’s needed,” explained Mr Robson.

Cyclists can select how much help they want and e-bike batteries can last for up to 80 miles before needing charged up again.

But for quality models, people likely to benefit from the bikes – commuters, older people or those with limited mobility or fitness – are looking at forking out about £900 at least.

Artist Susan Mitchell, who was born with dislocated hips, bought one and says the bike has changed her life.

“It has given me far more mobility than I ever imagined I could have had before. I am an artist, mostly painting water colours of farmyard animals such as sheep, guinea fowl, hens and dogs. The bike enables me to travel to my clients with ease and the assisted pedalling means I’m not too hot and flustered when I get there.

She continued: “The assisted pedalling can be adjusted to make it easier or harder so I am a lot fitter as I’m able to get out a lot more often. I recently cycled to visit my dad in Gifford on his 75th birthday. I never could have contemplated doing that before. I am also planning a ride to North Berwick, something else I could not have managed before getting my e-bike.”

NHS Borders’ Kevan Sanderson, the health improvement lead for children, young people and physical activity, said: “These bikes might encourage older people to take up cycling and might be helpful for people who don’t have full muscle strength or have other problems which make cycling difficult. From that point of view they would be a good thing as any form of exercise is good for you.

“However, if you are reasonably healthy, cycling is an excellent way to keep fit and pedalling up the hills is the best way to strengthen your muscles and get the heart pumping.”

Independent bike retailer Simon Porteous in Kelso has been in business since 1983 and started selling electric bikes in 2001.

“There’s probably an intermittent demand. They’re not as heavy as they used to be, the battery technology has improved and the motors are better now.

“The ones I sell have three levels of power, depending on how much help you want.”

The old lead-acid batteries on early e-bikes weighed 9kg whereas the modern lithium iron ones come in at 3kg.

He has had an enquiry this month from someone interested in getting one for commuting. And he recently sold another to a non-driver commuting to work within the town and wanting help returning up a steep hill home.

He says it can be a cheap option, costing only pennies to recharge and with the batteries, which cost £300 to replace, lasting more than 1,000 charges or several years. He cautioned against buying cheap models because of poorer quality components and electrics.

More expensive models recharge when you freewheel downhill.