I’m going to start with a short extract from ‘Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie‘. I was in Denmark at the time and, having just paused to buy some new tyres, was en route to Copenhagen:
Cycling route 8 had now finished and was replaced with route 9, which followed the eastern seaboard of Zealand as far as Helsingør. I knuckled down to the job of cycling into a headwind on an unseasonably cold day. I couldn’t remember if any of the previous 57 cycling days had been so decidedly chilly. Despite it being late June, the combination of a north wind and a clear blue sky had the temperature plunging to the lower teens and me wrapped up like an onion. On a scale of 1 to 5 – with 1 being T-shirt, shorts and factor 50, and 5 being Captain Oates with a bit less fur – I had started the day at 3 and upgraded to 3.5 whilst Reggie’s tyres were being replaced. As is often the case, I was put to shame by other cyclists, in this case three Germans – grandfather, father and daughter – who had paused beside the road. They were cycling from Berlin to Copenhagen and all dressed at number 1 on the scale. Perhaps they were putting more effort into their cycling.
Then again, perhaps not. I realised that the older man and the woman were both cycling electric bikes. Although increasingly commonplace in towns and cities, this was the first time I had seen them used for cycle touring.
According to the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry, 20 million bicycles were purchased in the European Union in 2014, a figure that has been stable for much of the twenty-first century. When it comes to electric power-assisted cycles (EPACs), however, the picture is much less static. In 2006 only 98,000 EPACs were purchased across Europe. By 2014, that figure had grown to over 1.1 million, with Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium purchasing nearly three-quarters of all electric bikes sold.
When I had met Kevin Mayne of the European Cyclists’ Federation in Belgium, he told me that such was the popularity of e-bikes in some countries that many governments were grappling with appropriate legislation. How fast should an e-bike be allowed to go? Should they be permitted to use cycle paths? Is it just cheating for lazy people? (Sorry, I made that one up…). In British law, the following rules apply: an e-bike must weigh 40 kg or less, be no more powerful than 200 watts, not exceed 15 mph and have working pedals, and the rider must be 14 or over.
It looks like the e-bike’s day is coming and that in Germany, where there are now over 2.5 million of them on the road, it has already arrived.
‘How often do you have to charge them?’ I asked the woman.
‘We plug them in overnight but that’s enough for the following day,’ she explained.
I was beginning to see their merit, although I remained sceptical as to quite how long they would have lasted climbing the hills back in Spain.
So that was my first encounter with people who were using electric bikes. Yesterday I recieved an email from The Netherlands:
This is Stephanie, a German living in the cycling capital that is Amsterdam.
This summer I took some weeks off work, packed two full panniers on my bike, took the night ferry from Hoek van Holland to Harwich, and made my way from there to Penzance by train. I had read about LEJOG in the Lonely Planet Cycling Britain but wasn’t sure if I’d make it all the way up to Scotland. Well, as you can see from the subject line, I didn’t, but I still crossed all of England in a zig-zag up to Edinburgh.
And here comes the reason why I am writing to you: in my very first week, while cycling along the beautiful north coast of Cornwall, it must have been between St. Ives and Newquay, I met one of your friends. At the moment of our encounter I wasn’t actually cycling but pushing my bike uphill and he passed me at a surprisingly high speed pointing at his bike and saying: ‘Battery!’ with a smile on his face. I could only say: ‘And no luggage!’. On the top of the hill he was kind enough to wait for me for a little chat, I told him I was headed north but that I’d have to see how far I’d get, and he told me about his friend who had quit his job as a teacher to cycle and write books about his tours, i.e. you. We both cycled further and since he was faster than me we parted, but I ran into him again later at some beach where I had my lunch break.
The friend that she had met was Richard, who lives in Cornwall. What a nice, simple story of cycling friendship on the road… and electric bicycles. You can see there is a theme here. I then notice from the weekly Cycling UK newsletter that there is a new cycle touring themed programme on the TV:
Celebrity father and son take on Britain by Bike!
Former ‘Eastenders’ actor Larry Lamb and his son George, a TV and Radio presenter, embarked on a tour around the iconic coastline of Britain and it has been documented by Channel 5. This is an impressive feat considering Larry is almost 70 … although he does have a little assistance from his electric bike. The first episode aired last week as they set off from the Yorkshire Dales. The second episode is on tonight [Friday 6th October] at 8pm and you can catch up on any missed episodes here.
More proof that the electric bike revolution has arrived? That aside, the programmes are worth a watch. Cycle touring and tourism, albeit without panniers… Here are Larry and George at Stage 1 Cycles at Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales:
Image credits: Channel 5 / Larry Lamb