Why I'm an e-bike convert
Hello, stranger! My name is Josh Drummond, and I have been born again. I want to share the good news with you. That's right: I'm here to tell you about the Church of Electric Bikes (of Latter Day Cyclists).
Now that I have lodged a metaphorical foot in your figurative door, here is my testimony: I am a newly recovered ex-cyclist.
I stopped biking to work about two months ago, and I felt pretty damn guilty about it because I wrote an article for this magazine about how much I loved biking to work only last year.
My reason for stopping was sweat. Anyone who has ever smelled the dead-mouse odor of stale, dry sweat knows that it's not something that needs to be shared around the office. With my new workplace in the middle of a bathroom refit, my shower options were reduced from luxuriously equipped changing facilities to a lone shower cubicle about the size of a shoebox that had a small, slightly desperate queue of stinky dudes waiting to use it each morning.
So I quietly stopped biking to work, instead opting for the bus.
It wasn't bad. But I missed biking. The speed of it, the joyous nimbleness, the feeling of taking flight during the downhills.
So when a friend suggested I talk to a mutual workmate who was working on a sustainable transport start-up, I was interested. My workmate is called Ella Keegan, and her start-up, boltra.co.nz, is leasing out e-bikes to Auckland commuters for a bit less than the cost of an Auckland Transport monthly pass. She offered to let me borrow one of her bikes for a month, to test it out. It was a trap. I'm addicted now.
I've had it for just under 30 days and I'm struggling to come up with a way of saying "an e-bike will change your life", without actually saying that, because it sounds so over-the-top. But it's true. Riding an e-bike will change your life. Be prepared to talk about it. Riding an e-bike is like owning a laptop in the early 90s: there are quite a few out there, and most people don't have one yet, but once they see one, they want it. With my bike's all-in-one, brushed-aluminium vibe, it's like riding an iMac to work.
This brings us to e-biking's sole caveat: like Apple products, they're bloody expensive. A decent one will set you back anywhere from two to five grand. This hasn't stopped people with plenty of the folding stuff. E-bikes are big business, with many bike retailers reporting that most new cycles sold in their stores are electric. It's expected that there will be 20,000 e-bikes on the streets of Auckland alone by the end of this year.
For those who can't afford an upfront purchase, discounting and leasing schemes, like my mate Ella's, have stepped in. There's Boltra, and Big Street Bikes, and even Mercury Energy is getting in on it – offering a $500 credit towards the cost of a new e-bike to its power customers.
Efforts like this, and a nationwide roll-out of improved cycling infrastructure in all our major cities, is making it more popular, safer and faster to bike in urban areas than it's ever been before. With traffic getting worse every year – pumping out carbon pollution and reducing productivity – people are beginning to understand, slowly, that by far the best way to reduce congestion is to not drive.
The fitness benefits stack up as well. A Dutch study has confirmed that even with the reduced effort afforded by an e-bike, the ease of use means extra time spent cycling. This adds up, with the fitness benefits of e-biking roughly parallel to normal cycling – and miles better than sitting in a car.
So why is an e-bike better? Let us return to sweat, normally a cyclist's constant companion. On an e-bike, cycling becomes, literally, no sweat. An e-bike helps you by either providing a throttle (like a moped, only electric) or giving you assistance when you're pedaling (like being towed by Lance Armstrong on a full cocktail of steroids). Apparently, the technical term for the sort of e-bike I ride is a "pedelec," (coined from "PEDal ELECtric") which has all the appeal of burning human hair. I really hope it doesn't catch on, but I definitely hope the bikes do. Because if your town or city has hills or even just inclines, it's like they don't exist. Hills become flat, the folds in our landscape smoothed out as if by an invisible iron. The landscape becomes an eternal, effortless downhill.
What this means is that I, and anyone else, can e-bike to work in normal office clothes. I do the 8 kilometer trip from my house to work, in peak Auckland traffic, in about 20 minutes. There's no changing time – I just lock the bike and step into the office. I dare anyone to replicate that with any other mode of transport that isn't a jetpack.
To conclude my scripture, stranger: an e-bike gives you all the benefits of cycling with basically none of the drawbacks. Join us in our electric cult, pilgrim; the church of those whose e-bikes move mountains, we who fly to work.