For as long as I can remember, people have been predicting a boom in electric bicycles. On the Continent, there has been an increase in sales in recent years and in China, 20 million electric bikes were sold in 2009.
In the UK, electric bikes have always had an image problem. Serious cyclists still sneer at them. Commuter cyclists roll their eyes when you ride by on one. Even leisure cyclists laugh. I last rode an electric bike – a monstrous sit-up-and-beg machine with over-sized tubing that weighed more than a Mini and handled like a tractor – a decade ago. I remember people openly exclaiming ‘Hey, cheat!’ as I whirred down the road.
The older I get though, the more appealing electric bikes become. It’s not that I can’t do the miles or climb the hills on a conventional bicycle any longer. It’s just that I’m weary of getting off a train, cycling across town to a meeting and walking in to someone’s office like an over-ripe tomato, in a lather of perspiration, looking like I’ve just emerged from the jungles of Papua New Guinea.
Spencer Ivy is a new electric bike manufacturer. They don’t actively market their bikes as the answer to urban armpit stains, but they lent me a bike and I thought I’d give it a try. The model I borrowed – a ‘Spencer’ – looks much like a well-built commuter bike, only there’s a lithium manganese battery behind the down tube. This battery shares the workload, when you turn it on. It doesn’t take over completely, and you don’t get to rest your legs and smoke a Cohiba as the cityscape slides by. You do have to keep pedalling. There is a torque sensor which calculates how you’re doing, and provides a little the ‘oomph’ accordingly.
With a range of 50 or so miles per charge, the Spencer has enough in the tank to cope with my erratic commuting. It would work perfectly well on one of our Bikecation rides. I rode the Spenser from my rural home in the Black Mountains to Abergavenny station, and took trains to Cardiff, Bristol, London and Manchester on different days. At 22.5kg, the bike is hefty. Carrying it up and down the stairs to cross platforms at several of the railway stations was an upper body workout I hadn’t anticipated. They’re not cheap either. When I was on it, though, it handled well, cutting deftly through the confusion of the city streets.
Would I buy one?