Cambridge’s first budget electric bike reviewed

The election of the Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough on May 4 generated some lively campaigning, not least from the independent candidate, local businessman Peter Dawe.

Although the political race is run it’s clear that Dawe has a deep interest in and commitment to the region and is intent on developing the social enterprise themes explored during his campaign. Ongoing projects include an offer to take on the Broadway Theatre in Peterborough, the Fenland Modular Homes factory plan and the launch of the Cambridge Electric Transport Company, which is preparing to retail a range of “Peter’s Pedals” electric bikes.

The first model in the range is the £700 eBike which proved to be a lot of fun in the week I had it on test – it’s surprising how quickly you can get used to going electric, not least because it’s a lot faster than pedal power and means you can whizz along the river effortlessly overtaking runners and push-bikers alike.

The practical details are straightforward: the eBike has a 250W brushless rear motor and is powered by a lithium battery which takes four hours to charge (closer to six if it needs a 100% recharge). Billed as a budget model, it has a 35-mile range with a top speed of 16mph. There’s built-in front and rear LED lights which you activate via push-buttons on an LED display panel on the left handlebar. The panel shows which of three speed modes you’re in and how much battery power you have left.

Each speed mode affects your range – in ‘High’ mode you’re going to run the battery down faster than in the middle mode, and much more quickly than in eco/low mode, so that 35-mile range would come down to something closer to 20 miles if you stay in top gear. This more rapid battery drain incentivises you to plan your mileage and journey times carefully. If you’re in a hurry, the charge goes down much faster, so it’s not a bad idea factor in extra time so you can travel further more slowly. And why not, if you have time to enjoy the view…

Looks-wise the eBike is smart and functional. The frame makes it easy for women riders to get on and off. The saddle is comfortable and all the instrumentation is easy to use, even in the dark. It’s hard not to feel familiar with the set-up even after a couple of hours, and it’s easy to ride and control – unlike the Haibike Nduro I tested a while back, which was an uncontrollable beast. But then that costs £6,000 – you could buy eight of these eBikes for that price and still have change for a spa holiday.

In terms of effort, you don’t have to actually push – you turn the wheels to keep the electric power in play, but you don’t need much muscle power to turn the pedals. If you do pedal as per a conventional bike your legs meet minimal resistance, akin to what pedalling’s like when the chain comes off. This inertia is peculiar to start with but, with familiarity, makes eBike cycling rather graceful, except when you’re setting off. This requires a knack because it takes a second for the electric power to kick in, so you’re working the pedals and for a moment there’s no response, then the motor kicks in and you’re away. You basically need to give the bike a shove to set off smoothly.

The eBike is suitable for all ages, though at 25kg needs a bit of oomph to lift, but the rack above the rear wheel helps you hoik it over kerbs, and the stand makes it easy to park up. It’s simple to get the battery pack out and put it back. The charging-up process is very straightforward. There’s nothing here likely to go wrong and the Chinese OEM has made it as easy as possible to operate and run.

As cycleway networks expand and links between villages and city are enhanced, electric cycles offer excellent value for money while ensuring that trips to and from the workplace mean never having to break sweat. The eBike qualifies for the government-backed Cycle to Work scheme for employees, so ask your employer if that’s an option for you.

But regardless of whether you’re a business or a private user, the eBike has considerable merit and marks a new and more affordable era for existing and new cyclists. Peter’s Pedals is helping turns electric bikes into appealing low-cost consumer items and that’s got to be a good thing. Did you know that if the UK had the same cycling levels as Copenhagen we would cut our CO2 emissions by 25%? Every option to head in this direction has to be welcomed and hats off to Peter Dawe for putting his money where his mouth is to get the ball rolling – hope that’s not too awkward an image – without statutory powers or tapayers’ money.

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