A long time ago I fell down a ski slope and injured my knee and now thirty years later I’m not a big fan of walking down steep hills. This would be less of a problem if I didn’t live on the side of the one of the steepest hills in this bit of the Peak. I used regularly to commute from Clapham to Westminster on a bike in my youth, so I was no stranger to cycling, and occasionally went off for a ride on my much loved 30 year old Trek. But I could never get any further than a quarter of the way up on my journey back up Sir William, and increasingly I found reasons to get in the car instead.
Knees seized up and avoir dupois increased. Gloom descended.
Then my mother in law left me some money and I thought that perhaps investment in an ebike would be an answer. I didn’t know where to start. A quick excursion through the internet was bewildering, there were forests of ebikes everywhere you looked. Crossbar, lowloader. Different sizes of battery. Internal batteries. Removable batteries. Low batteries, high batteries. Ebikes for £1500 and ebikes for £5000. Which to choose, where to start?
A very kind friend did an initial trawl for me and narrowed it down to a couple of options. Eventually I rather nervously made the trip to Evans in Sheffield, and then there I was standing in the shop with a very nice but very experienced-cyclist sort of a salesman showing me the range of modestly priced bikes.
I’m not sure I’ve spent as much on a car as I was about to on this ebike, and I only had the one inheritance, so I was keen to get it right. I found one which looked kind of OK, with the battery down by the pedals which is apparently the best option due to centre of gravity. My non ebike has a crossbar and so I assumed I wanted an ebike with a crossbar, so as not to transfer too much energy into flexing the frame (I later realised this is irrelevant with an ebike). So I picked one like that. Can I take it out? I said. No, said the kindly Monsieur, but you can ride it up and down the shop for a bit if you like.
Now imagine. Me a lady of a certain age and a broad beam, OF COURSE I wasn’t going to ride it up and down the shop in front of all the fit looking types wearing the right clothes and perfect beards, nosing around buying gel saddles and energy drinks.
So I went home, measured the distance between the bottom of the saddle pillar and the pedals on my old bike, went back, measured the ditto ditto on the ebike and bought it for a 30 day trial.
What I didn’t realise, because I wasn’t going to get on the thing in the shop, was that the crossbar on my old bike is horizontal and this crossbar goes up towards the handlebars. This turned out to be a bit crucial. It’s the right height for me at the saddle end, but half way up the crossbar as you get off, my legs weren’t long enough to reach the floor. This was suboptimal. Nevertheless I had got this far. So I started to ride it.
I tried very hard to pretend it was fun but it wasn’t. I’m older now and it was quite hard to swing my leg high enough to clear the saddle when I was getting on and off. I hadn’t found the walk function so it was hard to push it around. The gear change was too far under the handlebar so changing up was too easy and changing down was really hard. As it turns out, a 400 kWh battery wasn’t enough to easily get me up Sir William and because the bike was heavier than my old one and the crossbar was too high, I didn’t know how to stop it safely on a hill. I only found this out when I stopped being able to turn the pedals in the steepest part and fell off. Fortunately I fell safely into a patch of nettles but the battery, which was never all that secure, flew off and skittered down the road. I damaged the handlebar grip and scratched the paint and that was the end of the 30 day trial.
So what had seemed like a fairy tale was now a nightmare. I had blued my inheritance on a bike I couldn’t ride and I had hurt my arm and my pride to boot.
Luckily inspiration struck. I have a 22 year old son at university in Bristol, another hilly place. He’s a strapping fit lad but doesn’t want to take a car to uni with him, so he walks everywhere and it takes up a lot of time. He’s a fair bit taller than me so I offered him my ebike and he bit my hand off. We managed to get it insured and he has now done upwards of 400 miles tootling round the city. He just loves it and says with a big grin ‘it’s the future mum!’. He is also the envy of all his friends. And I have bought his love.
So then I bought another ebike, at Halfords this time. Because I knew what I didn’t want, it was easier to know what I did want. It’s a Raleigh Felix step through with a 600 kWh battery. I bought it on HP and next month is my last payment, just in time for my 63rd birthday.
I LOVE THIS BIKE.
It would be untrue to say that this bike has been ALL plain sailing, it took a little bit of getting used to. I had the saddle far too low – rookie error! – and that made it harder work. The handlebars came loose from the steering column, which made it feel weird, and I had the same problem with the gear shift being too far round which made me nervous to change up in case I couldn’t change down again. I fixed or had fixed all of that, and then I went for a ride up the top of Sir William and hit a drawing pin which gave me ten simultaneous punctures. Facebook and good friends stepped up and fixed that too, and after that I felt much more confident to ride it as a bike rather than something to be frightened of. Now I am popping about all over the place on it and I feel like I’ve worked out how to use it. There is nothing between me the world now, except maybe a bike rack for my car so I can go further afield.
Two stories while I’m here: the Pushing Your Luck Story and the You Don’t Need to Dress Up But Only Within Reason story. The Pushing Your Luck Story involved thinking I could get round the Eyam loop on one bar of battery. I couldn’t and suddenly, half way up Hawkhill Road, it got much harder to cycle. It took me a while to work out what had happened. I pushed the contraption – obviously without walk assist - from below the Youth Hostel to the brow of the hill. It was a puff but not impossible, and then I was able to ride it – just as if it were a bike! – to the corner of Sir William Hill. So that could have been a lot worse but I learnt my lesson.
The You Don’t Need to Dress Up story – which of course you don’t because you don’t get hot and bothered – involved me going down the hill a bit on Leam Lane to practice starting off going uphill. That’s harder than on a normal bike because of the weight and the motor only kicks in after a couple of turns of the pedal. I was dressed in baggy stripey trousers, the sort you might wear on holiday, my gardening shoes and my dayglo hi viz coat which is too big. I had bitten off more than I could chew and was pushing the bike to a flatter bit. I thought I was alone….. I was not alone. A Hare in full lycra came up behind me, aged about 25. Full kit and perfect beard. He was clearly very anxious about this eccentric old bat pushing her ebike around. Are you OK? He said. I shall be, I said, when you have dug a hole and let me climb in it. Thus completely dispelling the idea that I was deranged, of course. He then pedalled ahead of me on Dead Slow, you know the sort of thing, looking back anxiously. The only thing which could have made this worse, I thought, is if he were with someone else. At that immediate point the someone else appeared. Thank you! I said brightly. I’m fine! I said cheerfully. For goodness sake go away, I said sotto voce. Eventually they did. Moral: you can’t dress too insanely even on an e-bike.