When pedal power is not enough

Co-founder of Pickering - Polly Taylor

When I heard that local experts Energise e-bikes wanted someone at the Times to take one of their bikes for a spin and write a review, I quickly volunteered. I’m a keen cyclist with a particular passion for mountain biking but one of my least favourite things about cycling is pedalling uphill. Surely an e-bike was the answer to my prayers?

E-bikes have been around for decades but in recent years, advances in technology have led to them becoming lighter, more efficient and a lot more fun to ride and as a result, their popularity has soared. Modern e-bikes work on a principle known as “pedal-assist”, which means the bike won’t move unless you turn the pedals, but the electric motor makes this much, much easier than it would be on a conventional bike.

A gentle push on the pedals and the bike supplies all the extra power needed to make climbing the hills of a town like Tunbridge Wells an absolute breeze. The bike will only assist up to a speed of 15.5mph (as that’s as fast as the law allows for pedal assist), but most riders will likely find this more than ample for their needs.

The Bergamont E-Ville SUV model I was given by Energise E-bikes on St John’s Road, Tunbridge Wells for the weekend was very different to the mountain bike I usually ride.

With an upright riding position, large, comfortable saddle and luggage rack over the rear wheel, it’s clearly been designed for urban use.

The addition of Schwalbe off-road tyres, front suspension and integral mudguards also let you know that the E-Ville can also ride off the beaten track when required.

Stopping is not a problem, either as the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes are very capable either on or off-road.

The styling may seem a little bit retro, but the black and acid-green paint scheme gives a bit of a modern twist to the look of the bike.

 

‘The Bergamont E-Ville SUV model I was given by Energise E-bikes on St John’s Road, was very different to the mountain bike I usually ride’

 

Changing through the 11 gears is done via paddles on the right-hand side of the bars and on the left sits a small LCD unit that gives you control over the motor. It’s also here that the on and off switch is located as well as a selector to switch between four power modes Eco, Tour, Sport and Turbo.

As you’d expect, the higher the setting, the more power the bike puts in, but this also means more power will be drained from the battery. Whilst riding, this screen will also display your current speed, and give an indication of how much battery power you have remaining.

According to the manufacturer, you can expect to get 30-60 miles out of a fully charged battery. This will be dependent on the weight of the rider, how you ride and the type of terrain you’re riding over.

When familiarising myself with the Bergamont with a short ride around the block, I was struck by how the upright riding position makes you feel very tall and able to see and be seen.

This is extremely beneficial when cycling through traffic and, coupled with the comfortable, solid and stable feeling of the bike as you ride it, generates a feeling of confidence. A quick potter to the shops wasn’t really what I had in mind for the powerful Bosch motor though, so I set about planning a longer, more challenging ride.

One of the greatest things about cycling is the feeling of freedom and the ability to explore.

Having an electric motor along for the ride offers the option to go further and not worry about how many hills there are between home and where you’d like to get to.

The weather was fair for the weekend so I decided to take the Bergamont out onto a small section of the South Downs Way to see how it would cope with some gentle off-road riding.

Starting from the outskirts of Eastbourne and heading west over the downs, there can be few better places to be than the South Downs, taking in views of rolling farmlands, chalk cliffs and the English Channel beyond.

 

 

Steering the E-Ville off the tarmac and onto the mixture of gravel, flinty chalk and rutted dirt of the bridleways didn’t seem to take the bike out of its comfort zone at all.

The tyres had plenty of grip, the front suspension soaked up the worst of the bumps and the solid, stable feeling the bike gave on the road remained.

As the trail dipped for the long, steep descent of a hill, the powerful Shimano disc brakes gave me complete control over the speed of the bike, keeping things steady and stable and allowing me to pick a smooth course at a sensible speed for the bike.

The pretty village of Jevington in the Seven Sisters country park, involves a pretty stiff climb. This meant I was about to give the Bosch motor its first proper test.

The first time you climb a hill using a pedal-assist e-bike is always likely to put a big smile on your face.

It brought to mind memories of being a small child just learning to ride a bike with an adult’s hand on my back pushing me forward.

The e-bike offers two options for tackling a hill. Either you pop it up into sport or turbo mode, gently turn the pedals, and cruise serenely forward. The rider is the effortlessly elegant swan and the electric motor is the unseen paddling feet.

Alternatively, you put a little bit of sweat into the climb and find yourself at the top in no time at all. As I’ve ridden this route many times on a ‘normal’ bike, I thought I’d take the slightly harder option and see what the bike would do.

This is a hill I have ridden many times on a normal bike and for about half the amount of effort, I was able to travel at three times the speed I could manage without electric assistance.

I still had a bit of a sweat on at the top of the hill, but I also had a smile on my face. The more serene option has a lot to be said for it though, why not just let the bike take the strain while you take in the glorious English countryside?

 

‘Riding the e-bike brought to mind memories of being a small child just learning to ride a bike with an adult’s hand on my back pushing me forward’

 

Once I’d eased myself to the top of the hill I found myself in Friston Forest which has a huge network of bike trails to explore, many of these are aimed at thrillseeking mountain bikers, but there are also a large number of gentler, smoother trails, perfectly suited to the E-Ville that I could explore.

With the motor to assist me, I could explore the leafy beauty of the forest (and it is at its best, in my opinion, during spring and autumn) at my leisure.

Knowing I could easily pedal my way back from wherever I went, I felt free to explore a few spots I had not ventured to before. Not having to worry about feeling exhausted pedalling home did bring out the explorer in me!

The term ‘range anxiety’ is a relatively new one and it’s commonly used by people driving electric cars, but it’s equally applicable to e-bikes.

When planning a ride it’s always wise to make sure you leave plenty in the battery to get you home, but you also have to consider more than just the number of miles. Standing between me and the end of my ride was a rather long climb up the downs out of Jevington. Around a mile long and climbing over 400ft vertically, and I’d rather optimistically planned my ride with it right at the end.

I did have a slight concern at the back of my mind as I started the climb. I had only used half of the available battery power so far, but it was a big climb and I am a lot heavier than the average rider.

As I popped the bike into sport mode and began the climb, I thought back to the last time I’d tackled it on a conventional bike. It was torture. Something I endured with gritted teeth, a necessary evil.

With an e-bike, it was a totally different experience. I could take in my surroundings, appreciate the tall grass at the side of the trail swaying in the breeze, spot a herd of cattle grazing on the hillside opposite, and listen to the birds singing.

Climbing a hill can actually be fun, who knew? Any range anxiety I might have had was soon forgotten at the top of the climb. With more than enough power to take me the remaining few miles home, I paused to take in the scenery and then pedalled on…

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