E-Biking for Convenient Trips - JC and Polly

By Julia Thorley

Published: May 7, 2024

JC and Polly.

JC and Polly both use their e-bikes as their exclusive mode of transport and they’re keen to spread the message about how easy it is to get around on two wheels.

JC says, ‘I cycle everywhere; it’s my preferred way to travel. I began with a conventional bike and migrated to e-biking. I’ve had my bike for about five years and in that time I’ve ridden well over 1,200 miles. I also have a fold-up bike I can take on the train. I do drive, but don’t have a car at the moment.

‘My most common journeys are across town for socialising and community meet-ups or into town. Distance isn’t really an issue, but I generally check out a new route first. There can be some very inconsiderate drivers and it can be a bit scary, especially when the weather is bad. I’ll use a bikeway, if there is one, and I avoid busy roads; I won’t go on a dual carriageway.’

Polly has been cycling for about three years, but unlike JC she’s never driven a car.

She says, ‘Before I had my bike I used to walk everywhere. Like JC, I started with a conventional bike, then bought an e-bike. When I first started cycling I was quite nervous because never having driven I wasn’t really sure of the rules of the road, such as where to position myself in the lane. Now I just get on my bike and go.

‘I use it to get everywhere and I guess I do about 40 miles a week. There’s nowhere around town I wouldn’t go. I go to work on my bike, which takes me about 20–25 minutes and is mostly across quiet rural and access roads across the fields, even though my destination is just off the A14. There is a slight problem in that there is no secure bike storage at work; at the moment I’m having to put my bike in the disabled toilet, which isn’t ideal. I’m the only person who cycles in, and this isn’t likely to change if the encouragement isn’t there. Many of my colleagues are surprised that I can get to work on my bike. It has never occurred to them that it’s an option and I’d like to see this change.

‘I also cycle around town, to visit friends and my partner, for trips around the park and the woods, and I take my children out with me, too. My son is just coming up to 11 and he goes everywhere on his bike, although he doesn’t go out on his own. When he moves up to senior school I know he’ll want to cycle there, which is great. My daughter is younger and at the moment she scoots along between us.’

The battery is an integral part of any e-bike, and works better and for longer if you look after it properly. JC has insulation wrapped around her battery to protect it from the elements.
‘I have a spare battery,’ she says, ‘but a good quality one that holds its charge will probably be all you need. A full battery should get me about 70 miles, although this depends on the speed I go and the terrain. When the battery loses charge, it’s like driving a car with no power steering!’

Polly says, ‘In theory mine should take me about 50 miles, but it’s quite old and 15 miles is more accurate. It will get me to work and back, though. I did once run out of power at the bottom of a hill and had to push my heavy bike home. I have to remember to charge the battery overnight.’
 

Lady cycling Dez and polly on bikes. Lady with her bicycle

There are many advantages to riding an e-bike, but it would be unrealistic to imply there are no challenges. Anyone thinking about investing in a bike needs to be aware of the pros and cons.

JC says, ‘It’s convenient and cost-effective, but it also gives me freedom and I can make use of cut-throughs on my bike that a car couldn’t manage. It’s good for my fitness, too. The downside is that the weather can be off-putting, especially on main roads and when it’s very windy. The main problem is the cold, which affects the efficiency of the battery. It doesn’t work below freezing. An e-bike needs to be properly maintained and will need a full service, which can be quite costly unless you can do it yourself. I always do a quick visual check before I set off.’

Polly agrees. ‘I love my bike. I love being out in the fresh air, especially in the countryside, and I enjoy the exercise, the freedom and the low cost. The weather is a bit off-putting sometimes, but I’ve got all the wet-weather gear. Being outdoors is very good for my health, too.’

JC has modified her e-bike to ensure she gets the maximum use out of it. It has the basics, such as reflectors and lights, of course, but as well as a traditional bell she has added a hooter and rear-view mirror, indicator lights and two audible security alarms. Her bike is designed to be a people-carrier with a passenger on the back, but she has installed a crossbar that supports a child seat. On the rear rack she has added a luggage box with a bag on top and a pannier either side. It could also accommodate a trailer.

‘My bike is quite heavy to manoeuvre,’ she says, ‘but once I’m on it’s fine.’

Polly hasn’t adjusted her bike as much.

She says, ‘My bike is pretty much just as it came, apart from the addition of the locks, lights and a bell. I’ve also got a basket on the front and straps for the back carrier. If stuff won’t fit on, I simply make two trips.’

 

 

Secure parking can be a real concern, so how do JC and Polly approach this?

JC says, ‘Designated storage is better than leaving my bike at a random spot. I often lock it up near the e-scooter racks, which tend to be in full view of the shops and are often covered by surveillance cameras. The down side is that this can attract the wrong sort of attention.’

Locked up bike

 

In contrast, Polly confesses, ‘Perhaps I’m a bit complacent, but I’m happy to leave by bike anywhere and I’ve never had any problems. It’s never been damaged and I’ve never had it stolen. That said, I do have a chain with a combination lock and a D-lock. We could definitely use some more lockable storage around town, though.’

Thief breaking a bike lock

JC and Polly believe that alongside better bike storage one of the other main improvements that would make cycling more accessible to and enjoyable for everyone is more and better-designed cycle paths. JC says there is definitely a need for bikeways that connect towns and there should be more emphasis on safety.

Polly agrees, saying, ‘The cycle paths we have around need repairing. For instance, the road markings need repainting. Something else that needs fixing is the actual road surface. Potholes can be a nightmare!’

JC and Polly both know a little about their council’s Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is intended to identify improvements that could be made at a local level. Making this plan more widely known – and having plans turned into action – would bring cycling to the front of people’s attention and might encourage more of them to give it a go.

The last word goes to Polly: ‘Buying my e-bike is the best investment I’ve ever made.’

Footnote

You do not need a licence to ride an electric bike and it does not need to be registered, taxed or insured. However, you must be at least 14 years of age. 

Which Trips Could You Switch?
Even if you go everywhere by car, which trips would you consider switching to an e-bike?  What would inspire you or enable you to give it a go? 
Our ‘Which Trips Could You Switch?’ series of case studies are based on interviews with people from Kettering, North Northamptonshire as part of the Brightwayz Get Down To Town project which aims to support, enable and promote more travel options for short journeys in the town. The Get Down To Town project is funded by North Northamptonshire Council with funding from Active Travel England and is designed and delivered by Brightwayz social enterprise.

Now watch our Video: Which Trips Could You Switch? Cycling - Polly and JC

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