Electric bicycles have the power and the joy to transform our transport system

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Electric bikes are seen as cheating by some, the reality is the built-in motor will push you on to cycle more, writes Vinnie Wall.

In University, I bought a second hand Dawes racer from a guy called Jack in his Ranelagh bike shop. I’d cycled as a kid but this was different. With a racer, you really get places. Opportunities for exploration suddenly exploded. By ten o’clock on a Saturday morning you could be in Howth or a different county in an hour under your own steam.

“To me, a bicycle isn’t a material thing, but a feeling of freedom, health and adventure.

I used my Dawes racer to go to house parties and lectures, to do the Wicklow 200 or the Ring of Kerry. I loved everything about this fantastic tool. To me, a bicycle isn’t a material thing, but a feeling of freedom, health and adventure.

As I began in the working world I still cycled but didn’t enjoy it as much. I felt the need to get into different clothes, a new uniform for a 30-minute commute.

Invariably I lived close enough to the hospital I worked in to walk or get public transport. With my racer, I never carried anything heavy, it was pure leisure or transport, but I was looking for something to replace a car. I didn’t like clipping in or wearing uncomfortable cycling clothing, but it was hard to wear your regular clothes. I also hated getting back into this attire to get home. I was looking for something different.

I never thought about an electric bike until I met a few owners when living in Cork. I always thought an electric was a cop-out. The group in Cork didn’t own just normal electric bicycles however; they were electric cargo bikes! Most had carriages and had the capacity to carry a lot of weight. This weight could be a weekly shop, bringing the kids on a school run or both. It captured my imagination.

“I’ve been using it everyday since last August as transport, accruing over 3,000km. I scraped the car and haven’t driven since.

So, I bought an electric cargo bike. It has no carriage, but large panniers and a back rack and front rack. It’s a serious piece of kit. I’ve been using it everyday since last August as transport, accruing over 3,000km. I scraped the car and haven’t driven since.

I thought owning an ebike would be great but I underestimated how useful they are. With an ebike, you can wear your normal clothes, you can carry all the stuff you need and more. They are reliable and efficient. Following the initial expense they are cheap to run. If you buy the correct clothes, rain, snow or wind don’t bother you. And with less effort, you sweat less.

I’ve never arrived at work drenched in sweat or rain. I wear normal clothes under a breathable waterproof layer if that’s required and a rain poncho at times. Ponchos can be geeky but I just pretend I’m at a festival. The set up is perfect and the twitter cycling community was a great help in choosing the right kit.

“I’ve found the claustrophobic environment of a hospital hard over the past year. You can spend hours donned in PPE with foggy goggles. I really value the headspace a bicycle lends to you on a commute…

From a mental health perspective, I’ve found the claustrophobic environment of a hospital hard over the past year. You can spend hours donned in PPE with foggy goggles. I really value the headspace a bicycle lends to you on a commute, the airy moments of wind on your skin and the rain on your face.

Another benefit to an electric bicycle is you tend to cycle more. According to Dutch studies people cycle 350% more owning an electric bicycle than they otherwise would with a normal bike. It’s so easy that you look for excuses to go places, even if you’re tired. I’ve also found my baseline fitness has improved.

I own a Brompton (my pride and joy) and use it for more relaxed weekends when I don’t need to be anywhere. I’ve started to cover big distances on the Brompton because it separates commuting cycling from pure fun. It’s now my exercise bicycle.

Although changing my mode of transport is a personal change, it’s nice to contextualize in the bigger picture. From the perspective of two wheels, you see the holes in our current car centric transport system. Cycling over the M50 everyday, there are six lanes of pure madness. I remember growing up hearing adding two lanes would help our congestion problem. Years later it hasn’t. This was a lie. The more you facilitate car-centric transport, the more there will be.

According to the 2016 Census, 422,000 cars are owned by the residents of Dublin’s continuous urban area alone. That excludes commuter towns and rural areas around the city. The surface area the cars occupy is huge and they eat into our public space with both legal and illegal ‘just for a minute’ parking. This can’t be the way forward for many reasons.

Think about a car. Fundamentally, most of the fossil fuel burned is used to move the car, not the person in it. It’s hugely inefficient driving a 2 tonne vehicle less than 2km to the shop to get the paper.

Almost 30% of car journeys in Dublin are under 5km, and there’s very low car occupancy in Dublin of just 1.2 persons per vehicle. But yet, we give cars the lion’s share of public space.

IMAGE: National Travel Survey 2016, CSO.

Bicycles negate this inefficiency and give back to the public realm. They are quiet, efficient, full of personality are powered by the greatest tool you’ll ever possess-your body.

They build resilience. When I see a person on a bike, I see joy, I see power, I see a functioning heart and lungs and it makes me happy. Our bodies were built to move. I don’t feel that joy watching cars at traffic lights. Cars aren’t humans. In my opinion they detract from the human state and I think we’ve been fooled.

To end, if you are considering an electric bike I have three tips: (1) get a cargo bike, if you’re going electric let the battery do the heavy lifting. It can replace a car; (2) get a detachable battery, (3) buy the best one you can afford.

Getting on a bicycle everyday has been a total joy over the course of the pandemic. Electric bikes are powerful tools that have significantly improved my quality of life. Looking forward I reckon they have the power to transform our transport system.

2 COMMENTS

  1. A typical car weights 2000 Kilos. A typical person weights 80 kilos. Therefore 96% of the fuel burned goes to push the car and not the person.

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