Alastair Dalton: Prepare for the electric bike revolution

No one is going anywhere fast just now, after the entire Central Belt was properly smothered with snow for the first time in two decades.

Electric bikes are due to become widely available in Edinburgh with the launch of a hire scheme this summer. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Electric bikes are due to become widely available in Edinburgh with the launch of a hire scheme this summer. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Many roads have been impassable by car or bus, and railway lines have disappeared under feet of snow.

The official advice has been not to travel, but for short journeys, essential trips have of course still been possible, and many people have taken to walking.

Cycling on even wide-tyred mountain bikes at current snow depths is likely to be unfeasibly hard work over any distance - although I have yet to try it.

However, from road testing an electric mountain bike for two weeks during icy conditions just before Christmas, the impressive extra pedal power they provide could be just what’s needed to be getting about in the current weather.

I mention this as an extreme example of an e-bike’s versatility, because, as mentioned, this week’s snow is a rarity for much of Scotland.

However, taking out the Alpine model kindly lent me by makers Volt Bikes quickly showed their potential.

There wasn’t much snow then, but what steep grassy inclines I could find in Glasgow were effortlessly scaled as if I was riding on the flat.

Icy surfaces were no problem either. The only time I came to grief and fell off was when I stupidly tried to adjust the front light while cornering on an icy road.

I have found it is in fact often easier to cycle than walk on sheet ice - unless you have spikes attached to your footwear - so long as you don’t corner or brake sharply.

For every other day of the year when there’s no snow or ice on the ground, an e-bike is even more of a potential game changer for personal travel. It’s also worth repeating, as I’ve quoted advocates saying before, that they are a “gateway drug into cycling”.

Expense is still the main barrier, with e-bikes costing upwards of £500 and the Volt model I borrowed three times as much.

However, I’m told this is already coming down as battery technology improves, which accounts for most of the extra cost and weight of the bikes.

That will also improve the bikes’ range, because with power switched to max, I found that ascending even short snowy hills had quite an impact on charge levels.

I was immediately converted to e- bikes the moment I tried one for the first time, on a bitterly cold and rainy day in Edinburgh in November. Every time I have got on one since, I haven’t been able to help smiling. You even start looking forward to going uphill. It’s an amazing feeling.

I don’t know anyone who’s felt different, even some reluctant-to-cycle relatives.

However, the big change will come when e-bikes become widely and cheaply available to sample with the launch this summer of Edinburgh’s bike hire scheme, which will include at least 100 e-bikes.

A further 50 will be available in a similar scheme in Stirling, and other areas are likely to follow, such as Glasgow.

Transport for Edinburgh is evaluating bids from companies after receiving “considerable interest”, and said it will make an announcement by the end of the month.

Could this be the start of a revolution? And where could it lead? Perhaps one day commuters will leave their cars in park-and-cycle sites and pedal off into a transformed city?