Get On Yer – Electric - Bike

27 June 2008

Photo: PowaCycle Puma 2

Tired of pedalling uphill? Why not have an electric motor do the work for you? Electric bicycles have had a greater market penetration than electric cars, probably because they are cheaper and recharging at home is easier.

In recent years many have come onto the market, and there is even an electrically powered super scooter, which outperforms petrol engined competitiors!

Electric bicycles are in the middle ground, between a fully-electric vehicle (EV) and simply pedalling. Legally you do not need tax, MOT, licence or insurance to use an electric bike in the UK, as long as you are over 14 years old and its motor is governed to keep below 15 mph. A sensor monitors the speed and cuts out the engine if you exceed this. Of course you can go faster, but you will need to pedal.

There has been a quiet revolution in these machines in the past few years, old weighty lead-acid battery technology has been superceded by much better and lighter batteries. Currently the state-of-the-art is Lithium Polymer w hich is compact yet provides greater power density than the former leading solution (the Lithium Ion battery). Lithium-Polymer is safer than Lithium Ion and does not pose any risk of explosion or fire. The benefits of LPX Lithium Polymer batteries are significant when compared to Lead Acid batteries on a weight to power ratio, with five times the power of traditional lead acid batteries of equivalent weight. With LPX longer journeys can be made using electric power from a single recharge, giving 42% more range than equivalent NiMh ones.

Electric bicycles are very low emission vehicles. Their running costs are a fraction of petrol engined motorbikes or mopeds. According to electric-bikes.com:

'Even after counting emissions from power plants, electric bicycles are factor 10 less polluting than gas vehicles. For every 500 miles an electric bike is used in place of a car, an average of 25 gallons of fuel is saved - and this much pollution is prevented:

3.42 pounds of hydrocarbons, 25.28 pounds of carbon monoxide,1.77 pounds of nitrogen oxides'

(The numbers here were calculated by David Swain, an engineer at the US EPA's Ann Arbor Mobile Emissions Laboratory.) That is assuming the electricity is supplied by a conventional power plant – if it was “green” electricity generated by renewables, either from the grid or at your own dwelling, then the bicycle would be pollution free in operation. In addition electric bicyles are very quiet and do not emit very much noise pollution.

Photo: PowaCycle PowaBlade

Eddie Kehoe of The Electric Transport Shop recommends that a good electric bicycle will set you back about £400-600. The cheapest ones are around £200, but you get what you pay for, particularly in terms of battery capability. Geoff Pick of PowaCycle recommends their cartoony-looking PowaBlade only for short trips to the shops as it has a lead acid battery and hence costs only £199. More capable bikes in the £500-600 price band with Lithium Polymer batteries feel and look like conventional ones and are good for commuting, or for those aged 50 plus whose legs can't cope with the hills any more. A government programme called Cyclescheme, can mean that a commuter's employer can purchase the cycle – either normal or electric – at about 50% discount, which the employee then pays off like hire purchase, owning the vehicle over 12 or 18 months.

Electric bikes come in a variety of guises – from dinky small-wheeled folders that can be stowed in the back of a car, boat or caravan, to more conventional bike styles, including those with sit-up-and-beg front baskets. There are even electric tricycles, which can be used for deliveries, or extra mobility for a person with some degree of impairment.

If you happen to love your existing bike, it can be converted into an electric one with a £750 kit. The Electric Transport Shop will do it for you if you are not mechanically minded for £50, on top of the price of the kit.

Photo: one of The Electric Transport Shop's conversions, showing how normal-looking the bike is

The Vectrix maxi-scooter is the world's first high-performance electric scooter. the BMW of the electric scooter range. Its top speed of 62 mph (100 km/h) and fast acceleration – faster than many superbikes - make it safe and easy to zip in and out of traffic. The onboard charger plugs into any standard electrical outlet to quickly charge the batteries, which provide up to 70 miles (110 km) of travel on a single charge. A low centre of gravity and stiff frame provide excellent handling. It is not cheap at £6000 + VAT. For this money you get high-spec components including Brembo disc brakes front and rear, Marzocchi forks, and Pirelli tyres. It even has regenerative braking and a low-speed reverse. Recharging at home or at one of the charging points now being set up in London and elsewhere, will take two to two and a half hours. With this vehicle, of course, you would have to pay insurance, but it is claimed to be 25% cheaper to run than an equivalent 400cc petrol engined motorbike. An electric charge will cost 20p, as opposed to £7 or £8 worth of petrol. As oil prices rise, that differential will increase.

Photo: Vectrix Maxi- Scooter

Increasingly, electric cycles will take their place on the roads alongside hybrid cars, EVs, LPG vehicles, and other carbon-saving modes of transport.

Links:

The Electric Transport Shop

PowaCycle

Electric Bikes

The Carbon Managers Ltd - The Green Building - Beckington - Bath - BA11 6TE
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