A fleet of battery-powered bikes set for the Yorkshire Dales
- Credit: Joan Russell
Hills will never be quite the same for cyclists after a fleet of battery-powered bikes hit the road as Terry Fletcher reports. Photographs by Joan Russell
Next summer some of the fittest humans on the planet will be getting on their bikes and heading for the Yorkshire Dales when the Tour de France cycle race sets off from Leeds. The riders will probably not have much time to enjoy the views but there are easier and more relaxing ways of admiring the scenery from two wheels. This spring a fleet of electrically-powered bikes will take to the lanes in the hope of enticing a whole new breed of cyclist to get out and enjoy the countryside. Ian Morton, one of those behind the plan, said: ‘Cycling is a great way to see the Dales and why should it be restricted to just fit people?’
The bikes come fitted with a battery-powered motor designed to take the sting out of the many hills that are such a feature of the national park. Riders still have to pedal but Nick Cotton, a cycling writer and tour guide from Kirkby Lonsdale, who has devised special routes using quiet lanes for users said: ‘When you get on the bikes and start pedalling it feels like a giant hand is pushing you along.’ Another fan described it as being like having a fit athlete strapped to your pedals. Battery life and range depends on how much assistance the rider wants as well as the hilliness of the route.
The bikes come with different assistance settings and while a steep route on the maximum setting may cut the battery range down to a dozen or so miles those willing to pedal a little more for themselves can go 60 miles or more and find the battery still going strong. Because the battery can be recharged for a few pence from a standard wall socket it is hoped that country pubs and cafes will also be offering battery top-ups to attract customers.
Mark Allum from the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which is backing the plan, said: ‘We think there is a lot of potential for visitors and locals too. Having the motor makes a huge difference to the effort required, especially going uphill. Most people can easily get 20 miles range from the bikes and the tours do not dodge the hills. Some of them go from dale to dale. It is very encouraging that businesses are getting behind it.’
Nick, who has plenty of conventional road and mountain bikes to choose from, agrees and admits he sometimes opts for an electric bike instead. ‘They are just such good fun. At first some serious cyclists look down their noses at electric bikes but if they can be persuaded to try one, they usually love it. Most people’s initial reaction once they start pedalling is a big smile at how easy it is.
‘One big advantage is that it evens things out for groups of people with different fitness levels. A keen serious cyclist may go out on a conventional road bike but if less fit members of the group have electric bikes they will be able to keep up. I’ve tried them out with a friend who is an 18 stone quarryman and he has been able to ride over the Buttertubs Pass between Wensleydale and Swaledale on one.
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‘Older people or those who used to cycle but have had to give it up find the bikes can give their cycling a new lease of life too. Because you have to be 14 to ride one they are not suitable for small children but older families can enjoy them. Perhaps it will help mum and dad to keep up with their teenagers on a ride. These bikes really open up the possibilities for mixed ability groups to have a fun day out together.’
Ian, who will be hiring out bikes across the Dales as well as organising guided tours through his company e-bikehire.com agrees they open the door for a new breed of cyclist who would not be caught dead wearing Lycra. You see a lot of cyclists in the Dales but they all look superfit but that’s not me. I first tried an electric bike on holiday in the Canary Islands and I was amazed.
‘ If people ask who is the ideal customer I point at myself. I’m a 50-year-old unfit bloke with a bit of a paunch and I can easily do 20-odd miles and thoroughly enjoy it. The bikes we are using were designed to be used in the Austrian Alps so they have no problem eating up the hills in the Dales.
‘Electric bikes are already very big on the continent but Britain has been a bit slow catching on. There are schemes in the Lakes and the Peak but there is a lot more potential. I think they will be very big in the next few years, especially as fuel prices make motoring more expensive,’ he said.
Grassington in the heart of Wharfedale is also embracing the electric revolution. The local Chamber of Trade is working with the Grassington Hub, an umbrella organisation which brings together local groups to provide bikes for hire to locals and visitors. B&B owner Andrew Colley from the chamber said: ‘It will be a useful addition to the activities we can offer to visitors and there will be opportunities for businesses to join in either by providing bikes for their guests or cafes and pubs might attract more customers by offering charging facilities so that people can refresh their bikes and themselves at the same time.’
For more information go to e.bike.com or call 01539 568163