I’ve been sniffy about e-bikes before now. During my time with the GB cycling team, I scoffed at able-bodied cyclists using battery assistance to get up hills because I was training my one-legged body to climb, even when it was really, really hard. Sometimes, if I lost momentum trying to ascend a particular bugger of a climb (Holme Moss springs to mind) I would simply keel over with the effort and, having picked myself up off the road, find it virtually impossible to get going again without a push-start from a friend. Next time you’re riding up a big hill, stop mid-way, and try to simultaneously push off, get clipped in, and start pedalling without involving the other leg and you will experience the difficulties of a one-legged hill-start. But still, I considered e-bikes ‘cheating’.
But now, in my post-chemo and radiotherapy state (i.e. knackered), and lacking both my former fitness and hubris, the e-bike is appealing. I am currently far too slow to ride with my former club-mates at Garforth Velo, yet I lack the confidence to ride alone. I worry that if fatigue hits (and it does tend to ‘hit’, without warning, and requires instant sofa-time), I will be unable to get home.
I wanted to find out whether riding a bike with battery assistance could help me ride further and faster and inject a much-needed bit of fun back into my life. My friend Graham at Dave Rayner Cyclesport, who supported me throughout my competitive career, offered to lend me his Corratec e-bike for the weekend and so the experiment began.
The e-bike has four modes: eco, tour, sport and turbo, which give progressively greater assistance. With pedal-assist, the battery only kicks in when you pedal, and cuts out again when you reach 15mph – above that speed you’re travelling under your own steam. Leaving my driveway, I put the bike straight into turbo mode and whipped up the hill so quickly I felt like I was riding a motorbike. I instantly started laughing – it felt so strange!
Back in eco mode, the assistance is minor – it feels as if it’s just compensating for the weight of the bike (a massive 24 kilos compared to my 10-kilo road bike), but you also get a greater range of miles – the display on the handlebars said I had 65 miles left in the tank, compared to around 25 in turbo. Since I was nervous about using up the battery too quickly, I decided to stay in eco mode for the first half of the ride. The upright handlebars forced me to sit up and enjoy the scenery, instead of staring at my Garmin data on the stem. I still got a bit of a sweat on up the hills, but I wasn’t out of breath so I didn’t notice my reduced fitness as much as usual.
The e-bike came into its own at junctions, which have always been extra-tricky for me as a one-legged rider. I have to wait for extra-big gaps in the traffic to make sure I can get out quickly enough. If I miss clipping into the pedals on the first attempt, I have to put my foot down and try again; it can be a bit nail-biting. But with the e-bike in turbo mode, as long as I hit the pedal somewhere, the battery kicked in and got me out of trouble. It made riding the roads feel a lot safer.
But most of all, the ride was just FUN, especially on the way back when I flicked between modes to see the full potential of the bike. The road on the way back to my house is a si-mile drag uphill: it’s tiring at the end of a long ride. But this time, I flew up it with a big smile on my face instead of a weary grimace.
Arriving home after 30 miles , I still had 16 miles left in the battery in turbo mode (36 in eco) and I felt good. My leg muscles were aching (but not too much), I was slightly out of breath and I’d enjoyed being back outside with the wind in my face. Looking at my stats on Strava (old habits die hard), I saw that I had a new PB for the uphill ride home in turbo mode, but none for the rest of the ride in eco mode. It was somewhat reassuring to realise that at the peak of my fitness I was still stronger and faster than I am now even with battery assistance.
The e-bike can’t beat the satisfaction of conquering a big climb unaided, or the thrill of whizzing along country lanes with only the swoosh of your carbon wheels in your ears, but it could be a great investment for my rehabilitation. Better start saving my pennies – this bike retails at around £2,000.