Thursday, 6 June 2019

Hiring an electric bike

Last week I had my first experience of an electric bike, which I hired for travelling to and from a business meeting. It was not an unqualified success. I wonder if anyone has any thoughts around this. The problem was not the electric bit, it was the hiring bit.

The situation was that I needed to go to a business meeting in Hardwick. This is a little outside my comfort range for a bike ride. I generally reckon up to 4 miles OK but this was 6 miles and up a hill. (Yes I know other people consider that normal but I am not very fit. I don’t like to arrive for a business meeting with people I do not know well dripping with sweat.)

I know there is a bus but I wanted to try an electric bike, and also to test - is it sensible to hire an electric bike for those occasions when I want to go a little further afield? (One risk is that I would like the electric bike so much I would want to buy my own and use it all the time. This would not be good for my fitness).

I thought I had left plenty of time. Cycling direct should have taken 40 minutes or so (about the same as the bus). I allowed 90 minutes to be on the safe side. However, I had to cycle into town to pick up the bike, get kitted out, fill in forms, be shown how it works etc. Then get out from the centre of town, take some time cycling around Grange Road area to get used to the bike, then off to Hardwick where of course I missed my way (I always get lost). All in all I arrived just in time! Coming back took about an hour too. This was partly because I opted to use the Coton cycle path which is terribly cracked and bumpy and I had to go quite slowly on a fair bit of it. Also it took extra time to go into town and drop off the hire bike and switch back to mine. Cycling into town and out is much slower than my usual route.

The bike itself was not ideal. It had the battery on the luggage rack over the rear wheel which is a bit high for such a weight. I think the better ones have the battery carried in the middle on the frame.  But the biggest problem was that although the shop man found a small bike for me I was still not happy with the height of the saddle until he took the gel saddle cover off - which meant I was not very comfortable! He said next time I should ask for an extra small bike. They do have some somewhere ...

Also I was a bit put out by the terms and conditions of hire. If I lost the bike (i.e. it was stolen) I would be liable for the replacement cost. Insurance was not available. I have since checked prices and I am amazed to find that you can get electric bikes now sub £1000. e.g. from Halfords.

So the good points were:
  1. I got to my destination in one piece without getting sweaty and with minimal carbon emissions
  2. It was easy to get used to the electric assist and it made the hill no problem. In fact coming back I went over Garret Hostel Lane bridge with no trouble at all. On my own bike I can barely manage this even in low gear.
The bad points were:
  1. It took a long time. I could speed this up by phoning the shop ahead of time with my requirements but I would still have to go in and out of town instead of direct. Also it takes a little time just to fill in the form, have my ID scanned and pay. 
  2. The bike was not comfortable and the balance was hard to get used to. Also the gears were different (I have had hub gears for the last 15 years or so.)
  3. It cost about the same as a taxi would have done (£30 for the day).
If I have to do the same trip again I will try the bus instead.

Of course if I had my own bike it would save a lot of time, be comfortable and I would be used to the balance. Also I could fit it with a basket as I have on my own bike. This is actually rather tempting ...


  1. I have bought a very nice electric bike to commute to work in Cambourne on, and can confirm the risk that you then drop the normal bike and always take the lazy option is very real!

  2. In larger cities (like London), the company Lime provides an app-based way of finding and on-the-spot hiring of electric bikes. I have been tempted myself, but based on my previous experience of similar non-electric schemes (think ofo) and having seen one of their bikes, I decided against it in part for the following reasons:
    - bikes have a single medium size and are very uncomfortable for someone of my height
    - battery was indeed on the luggage carrier.

    Still, seems like a good system to avoid having to purchase one yourself or having to go through the faff of hiring from a reputable shop (and the cost risk you highlight). The downside is obviously the same as with ofo and other similar systems: low quality bikes, public space clutter, etc.


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