From April to October 2009, Talybont-on-Usk Energy (ToUE) ran a trial of two electric bikes – a Monark Eco and Ezee Sprint. The trial was run in partnership with the Brecon Beacons National Park Sustainable Development Fund.
Audit data for the Brecon Beacons region shows that car transport accounts for around 40% of domestic energy consumption. In a rural, hilly area with sparse public transport provision, most households are heavily reliant on the car. In Wales, short journeys (less than 5 miles) account for 64% of all journeys and they unfortunately have the highest fuel consumption and are often the primary reason for owning a 2nd car. For those who commute less than 1 mile to work in Wales, 44% use the car and this rises to 77% for those who commute between 1 and 3 miles to work. Very few people cycle.
Electric bikes provide some power assistance when you are pedalling which substantially reduces the human effort on hills and extends where and how far people are willing to travel by bike. A survey conducted by Leeds University found that the average user of an electric bike covered 1,200 miles per annum compared to only 120 miles for a traditional non-electric bike. The bikes replaced 3 car journeys a week on average – mostly commuting to work and shopping.
The aim of the Talybont trial was to introduce as many people as possible to the concept of electric bikes and give local people a chance to try electric bikes for themselves for an every day journey in their own environment. Most people have never encountered such bikes and buying one is an expensive and risky decision. We hoped that the trial would make people aware of the benefits of e-biking and reduce the risks of acquiring one for themselves. We also hoped to learn whether this emergent form of eco-transport makes sense in our rural, hilly environment.
The market for electric bikes in the UK is growing fast. 15,000 were sold in 2008 and sales are forecasted to rise by 50% in 2009 to 23,000 bikes. So far, the penetration in Wales has been low but the first dedicated electric bike shop, OnBike, opened in Presteigne in March.
The trial was highly effective in giving a large number of people, throughout the Brecon Beacons, a chance to experience riding an electric bike in their own everyday environment. For most, this was their first experience of this mode of transport.
The 2 bikes were heavily used totalling 2,714 miles between them. The average trial ride was 18 miles – further than most would be willing to cycle on an ordinary bike.
Unlike many environmental initiatives, the bikes were seen as great fun. Keen cyclists and occasional cyclists all enjoyed riding them and a surprising proportion said they were seriously considering buying one, in some cases to replace a 2nd car. We know that 6 people have purchased electric bikes as a result of the trial; there may be more. The expense is, however, a significant barrier so some communities are considering buying electric bikes to share with a larger group. It would be interesting to monitor how well such schemes work.
You can read the full e-bike trial report here.