Thursday, 26 October 2017

Do Andriods Dream of Electric Bikes?

Its finally happened. I been gone and bought an E Bike. Trust me, I do have a good reason for doing so and the bike was purchased for sensible practical applications (I have no intention of doing any hill climbing on it).

Ever since the summer when my dad was first admitted to hospital I've had to combine work with visiting him and also taking care of the dog. This has meant running round like a stressed out blue arsed fly and I initially took to driving to work so I could check on the dog every lunchtime. Given that I work close to home this is plain stupid. Thing is, there is a fairly steep hill between work and home and even with the right bike, the right clothes and the right frame of mind I'm going to struggle riding up that damn hill at least twice a day at a speed that will allow me to fit in a meaningful visit home. Doing so in work clothes wearing steel toe shoes will make it even more difficult. I'm good but not that good.

After a few weeks of driving the car to work I decided the best option was an E bike. I wouldn't have the hassle of parking the car and the stress of having to park it after using it, plus after a stressful and difficult summer I guess I just wanted to spend a bit of money on myself. Besides, a man can never have too many bikes...

E bikes range from cheap and nasty to expensive and very lovely. After looking around at what was available at a price point I was happy with I decided to go for an Original 700 E Bike from Decathlon. I've long been interested in their bikes as they generally get very good reviews whilst being pretty good value for money. I also figured that being a European manufacturer that Decathlon would know how to put together a truly practical electric utility bike.

Worlds largest bike box. Stood on its end its almost as tall as me

A few days after ordering online the worlds largest bike box was delivered to where I work. It seems that Decathlon like to ship their bikes fully built. I had to borrow a works van to get it home and even then it took two of us to manhandle the box into the back of a Ford Transit Connect. Getting it out by myself at home involved a lot of swearing and trying not to drop it on the dog.

Removing the bike from the box revealed Decathlons new slider box design. Basically the inside of the box has a separate cardboard runner that the bikes wheels sit in. It allows you to slide the whole thing out really easily. Its a neat idea. The bike only took a few minutes to set up (Decathlon do most of the hard work for you) and the battery didn't take too long to fully charge. I was soon able to view my new purchase in all of its glory.

The beast emerges from its lair. No dry ice sadly

The beige beast

My first impressions of the bike were not encouraging. The online photos didn't fully prepare me for just how beige it is. And ugly. Its an ugly beige bike. Its sort of endearing but, well, ugly. The cheap rear suspension doesn't help the looks. The suspension fork I could live with but the rear suspension is a bit rubbish and is already creaking and squeaking. With any luck it will seize up without any proper servicing and the bike will become a hard tail.

Whats that famous line from the film Predator? Oh yes; "You are one ugly motherf**ker"

The bike is also heavy, I mean small moped heavy. Seriously, the damn thing needs a motor and I need some form of truss after trying to pick it up. The motor and battery mean most of the bikes weight is at the rear and quite high up. It takes a bit of getting used to the balance point of the bike. Unlike a lot of the more modern E bikes available the beige beast has a non integrated battery pack that sits in a rear rack arrangement with a motor hub in the rear wheel. The more modern solution is for a motor built into the bottom bracket area but £799 doesn't buy a lot of modern in the E bike world. It does however come with a dashboard which lights up at night, which is kind of cool.

The brakes aren't great, which is a disappointment given that they have to try and stop a bike that seems to weigh a million tonnes when it is careering downhill. Its mainly down to the rubbish brake blocks which I can replace with decent cartridge ones once I wear them out.

The one thing that the bike does have going for it is its practicality. It comes with full mudguards, a kick stand, a rear rack, built in lights and a funky dashboard thingy. Ideal for riding around town and to work.

The power

Of course all of the accessories are nice but the key feature about this bike is of course the source of the weight; the power pack and how it lets the bike go. Like all legal road going E bikes mine is limited to providing only pedal assisted bursts of power with a top speed of 15.5mph before the power cuts out. It also cuts out if you stop pedalling. Downhill its a case of holding for grim death as gravity takes over. 30 mph is easily achieved just by coasting downhill. Did I mention its heavy? The motor is a 250 watt unit (all you are legally allowed) and provides the bike with three levels of assistance:

Level 1 – low level of assistance unless you are really starting to struggle but quite good on flat bits of road and just getting going.

Level 2 – a mid range setting that I've not gotten the hang of yet.

Level 3 – Turbo fun time. Stick the bike in a high gear, crank up the watts to level three and just go for it simply to see how fast you can accelerate. Also good for steep and/ or long hills. Or for when you just want to experience turbo fun time. Blasting away from a standstill is quite addictive and I spent my first test ride laughing like a fool at the experience. I use this setting a lot.

Ohh, look a motor...

I should also add the bike has a walking mode. If you have to push it up a steep hill it will literally power itself along at walking pace as long as you keep a button pushed down. Seriously. Its a great feature for getting the thing up some shallow steps at work.

Using the power effectively takes some getting used to. You have to meet the bike half way to get the best out of it. You can spin slowly up steep hills and get some assistance or you can try to use the 250 watt motor to provide a decent boost to your efforts. On the flat you can just spin gently whilst accelerating but on the hills working a bit harder does result in some decent speeds.

The future is electric?

Well, possibly. As a practical way of getting around town without the car the E bike is a great tool. Its been designed to be an everyday form of transport and in that respect it works really well. Its been designed to be ridden everyday by normal people, in normal clothes doing normal things like going to work or the shops. For me it gets ridden to and from work and also to the nursing home where my dad is. Some days I have to ride up the same steep hill three times and on the E bike its just easy and I never think that I'm too tired to do it. Its comfortable and as long as you just want to get about without much fuss its excellent. At the weekends however climbing onto the road bike is more fun. Yes, you have to put all the motive effort in yourself but a practical E bike will never replace the sheer joy of riding a responsive 'normal' bike in challenging terrain. The feeling of riding a lightweight bike after a week of manhandling a two wheeled tank about is actually quite liberating.That said, for urban trips the E bike is a bit of a game changer. With its built in lights, sensible riding position and lack of parking restrictions it is now regularly a better option than my car for around town trips. Of course any normal bike is better than a car for around town trips but after a hard and tiring day at work a normal (or should than be analogue?) bike doesn't give you the option of selecting level 3...