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

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Effortlessly pedalling up one of Edinburgh’s steepest streets proved not just a novelty for me but for others too.

I was still adjusting to the sensation of the electric bike powering me up the cobbled lane when I noticed tourists taking pictures of this weird phenomenon too.

Scotsman transport correspondent Alastair Dalton tries out one of the electric bicycles that will be able for hire in Edinburgh from next year. Picture: Jon Savage

Scotsman transport correspondent Alastair Dalton tries out one of the electric bicycles that will be able for hire in Edinburgh from next year. Picture: Jon Savage

However, the sight of cyclists appearing to belie their fitness level by tackling the capital’s most challenging topography could soon be commonplace under a cycle hire scheme that will include electric bikes planned for next year.

Deceptively similar looking to a traditional bike, and far lighter than I had expected, electric bikes offer an entirely different experience.

Slight pressure on the pedal and the bike whisks you off - which was such an unnerving feeling the first time I tried it, my instinctive reaction was to stop pedalling.

From then on, it felt like someone was constantly giving me a gentle push, a bit like a parent propelling a child forward while they learn to ride.

Picture: Jon Savage

Picture: Jon Savage

To get that extra burst of acceleration, you can give the pedal a sharp kick - although the motor will only take you to 15mph. Above that, it’s down to leg muscle.

Electric bikes are only what’s termed “pedal assist”, and you ride them just like a normal cycle - not a powered scooter.

This I soon realised when ascending Mound Place and Ramsay Lane, between The Mound and Royal Mile - the bike slowed down because I was in too high a gear.

But that’s about the only thing to get the hang of, and with only three gears, it’s easy to master.

Easy does up The Mound in Edinburgh with an electric boost. Picture: Jon Savage

Easy does up The Mound in Edinburgh with an electric boost. Picture: Jon Savage

My test ride yesterday was as the first journalist in the UK to try out a new German-built electric bike that will be used for the Transport for Edinburgh hire scheme if nextbike - which already operates ones in Glasgow and Stirling - wins the contract.

The Pedelec has a range of around 60 miles between charges, weighs only about 6kg more than nextbike’s traditional hire bikes, and looks pretty similar - with its motor encased in the lower frame.

They charge up at docking stations between hires.

Nextbike UK managing director Julian Scriven said: “The point is not to design an electric motorbike but a bike that feels like you’re cycling on the flat the whole time.”

I then put that to the test on a longer ride, using a commuter electric bike from Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative, with Ged Holmyard from the shop.

The Whyte Clifton, which costs £2,350, is slightly lighter and has ten gears, but otherwise a similar experience.

With that extra oomph, I found yourself keeping up with the traffic much better than on my normal bike.

With much of Edinburgh now 20mph, Mr Holmyard said it should help normalise cycling.

But I also find myself strangely longing for hills to climb - so we headed for Arthur’s Seat.

The road to near the summit would normally be a challenge - but you hardly notice the ascent on an electric bike.

But switching the power off up there, in the teeth of an Arctic blast, just to feel the difference, I soon realised the assistance the motor had given me as I slowed to a crawl.