In theory a car can average a high speed, but in practise speed often falls below 10mph in cities. The problem is congestion – motorcycles get around this to some extent, but they’re still confined to the road network. An electric bike can maintain a higher average speed than a bicycle, yet take advantage of the full network of cycle facilities, giving access to routes that cars and motorcycles cannot reach. The result is often a faster door-to-door journey time than any other mode. And by nipping along the relatively uncongested cycle network, but eliminating hills and headwinds, electric bikes tend to be the most consistent mode of travel.
Sweat may not be a serious issue when you’re out for a leisure ride, but it’s more important if you’re cycling to work, and arriving at work sticky puts a lot of people off cycling. Although some employers are rather grudgingly providing showers and other facilities for cyclists, the vast majority have no intention of doing so. An electric bike eliminates the problem at source. Oddly enough, you won’t sweat on an electric bike, even if you put in the same amount of effort as you do on an ordinary bike. This is a matter of physics as well as exertion – higher road speed and greater air flow mean instant sweat evaporation. In hot weather, it’s possible to maintain a normal schedule by transferring a bit more load to the electric motor. In colder weather – or if you feel in need of exercise – just throttle back, or turn the motor off.
It sounds unlikely, doesn’t it? But the mathematics is compelling. Think of a steep and busy road, with cars climbing at 30mph. If you previously slogged up the hill at 6mph, but can tackle the same gradient at 12mph with an electric bike, you will see 33% fewer cars, and they will pass you at 18mph rather than 24mph. Or at least, we think that’s correct. Whatever the figures, there’s no doubt that an electric bike helps to keep you out of danger. The same general principle applies to road junctions and roundabouts – the faster your acceleration, the sooner you can get out of trouble. And with no need to rush the hills, you won’t be tempted to ride downhill at breakneck speed… another useful safety feature..
That may sound obvious, but it’s the primary advantage. A good electric bike effectively flattens hills, increasing your average speed and eliminating the ‘groan’ factor when a gradient comes into view. Provided you supply a reasonable amount of effort, you can expect to climb hills of 1:10 (10%) on an electric bike with ease, and clear a maximum gradient of 1:7 (14%), or even 1:4 (25%) with the right bike. In hilly country, the effect is nothing short of miraculous.
Purchase cost is a little more than a conventional bike, mechanical wear and tear is about the same, and electricity is so cheap as to be largely irrelevant, but there is an extra expense in terms of battery depreciation. Consequently, an electric bike costs more to run – typically 8 – 12 pence per mile against 3 – 7 pence per mile for a non-assisted bike. . However, electric bike running costs should really be compared with those of a moped, car, or public transport, typically 20-40p per mile by bus, 20-60p by train and 30-150p for a small car.
Electric bikes are bicycles in the eyes of the law, so they require no tax, insurance, MoT or licence. You can ride one while disqualified, or after a couple of pints… at your own risk, of course. You CAN get into trouble, but nothing you do will affect your driving licence providing the bike is within the law. You are of course free to insure the machine if you wish, but there’s no compulsion to do anything but enjoy yourself!
Surely a conventional bike will keep you fitter? That, of course, depends how much – if at all – you use it. Research  has found that 46% of conventional bikes are used only once or twice a week, with a further 30% being used once a fortnight or even less. By contrast, a 2001 survey of electric bike owners reveals that a third ride their bike at least once a day and 81% use the bike at least once a week . The figures confirm our experience that an electric bike typically gets used at least twice as often as a conventional machine. Because riding an electric bike is a great deal more enjoyable in hilly country, into strong winds, or when carrying heavy loads, users tend to make better use of them. The motor provides up to half the effort, but more regular use means more exercise for the rider.
Electric bikes are the most fuel efficient mode of transport in everyday use. Typical fuel consumption is 8-16 watt-hours per mile, or something like a tenth as much as a small motorcycle. In old money, that’s the equivalent of 800-2,000mpg.
This is a bit weird, but the evidence is very compelling. Ride a normal bicycle and you will have to top up with extra calories at Tescos. Producing and transporting that food takes a lot of energy, and it’s typically more than the electric bike battery needs to do the same amount of work. Depending on the source of the electricity and the air-miles of the food, an electric bike is responsible for 5.8-13.7g/CO2 per mile, and a normal bike 10.5-18.5/CO2 per mile . Incredible!
At £400-£2,000, an electric bike costs more to buy than a conventional machine, but they tend to hold their value, so you get more of your money back when you move on.
 A to B test data. Both figures assume depreciation over ten years, and annual mileage of 2,500 (electric) and 2,000 (conventional).
 Transport Research Laboratory report: ‘New Cycle Owners: expectations and experiences’ (Davies and Hartley 1998)
 Leeds University report: ‘The New Generation of Private Vehicles in the UK. Should their use be encouraged and can they attract drivers of conventional cars?’ (Neil Guthrie 2001)
 ‘Electric Bicycles’ 2010, Richard Peace and David Henshaw