Alastair Dalton: The ‘electric-bike smile’ is now official

The Urban Arrow cargo bike which Mark Beaumont is due to ride tomorrow. Picture: Andy Catlin/Edinburgh Festival of Cycling
The Urban Arrow cargo bike which Mark Beaumont is due to ride tomorrow. Picture: Andy Catlin/Edinburgh Festival of Cycling
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He’s cycled round the world - but not on this type of machine, yet.

Mark Beaumont will take part in the Scottish cycling lobby’s annual Pedal on Parliament tomorrow on a cargo bike.

The equivalent of riding along with a roofbox up front is a convenient way of transporting children – as Mark is expected to do with his in Edinburgh – or pretty much anything else you would put in a car.

Add an electric motor, and what might seem a daunting vehicle to master becomes a doddle, as I found out this week on the very bike that Beaumont will use.

Available for hire from Edinburgh Festival of Cycling’s chief executive, Kim Harding, it was among those showcased at the launch of a scheme to increase electric bike use.

My trepidation at the thought of piloting the cycle equivalent of a supertanker soon turned to delight at finding how easy it was to ride, circling the entrance of the Scottish Government’s Victoria Quay offices. The trick, I’m told, is to look ahead, not down at the bike.

READ MORE: Alastair Dalton: Prepare for the electric bike revolution

But far from being novelty transport, cargo bikes have the potential to replace vans on some trips, as the GO e-Bike event, organised by the South East of Scotland Transport Partnership (Sestran) co-ordinating body, demonstrated.

This includes moving around tools and plants at the Clear Buckhaven environmental regeneration group.

It is another example of how electric bikes could transform cycling, along with The Scotsman’s revelation this week that London “Boris Bikes” operator Serco will have 100 of them for hire in Edinburgh from this summer (together with 500 traditional cycles) in the UK’s second largest e-bike scheme after Derby.

E-bike rentals that have already popped up include at St Andrews University, which hopes to encourage some of its 300 office staff to cycle when they are moved to Guardbridge, five miles away. It offers free 24-hour hires.

Forth Environment Link’s bike hire scheme in Stirling, which already includes cargo bikes, is being extended to include e-bikes, to be followed by ones in Falkirk and Alloa.

A particular focus will be trying to entice onto electric wheels staff, patients and visitors travelling between Larbert station and Forth Valley Royal Hospital.

E-bikes are also available at the West Lothian Bike Library in Livingston, which boasts 100 miles of off-road paths.

Other such e-bike “hubs” are planned in East Lothian, Midlothian and the Borders.

READ MORE: Video: Edinburgh’s new electric bike hire given a test ride

In another approach, employers are being offered free six-week e-bike hire points as a taster for staff.

Significantly, civil servants at Victoria Quay seem to be loving theirs. Travelling to meetings at St Andrew’s House, the Scottish Government’s headquarters in the city centre 2.5 miles away, is all uphill.

But, according to Simon White of Active Cycling Projects, which is running the scheme: “After 17 minutes cycling, they arrived with big smiles on their faces – and not sweaty.”

I’ve written before about my similar reaction on riding an e-bike, and it happened on every single day of my two-week trial of an Alpine model provided by Volt Bikes in December.

It is, in fact, an officially recognised benefit. Chris Slade, of cycle-sharing developers Bikeplus, which is spearheading GO e-Bike, listed it as the “E-bike smile” in his presentation at Monday’s event: “You get on one an go ‘wow’ – it’s like having a permanent tail wind.”