Nic Smith has been commuting on an e-bike for a few months now, and wouldn’t change a thing. Here’s her story…
The best way to illustrate what it’s like to have an e-bike is to tell you that whenever I share the experience with someone who’s never ridden one before, their response is generally ‘Holy shit!!’ and a cackle. People just laugh at how much fun it is to suddenly blast off, with just one turn of the pedals. And I’m still laughing. I’ve had my beast for nearly four months now and I still don’t take for granted the freedom, the mobility and the fun it’s given me.
Six months ago when I first contemplated buying one, it was because a woman I chatted to while waiting at traffic lights told me that her electric bike had changed her life. She said it cost her $2.50 a week (in power) to get from Te Atatu to the city and back each day – that was what piqued my interest. If she’d told me how much fun it was to ride one, I would have bought one the next day.
I had a racing bike at the time, and thought that was a big step up from the mountain bike I used to schlep to work on (from Waterview to the university) a couple of times a week. Even with the light-weight racing bike, I’d still arrive at work beetroot red, sweating buckets and wanting a shower before cracking into the day. And of course I’d have to take a change of clothes, toiletries and all that malarkey.
That’s all a thing of the past now because with the e-bike you can wear whatever you like knowing you’re never really going to break a sweat. And of course I get there in half the time…
Which raises a couple of issues, to do with safety and I guess ‘cycling etiquette’.
- You can go considerably faster on an e-bike. I like speed, and I tend to travel in maximum power-assist mode, cruising at around 30kph or a bit more where I can. This wouldn’t ever be a problem, except for the fact that so many of Auckland’s cycle paths are shared with pedestrians, many of whom lope along with earbuds in. Aaaaargh! Not cool. The problem is, if you’ve got earbuds in and can’t hear me coming, I’m doing all the traffic awareness work for both of us. I do give pedestrians a wide berth, and I slow down and use my bell especially if I think they can’t see or hear me coming – but if a walker changes direction suddenly or flails their arms around, one or both of us is going to get hurt. If we have to have shared paths, can we please all try to share awareness of each other a bit more? [Ed note: we don’t have to have shared paths, ideally – international best practice tells us the pedestrian/bike relationship shouldn’t be a zero-sum game, even if some city planners assume it is!]
- Which leads me to the etiquette bit. I travel at such a steady clip now, that regular cyclists cruise along in my slipstream. Twice in one week, I’ve had the experience of being tailed that like by men, and it wasn’t fun. I’d be fine about it if they just asked at the lights or whatever – but to just shadow someone uninvited for any length of time is creepy and feels like stalking. I’ve never travelled fast enough before to have this experience (even on the racing bike), so maybe it’s something experienced cyclists take for granted? But I think it’s just good manners to ask if you can freeload like that. Plus – guys, if I know you’re there and intend to be for a while, I know not to brake suddenly.
I do sometimes feel a weird tension from some men when we pull up alongside each other at traffic lights. They look me and my bike up and down in a way that I assume suggests they think that e-bikes aren’t really authentic. One old-school cyclist did tell me he thought using e-bikes was ‘cheating’. What?? It’s not a race and it’s not a competition. Get over it! E-bikes get people exercising and traveling further, and get people out of their cars, which is good for the environment – so I don’t get the cheating thing at all.
So what’s it like on my day-to-day commute? It now takes me less than half the time to get to work that it did on my ‘racing’ bike. I’m incredibly fortunate my commute is 95% dedicated cycleway (go the Northwestern), and with the recent upgrade (thanks, Causeway Alliance and Well Connected Alliance!) now I get to enjoy a flax-lined and almost flattened out safe path – plus the thrill of the Grafton Gully, before one last uphill at the end of my journey. Hill? My bike eats hills for breakfast, so hills don’t induce any ‘North Face of the Eiger’ trepidation that I’ve previously read about on here.
I can get to work and back twice (40km) on one battery charge, which might not sound like much [ed: judiciously used, some batteries can give you up to 100km per charge], but remember I’m permanently in maximum power support, so that’s pretty good going. My bike has a throttle as well as power assist, so taking off from lights is really pleasant, using just my thumb to surge us forward.
A few months in, my bike still thrills me every time I use it. Do yourself a favour and try one. Soon.
— Nic Smith
Heads up: Mercury is offering free e-bike test rides in Aotea Square on weekends before Christmas: 10am – 3pm, Saturday and Sunday 3/4, 10/11, and 17/18 December.