Are friends electric?

Member Pam recently participated in City of York Council’s E-Switch scheme, allowing people to try out an e-cycle for a week. Here she tells us about her experience. (Note: the scheme is now closed to new applicants: existing applicants have until March 2023 to claim their trial).


I’ve never really considered getting an e-cycle. York is pretty flat and I tend to use my bike for getting from A to B (five miles max) rather than for leisure rides. This is partly because we own a dog, and leaving him behind whilst I go out for a fun cycle ride would seem nigh-on cruel. (He can put on a melancholy face and has a good line in Paddington stares). 

Then I heard about the Council’s scheme. You could borrow an e-cycle (at no cost) for up to a week from one of five bike shops in York to give you a taster of what riding one is like – you just had to live or work in the city. Well, I’m Yorkshire through and through and was brought up never to look a free offer in the mouth. 

But why would I need an e-cycle? I simply had to find a justification – which wasn’t easy. If I liked the e-cycle and decided to buy one (and they’re not cheap), I might simply substitute it for my ordinary pushbike – probably not what the Council was envisaging when they called their scheme “E-Switch”. An expensive investment and going in the wrong direction as regards health, fitness and energy consumption. Then it struck me: I could use it to pull a trailer with the dog in and take him out into the countryside for more varied walks. Currently, if we go walking near Bishopthorpe for instance, I’d drive our plug-in hybrid. I know I could just attach a trailer to an ordinary pushbike, but I don’t fancy dragging an 18kg+ border collie behind me up a sizeable hill – or even over the Holgate iron bridge for that matter. 

Within a few days of filling in my application form, I was at Cycle Heaven being presented with an electric blue (no pun intended) Gazelle Chamonix. It felt as big as a tank but, once I got going, was easy to ride. My journey home was uneventful until Hob Moor where those infamous barriers were my undoing. The handlebars were higher than on my own bike, and wider, and jammed against the anti-motorbike “shoulders” of the barrier. I had to get off and push it, explaining with some embarrassment that it wasn’t my bike to an oncoming cyclist. Even though it’s my usual route, for the rest of the week I avoided the moor. 

Opportunities for testing out the reduced effort going uphill were sadly limited because my trial coincided with the coldest week in December and I didn’t travel as far as I’d hoped. But I had a good play with switching between the three different power-assist modes. With the Chammonix system, the amount of assistance depended on the mode I chose and the amount of force I was putting into pedalling. Sometimes I even turned the motor off, turning it into a pushbike – which is when I could have done with more than 7 gears. The battery claimed to have a maximum range of about 85 miles (on Eco), though I didn’t ride it enough to test that out. 

What were the plus points? Well, it was fairly intuitive. And it made journeys much faster than usual. It’s certainly true, in line with studies, that if I owned one I’d cycle considerably further than I do currently – more places would seem to be within assisted-pedalling reach. I liked having the miles-per-hour and distance travelled displays. And the simple handlebar-mounted controls, including lights that turn on with the push of a button and turn off with the motor (beware: they come on again when you re-start it). No more being caught out without your lights or with flat batteries (or forgetting them on the bike and having them stolen). The bike came with a kickstand to prop itself up as well as a ring lock to fix the rear wheel for additional security when you lock it up.

And the cons? The bike was surprisingly heavy and was a bit of an effort to push up pavements or manoeuvre round tight corners. Apparently some models have a “walk assist” mode where the motor helps you push, which I can imagine would have been a big help if I’d had a dog (or child) in a trailer. The unfamiliar size of the bike made me apprehensive when being passed by cars particularly in the narrowest cycle lanes (it was the lead-up to Christmas and the roads seemed full of impatient and often inept drivers). 

So, what’s my verdict? Well, I’m tempted. It was comfortable and effortless to ride, and I’m sure I’d get used to the larger dimensions and the weight. Another make or model might be more compact. But the dog will have the final say. We’ve bought a second-hand dog trailer and we’re currently working on getting him to sit inside it (two paws so far), before attempting to tow him with a bike. If he’s not up for it, the e-cycle will stay in the shop.

2 thoughts on “Are friends electric?

  1. Looking at the photo, Pam, I think I trialed the exact same bike as you. I came to much the same conclusions… Wasn’t keen on the riding position and weight of it, but loved how it took the edge off uphills and headwinds. I did a few journeys that I would otherwise have jumped in the (electric) car for because the e-bike gave me confidence that I could go further and not be too sweaty at the other end, so it did convince me that e-bikes are a good thing for active travel, but I did then feel a bit of guilt that I should have used my regular bike anyhow to get a good bit of exercise, so maybe I’m a bit “goldilocks” in being convinced to switch… Some journeys are just too far or not suitable because of who or what I need to take with me, and so only the car will do, and other journeys I’d be as wise to use my manual bike, so an e-bike fits a narrow window in between, perhaps too narrow window for the high price in my opinion, unfortunately.

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  2. Hi Pam – interesting report. As a previous owner of an E-Chamonix, I would have to agree they are heavy. It was also too big for me (I’m 5ft 1″ on a good day) and I have now changed it for a Wisper small frame which is much lighter. Mine did have a walk mode (maybe you just didn’t find it – it does take reading the instructions I found!) but to be honest, I never really thought to use it. A few years ago, I had a number of goes at Andy (Cycle Heaven) for not being more encouraging about e-bikes. Think he has now understood that it’s the future! There has been an idea that e-bikes are just for wimps but they should rather be seen as an alternative to car or motorbike.
    As a regular user of the dreaded Hob Moor barriers, I agree the Chamonix is a bit of a squeeze – my new bike manages them quite easily though they still scare me! I did change my Chamonix handlebars for a more curved set in an effort to make the frame fit me better (didn’t work) which might have shaved a bit of width off. My partner gets his cargo bike through them okay!
    Anything that can be done to reduce the conflict between car drivers and bikes (I am both) is good. If it gets someone on a bike, who would have driven, that’s all to the good isn’t it? It still active travel, you can still burn calories if you want, it just gets you there quicker, making it more likely someone would cycle rather than take the car.
    Where I think it’s particularly advantageous is to those people who perhaps have mobility issues or who don’t have the physical fitness to enjoy peddling up hills. No, I don’t really fit into that bracket but it sure as hell makes cycling MUCH more pleasurable! 🙂

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