Saturday 10th September

Test ride an e-bike!

Where: Silo Park
When: 10-3

Free e-bike test rides, thanks to Mercury - both Saturday and Sunday, at Silo Park in Wynyard Quarter.

You might have spotted Mercury’s zippy new campaign about how wonderful e-bikes are. It’s part of a top-to-toe brand refresh for them, with a focus on new ways to think about energy, where it comes from, and what we’re using it for. The video is pretty persuasive, with a gorgeous young person biking her surfboard to the beach, flattening out the steep Auckland hills and zooming past Lycra lads as she goes…

(If you recognize the various locations, try not to think too hard about how she’s sure as heck taking the long way round – it’s all about the vibe, man! There’s also a nice video of Te Radar taking to the Waikato River Trails and checking out dams, etc, on an e-bike).

Along with the cheery ad comes an offer for new and existing customers: a significant discount on a wide range of e-bikes, from $250 to $500 off.

What’s striking about this campaign is not just how clever (and yet entirely logical) the link is – a power company promoting renewable energy sources and active transport – but also the sheer variety of decent e-bikes on offer, and how many different retailers there are across the country.

It’s official: e-bikes are a thing.

When I started test-riding them early last year, they were still a wee bit fringe, although those who were in on the secret were eloquent about how it opened up the city and generally made life easier. Now, we’re seeing more and more on the streets and on the cycleways, and they’re becoming normal, in fact popular. (It’s a world-wide phenomenon: in the Netherlands, the bike capital of the world, one third of all bikes sold in 2015 were electric bikes.)

Some turn to e-bikes for what you might call remedial reasons – we’ve heard of people returning to cycling via an e-bike after a stroke, for example, or older riders restarting after decades off the bike. But for most, the appeal is simple convenience: being able to ride distances (and hills) in ordinary work clothes, and being dependably free from rush-hour hassles. As one Pt Chev dad puts it: ‘I have a young family, and my wife loves that when I say I’ll be home at 5.30pm, I’m home at 5.30pm – not sitting in traffic.’

Christian Hoff-Nielsen of Bikes and Barbers in Newmarket (and maker of the folding Onya bike) has witnessed the revolution on the ground. ‘We used to have to “convert” people to the idea of e-bikes, explain what they were and how they work,’ he told me. ‘Now people know what they are; they just come to the shop to see which one they need. And they’re really well informed, not just about the bikes, but the paths too. I tell you, the Pink Path sells bikes!’

That echoes something one of our Bike Auckland Facebook friends said the other day: ‘If I had a dollar for every time I have this conversation: “Oh, so you’ve got one of those e-bikes… How is it? I am definitely getting one when that SkyPath over the bridge opens”…’

It’s a feedback loop: more connected bike paths, more bike options, more people biking, and so on. The dream of an electrified public bikeshare scheme is alive and well – it’ll be the magic ingredient for a workable version in our hilly CBD – but in the meantime, workplaces are starting their own. Auckland Council, for example, recently invested in a fleet of eZee Spring e-bikes for staff use…

Just part of Auckland Council’s new e-bike fleet (photo by Glow Worm Electric Bicycles, who supplied the bikes and have a new showroom next to the Canada St entrance to LightPath).

In fact, Council is walking the talk from the top down. Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, who bikes from Te Atatu to town on her own SmartMotion, is a firm convert: ‘It’s like having the wind behind you all the time…It flattens out the landscape. I can arrive at my meeting feeling ready for the meeting, not hot and sweaty, just ready for work.’ As is Councillor Cathy Casey, who bikes from Mt Albert: ‘One ride and I was hooked.’

I’m hooked, too. After trying out a bunch of different electric bikes last year (thanks to Bikes and Barbers) – including a very nippy retrofitted Breezer that I nearly fell in love with – I met the ‘Green Goddess’: a Civia Loring with bamboo trimmings and a hub motor. It was love at first bike.

The Green Goddess on one of my fave secret shortcuts – Fergusson Reserve, Mt Albert.

She only has three gears, but that’s all I needed when I was ten, and I find it’s all I need now. The new bike has expanded the city and shrunk it, too: I can get to town in half an hour from Pt Chev (although I usually take a bit longer, because there’s always something interesting to stop and see along the way), and the north-face-of-the-Eiger Takau St ramp doesn’t bother me one bit. And yes, I can’t wait to ride over SkyPath.

By extending my range and power, the e-bike has also taken a whole lot of shortish car journeys out of my life, which feels good. I can give a kid a ‘double’ home from school or the shops. Seven and a half k to the hairdresser? No probs, and I can stop for baguettes, scope out that feijoa-lined street in Sandringham, and explore a few new greenways through parks on the way home. All the way from Pt Chev to Mission Bay and back for the bike rave, without using a train or a car? That one felt amazing, even if I did have a chain mishap on the way home and had to scoot the last km or two. (Hey, that’s bike life. Never a dull moment.)

In fact, with panniers and power, having an e-bike is like having a spare car – but without ever having to pay for petrol or parking. Beyond the initial purchase price, it costs pennies to charge the battery; the only thing I pay a bit extra for is twice-as-frequent brake checks, because I now ride twice as far as I used to (and because I’ve become a bit of a brakes-on wuss on the downhills, in my old age).

Early in the bike-shopping process, someone told me that electric bikes make for lazy riders. I haven’t found that at all – I’m not into cycling for epic levels of fitness; I just like going places under my own steam, at human speed, and with the e-bike, I go more places. Funny thing is, at the end of a long day, I’ll sometimes find myself pedaling homewards with my thumb on the throttle for a wee bit of a boost… and then I’ll get home and realize I hadn’t even turned the battery on, so whatever ‘boost’ I was feeling was a placebo effect – all that power was all me, all along! I like that.

If you’d like to try an electric bike, Mercury has a bunch of ‘have a go’ weekends planned in Auckland, with free test rides from 10am-3pm at the following locations:

  • Saturday 6 August, Mission Bay
  • Sunday 7 August, Wynyard Quarter
  • Saturday 13 August, Wynyard Quarter
  • Sunday 14 August, Mission Bay
  • (Saturday/Sunday 20/21 – it’s Hamilton’s turn, Innes Common at Hamilton Lake!)
  • Saturday/Sunday 27/28 August, Windsor Reserve in Devonport
  • Saturday/Sunday 3/4 September, Mission Bay
  • Saturday/Sunday 10/11 September, Wynyard Quarter
Electric Bikes
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One response to “Power to the people – how e-bikes are becoming a thing

  1. I am convinced that this is the start of a new wave of commuter transportation for the enlightened. We need to make sure that over-zealous regulators don’t kill the revolution.
    My prediction: in 10 years, buying any bike without a battery will be unusual. Even mountain bikes.

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