Brian Almy loves to leave people with what he calls 'the electric bicycle grin'. And he was hoping to see that grin on my face by the time I'd finished a free trial of one of his very slick-looking electric bikes.
I met up with Brian last weekend, down on Riverside Drive at West End. He'd invited me and a friend to come and try his bikes so that I could learn the ins and outs of these electric deadly treadlies. I turned up for the ride with the Serious Cyclist, a bloke who rides road bikes with bunches and has very definite views on cycling technology.
Brian and his son-in-law Stuart were waiting for us with a stable of electric steeds. Their business, Easy2Ride, stocks only English FreeGo bikes, which Brian says he chose after thoroughly investigating and trialling a range of brands.
Brian and Stuart had assembled for us the Eagle (top-of-the-range mountain bike), the Regency (pretty retro-styled step-through), and a folding bike (very cute -- a bit like the dragsters of my youth).
Brian is a warm and friendly type who patiently took me through the bikes' technicalities. I am what is politely called 'technologically challenged', so I was a little concerned about how I'd go with the bike controls. I needn't have worried -- it's all pretty straightforward.
Basically, you can ride an electric bike just like an ordinary bike, adjusting its 7-speed Shimano gears according to your terrain, and using only your own pedal power. If you'd like a bit of help, you just press a button on the handlebar to engage 'electric assist', which draws on a lithium battery under your seat. A small engine then provides a boost each time you push the pedals around. You can choose from three levels of assistance, depending on how much help you'd like.
Best of all, if you're in a hurry, on a super-big hill, getting tired (or just want some fun), you can press a magic red button, turn a throttle on the handlebar, and suddenly it's a super-speedy all-electric ride, with no effort required from you.
So what was it like in practice? Well, pretty damn fun, I have to say. I tried the dignified Regency, while the Serious Cyclist took the Eagle. Both were substantially heavier than a normal bicycle, which is not surprising, given their sizeable battery. Pedalling unassisted was okay, but they really showed their strengths once electric assist was engaged. Heading up a hill became a piece of cake, while I was really flying downhill. A simple braking system meant that I never felt frightened that I would go too fast or lose control.
For me, though, the highlight was the all-electric mode. Once I pressed that red button, I was Queen of the Road, doing speeds of up to about 30km/hr with no need to pedal. Again, a simple control system meant that I felt safe at all times. I had great fun whizzing up and down Riverside Drive, while the Serious Cyclist and Stuart got all the way up Dornoch Terrace and back (a few kilometres) in a remarkaby short space of time.
For those interested in the practical details, it's all good news. The battery gives you up to 80-100km travel (depending on terrain) before it needs charging, and you can charge it from any power source for about 20c. You don't need a licence or rego, and Brian's so confident of FreeGo's quality that he offers a replacement bike if you have any problems in the first year that can't be repaired within 10 days.
The Serious Cyclist and I agreed that you wouldn't buy an electric bike as a substitute for a standard bike because the extra weight makes them harder to pedal in non-electric mode and affects their handling a little (the lighter folding bike scored best on these factors). But, in certain situations, I think an electric bike would be the perfect transport solution -- and their growing popularity confirms this.
Brian says he's sold plenty since starting his business, mostly to commuters wanting a healthier trip to work and to people whose age or health issues make it difficult to ride a normal bike. Easy2Ride has also sold bikes to travellers who love the folding bike, and to people who've lost their car licences for various reasons.
So, did I get the electric bicycle grin? Absolutely. Trialling Easy2Ride's bikes was great fun and I'd highly recommend the electric bike experience. Brian offers free trials to anybody who's thinking of buying an electric bicycle, so, if that's you, why not take advantage of it and get the grin yourself?
I've actually just bought a Regency bike from Brian and I have to say I think they are great! We cycled from Dunwich up to Point Lookout on Stradbroke Island no trouble at all, about 20km each way and quite a few hills in between.
Also, I can vouch for Brian that his customer service was everything that he guarantees. He does stand by his word. So I say go for it if you are thinking about a trial ride. You will be impressed. Sue from Wellington Point