Further to my original post on the subject of electric bikes for the disabled, I’m getting close to buying my electric bike.
Note that electric bikes are not made for disabled riders, but if you’re balance is OK and you’re otherwise capable, I see no reason why you shouldn’t give it a try (if you’re at all unsure of your balance, forget it). They’re way faster than scooters, for a start, but bear in mind, when going to the supermarket, you’ll probably need to use the store’s scooter.
My choice of machine has changed, and I’ve opted for the Smarta LX 8-speed, which sports Shimano’s Nexus 8-speed hub gears. The reason is that although all electric bikes do much the same thing, the more expensive ones do it far better than cheap ones.
It’s a step-through design, to cope with my arthritic hips, and the style is very Dutch, sitting almost bolt-upright. Not too aerodynamic, but at least I’ll be able to breathe properly, which I can’t in the normal position. It has either power-assisted pedalling, or power alone (no, or little, pedalling). That, at least at first, will be essential for me, as I need to build up my fitness gently, from a very low level. Range is said to be about 40 miles, but that depends on the amount of pedalling, which will be very little to start with.
It comes with a centre-stand, which is ideal for maintenance, but I’ll be adding a prop-stand for convenience (and less risk of it falling over when parked on a camber, and I may need to replace the stem, too, to get a perfect fit. A set of decent panniers would be useful, as well as the trailer, and I’ll need a spare battery, too, at £250. Why? Well, partly to extend my range, by carrying it with me (not too heavy at around 3kg), but also because lithium ion batteries last longer if you never deep-discharge them, and always top them up after even the shortest trip. Uless, of course, you’re going out again later, but you do need to get into the habit of recharging every day if you’ve been out on the bike, even if it’s only to the corner shop for a paper.
I’ve changed my mind about the most suitable trailer, too, and I’m now leaning towards the Adventure trailer from Chain Reaction Cycles.
It should carry all my photographic gear – well cushioned – as well as being ideal for toting shopping. Don’t carry expensive cameras slung over your shoulder, as if you come off it’ll probably be wrecked. Put it in a well-padded, with extra foam pads, pannier or bar-bag. Always buy bike luggage from a specialist bike store, to be sure it’s suitable for its purpose. It’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for. There’s a lot of cheap crap available at non-specialist outlets that will leak like a sieve and wear out in record time.
By the way, if you’re thinking of an electric bike, you need to wear your cynical head. Some very unrealistic claims are made, particularly when it comes to range. For example, if bike A claims 40 miles with gentle pedalling, and has a 200Watt motor and a 10Ah (Amp-hour) battery, and bike B claims 100 miles with gentle pedalling, with a smaller 180Watt motor, but with a smaller battery, then you can guarantee someone is lying about bike B. And I’m not exaggerating – I’ve seen extravagant claims like bike B.
Even bikes with apparently identical specs can return different ranges, all else being equal, as the efficiency of the electronics and the motors in converting battery power into forward motion can vary quite a lot. And the biggest influences on range and speed are, of course, the weight of the rider and the terrain, so unless you’re 10stone or less, and live in a very flat region, you are never going achieve the maximum range.
Very important, for a disabled rider, like me, is that the amount of pedalling that’s possible will be problematic, at least in the early days (part of my motive for buying one is to improve my fitness). For that reason you need a bike that is capable of moving under its own power (the word “twistgrip” in the specs is a good indicator, but if in doubt, ask). You’ll probably have to give a few turns of the pedals to get moving, too. I won’t be able to pedal much at the outset, but with the bike to support my weight, I’m confident that I’ll eventually be able to pedal well enough to get a decent range out of it.
As for gears, what you normally get is a 6 to 9 speed budget dérailleur system, with hub gears like the Nexus 8-speed, or the ferociously expensive Rohloff, being less common. Although I was a cyclist for much of my life, and well used to the foibles of dérailleur gears, I’d suggest the hub gear if your budget will permit it. It’s just much nicer to live with, quieter, and with almost zero risk of your chain coming off, with the added bonus of being able to change gear while you’re at a standstill. Hub gears are also much easier to set up and to keep in adjustment, without needing a workshop stand to hold your bike while you do it.
Punctures are the bane of any cyclists’ life, so ASAP, upgrade to puncture-resistant tyres and put a dose of sealant in the inner tubes too, and always carry a spare tube – much easier to swap the punctured tube than repair it at the roadside. Also, do NOT ride in the gutter – that’s where all the tyre-shredding crap lives, and beware of the deltas of gravel, broken glass, etc, that gathers at road junctions. Not only will it almost guarantee a puncture, if it’s on a bend it’s very likely to dump you in the road. Always ride several feet out from the kerb, and claim your space on the road. This will have the benefit – most of the time – of forcing motorists to change lane to pass you, instead of squeezing past in the same lane as they surely will if you cringe in the gutter.
Helmets are a contentious issue and I have to say that in all my years as a cyclist, I never fell on my head – knees and hands took the brunt of it – but I do like the look of the skater-style helmets that are creeping onto the market, and will probably get this one
It’s the Fox Transition, and costs about £35.
The Giro Flak is similar, but comes in a wider range of sizes
Neither is as well-ventilated as a conventional helmet, but you won’t be generating as much heat on an electric bike (and before anyone gives me an argument, I’m talking about disabled riders).
I initially forgot to mention this, but get the best lock you can afford, and use it, it’s no damn good if you don’t. An Axa lock is ideal if you’re just popping into a shop for a minute or two (any longer and your bike can still be carried away), but for any longer a U-lock (aka D-lock) or high-end cable lock is your best bet, to anchor your bike to street furniture. No matter what you use, though, the longer your bike is left, the greater the risk – though that does depend on where you live.
And get a cycle computer, too, to keep an eye on your speed and distance. Mainly distance, as most electric bikes are electronically limited to 15mph in the UK, and it’s useful to know what sort of range you’re getting. Like powerchairs and scooters, getting the advertised range is highly unlikely (depending, as it does, on terrain and rider weight), but, unlike them, the more you can pedal, the further you’ll go. Just be sure that you don’t go so far you can’t get back home again.
Gloves are an essential, even on a bike like the Smarta LX-8. Track mitts in summer, full gloves in winter, and the primary purpose, apart from winter gloves keeping your hands warm, is to protect your hands in the event of a spill. The first time you have to pick gravel out of your hands because you haven’t worn them will surely convince you.* I’m also – and this is personal, my knees are already wrecked – investing in knee-protectors too. If you do, be sure to get a pair that allow you to pedal while wearing them.
*You WILL fall off at some point, that’s a given.
There’s a good argument for getting a folding electric bike. If you run out of power, or just get wet and cold, you can fold it up and summon a taxi. Be aware that some folders have weight restrictions. The Electric Transport Shop has a section of bikes for the heavier rider. However, the GreenEdge Blackstar 2 (ignore the 75kg weight limit in the specs, and the fact that the “2” has been omitted from the name, they’re errors) is rated to over 100kg; 75kg is a hangover from the previous model.
For safety, I’ll be fitting a strobe to the back of the bike to make it more visible in daylight (or, actually, to my back – I think fitting it to the bike might be illegal), an Air Zound air horn (bells are crap), for waking up dozy motorists and pedestrians (I’ve used one for years on my scooters and powerchairs – it’s a life-saver), and there’s a whole range of reflective and flashing gear out there, depending on how much like a Christmas-tree you want to look. If you’re out at night I’d suggest flashing, or, at least, reflective wrist bands, so your hand signals can be seen.
A mirror is essential, too, though I haven’t found one I like yet. When I do I’ll post it here.
Don’t forget lights, too. Ones that run on ordinary batteries (AAA, AA, C or maybe D cells) that can be replaced with rechargeables, are vastly cheaper than rechargeable sets which use lithium-ion batteries and are hideously expensive – as in “Shit, I can get a secondhand car for that!” expensive. Some electric bikes come with lights that run off the main battery, but extra lights are never a bad thing if you’re out much when it’s dark (early mornings, in my case).
Clothing aimed at walkers and backpackers is probably your best bet, as cycling clothing is aimed at skinny buggers. Anyway, you’d look a prat on an electric bike in Lycra! That’s the style of clothing I wear normally anyway (not, not Lycra), it’s functional and comfortable, and as I have to wear walking boots and socks to cushion and support my feet, wearing a suit would just look weird. This is where I get much of my gear.