E-BIKE TRY-OUT AT BICYCLES BY DESIGN
Steve Dyster, Seven Day Cyclist’s, grumpy old tourer-in-residence, nearly spilt his lid of tea when told to try out some E-Bikes. He returned home, if not a new man, certainly less grumpy, courtesy of Bicycles by Design who revealed unto him the delights of the pedelec.
A few years back, a guy sped past me on the way up Hartside. Folk speeding by is not that unusual, but this chap, if the fleeting glance I managed was anything to go by, was barely trying. He waited at the top, by the burned-out café, and hailed me with an apology as I approached. Why? Because he felt guilty about passing a solo pedaller on his power-assisted machine. He explained that two knee operations had made it hard to cycle on anything but the flat, and that the Pennines were a bit short of flat bits.
I’ve never thought an apology necessary for riding an E-Bike. I don’t want one yet, but come the day, it’ll probably keep me going in the hills for a few years longer than I might otherwise manage. That will be a good thing. For others, there’ll be myriad reasons for seeking that little bit of help.
So, a trip down to the banks of the Severn to visit the good folk of Bicycles by Design, based in Coalport, to try out a few E-Bikes, proved quite a revelation.
“Remember, the motor is there to assist.” Sounds obvious, but Roger Cook and Geoff Callum, made this the starting point, after a brief run through E-Bike development. “Pedal and use the gears, just as you would on your bike. The motor will deliver that bit extra.”
Bicycles by Design tend toward the high-end bicycle – and Roger explained that they had E-Bikes for all purposes, just as they have other bikes for all purposes: cargo, road etc. “Just as with any bike, a lot depends on what you want to do with it and how much you want to do. At the cheaper end you have E-Bikes that you’d replace when the battery goes because that would be most cost effective. Cheaper batteries wear out more quickly, too.”
Bicycles by Design are renowned for their bespoke builds. They also have their own Ironbridge made-to-measure machines, quality tandems, as well as offering tandem training, and running self-build workshops. False economy is not in their book.
Roger continued, “The bikes we offer have higher quality frames and components, so they are better as bikes. They also have batteries that will offer more recharges before replacement is needed.” There’s a definite element of getting what you pay for, and buying the best you can afford will offer dividends, if you are doing more than an occasional run to the shops.
With that they set me off on a Tern GSD Utility Cargo bike. With a massive weight-bearing capacity and robust frame, I wondered how we’d manage the steep climb out of the gorge up to Broseley. 63nm of torque – what Blaster Bates used to call ‘thrutch’ – sat just above the middle of the 40nm to 75nm range I rode.
Even on the lowest of the four modes, the ease of pedalling was immediately so obvious that, whizzing up the slope out of the car park with alacrity, I cut the assist out on the flat.
With a couple of hair-pin bends on the climb up the Broseley side of the gorge, I decided to cut close up the inside for maximum gradient. Slipping it into highest mode, I got carried away, forgot the basic rule of ‘power-assist’, and didn’t use the gears. A few metres of idiotic honking resulted, until the top mode kicked in. My mistake. Getting gearing and assist mode comfortable and efficient takes a bit of time, but, just like riding a bike, once you’ve got it, you won’t forget.
Love your battery
The bikes I rode ranged in price from £2199 to £4099. Battery replacement costs went were from £469 to £599 (between around a fifth and a seventh of the cost) – and a lot of E-Bike riders I know have a spare battery to hand. At that proportion of the price, it is worth learning to look after your battery.
Roger offered me the ‘Battery Bible’ by Bosch. “There’s a lot of misinformation about storing batteries for prolonged periods. We’d recommend this little booklet.”
“You might also be interested in this,” Geoff said, pointing out an on-line range calculator .
“Rider weight, luggage, terrain, amount of ascent, and the level of assist you chose, all have an impact.”
Descending back into the gorge, with the assist off, I was impressed by the stability of the Tern GSD, on the sharper bends and rough spots. Had I a business that needed hefty loads carting round town, I’d be looking at the government subsidised purchase of one of these.
I was impressed. Geoff remarked that his wife had recently bought an E-Bike and felt just the same. “I have to work-hard to keep up now.”
“Good job you’re the fast one,” said Roger.
More and less
Next up was a Ridgeback X2. If it weren’t for motor and battery, it epitomises the nicely set-up leisure machine. Roger described it as, “The sort of bike for Mum or Dad who like to cycle a bit, who wants to go out on a bike with the kids around the country park, carrying little gear, and with that bit of extra help when kid goes speeding off.”
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Needless to say, 40nm of torque did not levitate me to Broseley in the fashion to which I’d just become accustomed. Dealing stoically with the steep climb, we got there without very much in the way of sweat. With a max range of 78 miles per charge, there’s a lot of distance to be done round parks and cycle tracks or on your way to work. Moreover, declining to 60% of capacity after 1000 charges, there’s lot of life.
Riese and Muller’s urban style Swing City was my next victim.
Four modes, 50nm of torque, max range 100 miles, 75% after 1000 charges: enough detail. What impressed me most about this machine, apart from its elegant sit-up-and beg sedate style, was the fact that it nearly managed to un-seat me as I upped-the mode at the base of a mud-surfaced climb on a cycle track. Whipping-up rapidly, in-elegantly hanging-on, I was spared blushes. A useful reminder that there have been accidents when riders have not really understood just how much difference the power-assist can make – even at a very moderate torque.
Riese and Muller’s Nevo GH Vario, with Enviolo gears, is very much a touring bike – although one with a step-through frame. Or rather without gears, in the traditional sense. Enviolo, previously NuVinci, gearing offers a continuum of adjustment provided by, fundamentally, a funnel of bearings and a twist grip.
With four modes 75nm of torque, and a range of 100 miles, I could see myself heading round The Wrekin and much further afield. Expensive taste, maybe, but great quality. I’ll be cruising past people heading up Hartside – and there’ll be no apology. Handling was fabulous, although mixing and matching the Enviolo gearing with suitable cadence and mode, gave food for thought. Yet, it is the sort of knack you’d easily get used to – after a while – as Peter Bird, co-owner of the business, said on my return. (See Richard Peace’s review of Riese and Muller GT Homage NuVinci.)
Mind you, I was getting the hang of things by now. So, I took to a ride on a Lapierre MTN. A well-set up MTB, which coped well with the road, and then hit sections of trail. This was interesting. Efficiency in cycling is really about building pace and maintaining it – this is true with knobs on with E-Bikes. So, that sudden burst of off-road effort took a bit of care – best done, in my opinion, by using the gears rather than ramping up the torque. Mind you, my MTB technique is not an object to be envied.
The final ride of the day was a very peculiar beast, but one that Peter Bird told me was becoming increasingly attractive to club riders – even the MAMILs. This Lapierre road bike lacked the obvious bulk associated with many E-Bikes. Detach the battery and motor and, hey presto, you have a high-quality racing bike that handles just as one would expect.
Re-attach battery and motor on the morning of your hilly club run, and you have a gentle level of assistance that will keep you with the group, without compromising your pride or antagonising the sensitivities of puritanical club-mates. For me, this was a new concept, but it is already proving a popular set-up. Even better, battery and motor removal and attachment is pretty simple.
Peter told me that it had been a big decision to introduce E-Bikes into the Bicycles by Design portfolio – an extensive one, based solidly in expertise and artisan craftsmanship. Well, the same approach has been taken to power-assist machines: customer focus, knowledge, quality, variety, and an approach that says that cycling can be for everyone. How far off are bespoke E-Bikes – well, at least a couple of years yet, in Peter’s opinion.
In the long run, the success of their public E-Bike try-out days and sales are evidence of the business-sense behind the move. There’s also a desire amongst riders of all types to go the E-Route. It is not just a mitigation for the passing years or physical gremlins; it is for the club rider who just needs that little push; for the rider who carries hefty loads to work; for the commuter who goes green but does not want to appear dishevelled at meetings; for the eco-warrior looking for a car replacement. In fact, there are bags of reasons for adding a little power-assist to your fleet. Why didn’t I buy one on the spot? Apart from fear of the financial controller at home, I don’t want one, at the moment. Yet, one day, I know I will.
Steve’s stupid questions
Steve: What about punctures?
Roger and Geoff: They are even more of a nuisance on most E-Bikes. Weight and the gubbins around the rear hub can make fixing a puncture a real pest. We’d recommend strong puncture protection, such as Tannus Armour, for peace of mind
Steve: Can I carry E-Bikes on my bike rack on the car?
Geoff and Roger: Yes, but check the weight limit. We’d recommend tow-bar mounted racks for nearly all E-Bikes, unless there’s room in the vehicle.
Steve: Can I just thrash the motor?
Geoff and Roger: You can, and that extra torque is great fun, but for efficiency and long-life for motor and battery, remember they are there to assist you. Ride the E-Bike like a normal bike.
Steve: Can I get away with not pedalling at all?
Roger and Geoff: No. The motor cuts out at under 15.5miles/hour – the legal limit for an E-Bike - and if you are not pedalling – on a descent, for example. If it went on its own, it would be illegal.
Steve: You say that the bikes can be specially programmed by the manufacturer. Can I change that?
Geoff and Roger: No. That gets sorted out when we talk about the bike you want However, bring it back to us for analysis of your data and we can help you be more efficient.
A cycle to Telford Central for the train home (cold, wet, autumnal gloom – any excuse). First few miles up the gentlest gradient out of the Severn Gorge, the Silkin Way, a former railway line. This familiar route had never felt such a struggle. Bloody E-Bikes! Shouldn’t be allowed! Engenderers of lethargy. What’s wrong with my knees?
With thanks to Rob Wade, Peter Bird, Roger Cook, and Geoff Callum, for their help, patience, and generosity.
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2020