Electric bikes, or e-bikes, can already be hired in Stirling and Falkirk, with similar schemes expected to launch in Glasgow next month and Edinburgh next spring. It is a form of transport but also a source of joy as it pulls you up hills with ease, writes Alastair Dalton.
Electric bikes are the drugs I can’t get enough of. But for those like me who have yet to take the plunge and buy one, they are now available for hire on Scotland’s city streets.
The pioneers were Forth Bikes, whose scheme launched in the Falkirk and Stirling areas in June. I have just been told e-bikes are scheduled to be added to the country’s biggest cycle rental scheme in Glasgow next month.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh, which had been expected to add them to its Just Eat Cycles scheme this autumn, has postponed this to next spring, as The Scotsman revealed on Wednesday.
By then, nearly 350 e-bikes should be in use across those three parts of Scotland, along with many others being operated by universities, community and other groups, thanks to nearly £2 million of Transport Scotland funding.
I’ve now been lucky enough to take the Forth, Glasgow and Edinburgh e-bikes for a spin, which has confirmed they would always be my choice over an ordinary rental bike.
I tried one of the Forth Bikes cycles, the only mass hire scheme ones currently available, last week.
The Canadian-built Bewegen bikes are different from the Glasgow and Edinburgh models – which are pretty similar to each other – by being fully automatic. That means, like an automatic car, there are no gears to change as the bike does that for you, responding to how you pedal and the angle of the terrain.
I did find this slightly frustrating when cycling on the flat because I needed to pedal faster to reach the maximum 15mph than I would have with gears. However, I’m told the bikes can be adjusted to suit different riders, and you’re still never far from the next incline and the joy of feeling the bike pulling you up the hill.
Forth Bikes project officer Clement McGeown told me the amount of power provided by the bikes to assist pedalling could even be changed remotely, or for different areas.
A 20 per cent boost can be added for bikes when they are in hilly areas, while their power could also be reduced as a safety measure during extreme weather, such as heavy rain or snow.
Forth Bikes said more than 1,200 people had signed up to the scheme so far, ahead of expectations, taking a total of 1,900 trips.
To date, only 40 of the planned 120 e-bikes are in use, and at only four locations – Stirling University, the Kelpies, the Falkirk Wheel and Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert – although there are due 12 by next summer.
Trying out such cycles is likely to get those new to e-bikes thinking about buying one, and London-based Volt Bikes has been lending them out for free month-long trials provided by the Energy Saving Trust and funded by Transport Scotland in an apparent Scottish first.
Volt kindly arranged for me to try one for myself, and after that length of time, it was hard to give it back and go back to my normal bike.
I found myself getting to work quicker, which was especially welcome during downpours, while headwinds no longer slowed me down.
I also felt more confident in traffic, being able to keep up better with other vehicles, especially in 20mph zones. I was also able to start off faster at junctions and turn right quicker.
With nine gears and three power levels, the Volt Connect hybrid I rode also provided the flexibility to alter speed and cycling effort on longer journeys, which is less of an issue on shorter hire-bike trips on simpler machines.