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Electric Bike Offers Novel Way To Get To Work
But Weight, Harsh Ride Might Put Off Prime Customers-The Elderly

The first time I rode the Powabyke, down the hill from Findon Village to the Findon Valley shops, a middle-aged man came up to me to ask about the machine.

“My mother likes to ride her bike around but she’s getting too frail. That looks just the job for her,” he said.

In theory he was right. The Powabyke does what it says on the tin. The electric motor in the front wheel is powerful enough to move my 15 stone 8 lb (218 lb/99 kg) under its own power for up to 20 miles. If you deign to pedal a bit too, you could probably double the range. The Powabyke, with some light pedal action, fairly bombed up a long, steep hill behind Findon Village to the old Cissbury Iron Age fort, with very little energy expended by me.

But there are some drawbacks which might persuade an old lady to think twice before buying a Powabyke. The ride is very harsh; it could do with at least a front suspension. The heavily sprung saddle is comfortable, but the bike jars and bounces over the hint of a rut in the road. The engine emits a noisy, low-tech hum. The gears, mounted on the handlebars are easy enough to use. But the switch allowing you to move from total electric power to pedal assisted power is too low down, sitting on the side of the battery between your knees. It should be on the handlebars. The little dashboard showing how much electric power is left is difficult to see when the sun is out.

So this should be perfect for the old lady then?

The top speed is only 15 mph (24km/h) so that won’t frighten her.

The throttle is engaged by a twist grip on the handlebars, just like on a motorbike, and activates the battery driven 200 watt electric motor. No problem.

“It consumes no petrol or diesel, produces no emissions, requires no insurance, tax, license, MOT or fare paying. It is congestion charge exempt and can be driven in bus and cycle lanes. Recharging is simple, the battery can plugged into any domestic main plug socket,” says Powabyke.

Indeed it can do all these things, but it has a big drawback for an old lady. Removing the big, heavy battery for recharging would be easy for someone young and strong, but would be daunting for someone older. The bike itself is also very heavy. I don’t think an older lady would have the strength to pull the thing on to its stand. And if an old lady wouldn’t want one, you have to ask the question who would? Anyone strong enough to handle the bike would surely buy a regular push bike if they wanted to make their commute to the office cheap and healthy.

But Powabyke says that customers are falling over themselves to buy the machine, with over 20,000 sold a year. There’s a full range of bikes too, including folding bikes, mountain bikes, shopper bikes and even a three-wheeled trike.

A survey commissioned by Powabyke showed that owners of electric bikes are using them to replace car journeys, commuting to work and everyday journeys.

“In short they are being used as a form of transport, not a leisure product,” says Powabyke. “The proof being that the average user is covering an average of 1,200 miles per annum, this is impressive when compared to the average of 120 miles that a non-electric bike does.” Powabyke says –
  • Electric bike journeys were 10% faster than a bus.
  • Electric bike journeys were 20% faster than a normal bike.
  • Electric bike journeys were only 50% slower than a car.
  • The cost of an electric bike was 10% of that by car or bus.

And a short, unscientific survey of my own showed people living north of Worthing or Brighton here in Sussex were excited by the idea of the electric bike, with the possibility of gliding down hill to the office in town, and arriving fresh and avoiding traffic jams, with the return journey uphill being handled either by the electric motor, or with a minimal of peddling.

If you want to try one, look at Powabyke’s web site –

Powabyke Commuter 24 speed - £845

Neil Winton – July 1, 2005

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