The E-Bike Advantage

Electric Brompton

Even on my elderly Brompton I can comfortably beat the bus in and out of town within the city, but for longer journeys my natural instinct would be to extend my Brompton's range by folding it up and using public transport. I was recently chatting with a classmate of mine from the Brasshouse as we cycled to our respective homes via the A38 blue route. He had been to a rock concert in Wolverhampton the previous weekend, and commented on how the tram made for a really slow way to get to there, and how in terms of time he might as well cycle the journey (he rides a road bike, or at least did until it was stolen from outside the library the following week).

If a traditional road bike is a match for the tram between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, how much does an e-bike tip the balance between making a journey by bike instead of public transport? Recently YouTuber JenOnTheMove gave it a try, racing the limited-stop bus from Bromsgrove to Birmingham city centre. This is a distance of around 25 km, and there's a stiff hill climb of around 130 m (the infamous Lickey Incline, which has traditionally been a problem for trains). One would think that for this journey surely the bus would be faster, but the result surprised both participants:

Anyone familiar with the Lickey Incline will know it's only quick to ride on a traditional bike in the downhill direction, but e-bikes make climbing hills just as easy. Although the e-bike will be relying on electricity generation, its energy requirement will be a fraction of the per-passenger requirement of a bus. Also, most buses burn diesel (which will help keep Vladamir Putin in business), whereas e-bikes rely on electricity and muscle power. The need to pedal keeps one fit and active, whilst the small amount of electricity needed can easily be met from renewable sources. Of course there will be those that grumble about e-bikes being in some way impure, but that argument will gain no traction with people who just want to make a journey.

In another video Jen also beat the Manchester tram, despite having electrical and mechanical issues with her bike. Jen makes reference to the disastrous effect a need to switch trams would have had on the person travelling by tram. Now imagine what happens with  journeys that don't begin and end at a conveniently close bus or tram stop. Whilst public transport is a critical part of reducing our carbon footprint, e-bikes really are a game-changer, significantly increasing the distance over which cycling can be a great form of personal transport.