Georgia Vinegarren May 16, 2018

E-bikes are well-established in some EU countries, but how about the UK? Old-school cyclist Peter Kimpton tries a new model to see if he’d be tempted to swap.

“E-bikes are fantastic. I use them all the time. You can take the kids up mountains. You can arrive in your good clothes at a meeting. It’s so easy.” Who said this?

Surprisingly, it was none other than Fabian Cancellara, perhaps the greatest ever road time-trial rider. He made similar remarks during a Q&A at the recent Rouleur Classic, an event for road bike and race purists, causing good-humoured outrage. But if even the great Cancellara can ride an e-bike, so will I.

Commuting is changing in UK cities, partly because there is little choice. Congestion, dangerous levels of pollution, and the sheer cost and inconvenience are forcing people to look for alternatives. Car journeys and school runs – and, at peak times, even some modes of public transport – seem outmoded when they involve waiting for two or three buses or tubes before you can actually squeeze on.

But how can that be addressed? Could thousands in the UK really be persuaded to convert to other forms of urban mobility where they could also save time and money? As a commuter and urban socialiser wo has been dodging buses, tubes and cars in favour of the bicycle for years, I decided to test out something I used to consider cheating – the e-bike.

BMW has been designing e-bikes for decades, but the fact that a leading carmaker is increasingly investing in this type of transport points to change that is already evident in the EU. The e-bike market is much more mature across Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, where revenue now outstrips traditional cycles, and is also rapidly growing in Germany. The Active Hybrid is an upper-range model with an integrated battery in the thick frame. It’s chunky like most e-bikes, and at 22.5kg, weighs more than three times as much as my usual road bike.

But what about the power? As a pedelec this only kicks while you’re pedalling, otherwise it would be classed as an electric moped. On the flat I find it peculiar at first, and instinctively try to go faster than the 25kmh (15.5mph) legal limiter. But the bike is all about gliding along, and I try the three throttle positions, including the top 250W setting. Zooming up a steep, cobbled hill in Munich’s Olympic Park, I’m amazed at the momentum. Riding really is effortless and as I continue around the city, I begin to see the appeal. The bike is completely silent and the battery can last up to 100km (62 miles).

Gliding up a steep cobbled path in Munich’s Olympic Park on BMW’s Active Hybrid
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Gliding up a steep cobbled path in Munich’s Olympic Park on BMW’s Active Hybrid. Photograph: Selle Royal/BMW
The saddle, which is designed to provide additional stability for the increased acceleration power compared to regular bikes, is not cheap at €89.90 (£79.50), but is comfortable and made with non-slip material and gel filling to reduce pressure. I could imagine it being used on other urban models or even mountain bikes.

At €3,400 (£3,000) the Active Hybrid is expensive, but would quickly start to make savings when considering the average Londoner spends £4,644 a year on commuting. The rise of e-bikes feels inevitable – perhaps this winter is the time to join the trend.

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