I noticed a post on Facebook from Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op asking for bloggers to review one of their commuter e-bikes. Perfect I thought, not only have I wanted to try one for a while, it is also something that I think could be a game changer for air quality in Leeds.
Electric battery powered bicycles are great for commuting short to medium distances as they take the effort out of cycling. They are also obviously better for your health and the environment than driving.
To give a little context, I moved to Leeds in 2001, an avid cyclist used to the relatively flat roads and lanes of Hertfordshire. My first uphill bike ride in Leeds put me off so much that I gave my bike away! Flash forward a few years to living in Armley where I got myself another bike and would happily ride into town along the canal path, but then suffer getting back up the hill to my house from the canal. Again, I gave up. Now I live in Meanwood and hardly ever cycle because I suffer from joint pain and can’t handle the hills in and around North Leeds.
So after a very informative chat with Graham Shortt, manager of the Leeds Branch in Chapel Allerton, I chose to borrow a Kalkhoff Jubilee Excite i7 commuter e-bike.
When I arrived to collect it a week later it suddenly dawned on me that I couldn’t think of a way of cycling home that avoided crossing a dual carriage way. The guys in the shop offered me a few options and I set off nervously down the road. The Jubilee has 3 power settings and I stuck with the most powerful one, which kicked in instantly. The bike was comfortable as I was in an upright position, but the weather and roads were not so great.
The day after collection I went out for a dummy run of my commute from Meanwood to Leeds Uni via Headingley. Getting up Grove Lane was a breeze, I even managed to do 16mph with the wind behind me. (Something I’d never manage on my old bike.) However, cycling through the tight sections of Otley road made me nervous as there wasn’t enough room for vehicles to overtake me safely. I made it to work in 15 mins, halving my normal walking time. I chose to ride home through Little London and Woodhouse which was much quicker but had many pot holes to contend with along Meanwood Road.
My final day of the e-bike trial was not great as the battery died with no warning as I was half way up a steep hill. This jolted me off the saddle and forced me to push the bike the rest of the way to work as it’s way too heavy to cycle without power assistance. I didn’t think to check the battery life as I’d only done about 6 miles up until this point so I don’t know if it was my fault or perhaps it was because it was bitterly cold. Either way it was annoying. Thankfully it only took a few hours to completely recharge the battery before returning the Kahlkoff to the shop. This time I had to contend with crossing Scott Hall Road at Sheepscar. I honestly couldn’t figure out a safe and convenient way of doing this, so I zig-zagged my way to the pot hole filled Chapel Town Road via various pedestrian crossings. By the time I arrived at the shop the shutters were down and I was nearly in tears! Thankfully the friendly sales assistants let me in and took the back bike off me.
In short, e-bikes are great as long as you keep them charged up, but commuting by bike in North Leeds is horrible. To this end, HAL will continue to campaign for improved cycling routes across the city to ease congestion and decrease air pollution. Until then, it’s hard to expect people to take up cycling when the infrastructure isn’t there to support them.
If you’re braver than me or live in a part of Leeds that is better served with cycle lanes, then take a look at the other electric bikes that Edinburgh bikes have to offer.