Do Electric Bikes Make Us Lazy After All?

Image credit: Ultra Motor

Last year The Guardian's Helen Pridd reviewed the GoCycle electric bike, and she was impressed. At the time she promised a comparison of different e-bikes was in the works. It may have taken them a while, but the Guardian bike blog have made good on their promise. But what were the results? Are e-bikes a viable alternative to regular cycles, or do they just make us lazy?The question of whether electric bikes will get people out of cars is not new to TreeHugger. Fellow contributor Trevor Reichman was even driven to asking publicly whether his electric bike was lame, after one too many derisive comment from fellow cyclists. And yet the market for these things keeps growing, and with many people wanting to kick their dependence on the car, but not yet ready to turn up to work sweaty and out of breath, there is undoubtedly an environmental case to be made for the e-bike.

The Guardian's electric bike test involved 3 different bikes—the GBP900 (US$1500) Smarta LX; the GBP1500, (US$2000) Wisper 905 SE City; and the GBP2000 (US$3000) Ultramotor A2B Metro—on the streets of London. (All bikes were provided by Electric Bike Sales.)

The results were somewhat mixed. Author Peter Walker does admit to loving his new found ability to sprint away leave lycra-clad cyclists behind at the lights, describing it as "deliciously indulgent". But he does give some weight to the argument that e-bikes can make us lazy:

"Another immediate thought is that the electric habit soon becomes addictive. All three bikes are set up such that you can either have "pedal assistance", an extra electrical kick as you ride normally, or full on, twist throttle-provided, non-human power. Such was the novelty that within minutes I'd abandoned any thoughts of self-propulsion."

This laziness factor is somewhat exacerbated by the weight of some of the machines. In fact, Walker describes trying to pedal the Ultramotor A2B Metro as a little like trying to cycle on a Harley Davidson.

Ultimately, Walker himself—an avid cyclist—is not tempted to take up the e-bike permanently, preferring to stick with the pedal powered alternative. But he does concede that many other folks—whether they are just looking for fun, dealing with an injury, or wanting to build up their fitness gradually—may find them to be a perfect half-way step. So, it seems, e-bikes might tempt folks out of their cars, but the Guardian cyclists at least will not be tempted from their pedal bikes.

And from a sustainability standpoint, that's the way it should be.

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