The bike that takes the sweat out of cycling

Forgive me cycling gods, for I have sinned. For the past week, I have been riding a power-assisted bicycle.

In some ways, my life has gone in a circle. The first non-human-powered vehicle I ever commandeered was a type of moped – a curious hybrid bicycle with a noisy, smelly motor mounted on the front forks. It belonged to an older boy at my school and I promptly rode it into a wire-link fence.

But the kind of bike I've been using recently is a somewhat different beast. For starters, if you're not pedalling, it won't move. Also, no raucous revving - the most it emits is an electric whirr. It's not a bicycle trying to be a motorbike; it's a bicycle that wants to be your little helper.

My first spin on the E-bike I borrowed from a local importer weirded me out a few times. As I began pedalling, an invisible force started helping the pedals along – reminding me of the time trial I did on a tandem with a feisty teammate in the seat behind me.

But as soon as you lift off, the power dies (on the tandem, I achieved the same by shouting "Oi!" at the stoker). More importantly, as soon as you get above 25km/h, the electric motor abdicates, cruelling your dreams of racing glory. As a motorbike, it's a pretty good bicycle.

Nevertheless, power-assisted treadlies have been controversial in Australia. Only in the past 12 months have regulations been relaxed in most states, so that a two-wheeler with less than 250 watts of continuous rated power is still legally viewed as a bicycle.

It's possible some of this suspicion has been due to the perception that cycling is for those who want a workout. But what about people who are primarily interested in convenient, enjoyable, low-cost travel, or are reluctant or unable to tackle hills between them and their destinations?

Or big blokes who bust into a sweat as soon as they turn a crank in anger?

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For me, commuting to work by bike requires a change of clothes and a shower on arrival, to rinse off the evidence of a few cheeky hills along the way. So it was with some trepidation that I set off on an unseasonally hot morning last week, dressed for my desk.

I was disappointed I didn't have a homburg hat to don. The Dutch-made Gazelle bicycle is a genteel creation, with high handlebars that encourage an upright posture, a chainguard to protect the trousers, mudguards, and dedicated lights fore and aft. With some deft downshifting and spinning, I let the motor do the work on the hills, effortlessly overtaking a lad in Lycra in the process.

After making good use of the cycle ways soon to be completed by NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay, I rolled into Fairfax Towers feeling exhilarated. Best of all, no office shower shuffle, no crumpled shirt incident, no shock discovery that one shoe had gone unpacked. Our unique Australasian helmet laws had nevertheless done their damage – my hair looked like it had been on a strip grill, and took some taming.

That evening, I rode home via the supermarket; the electric motor helped me make easy work of the last hill, despite a bulging pannier bag. On the weekend, I decided to go for a roll around my suburb but quickly found myself heading for Circular Quay, rolling effortlessly up the hill to the Sydney Observatory on the way back.

One warning. E-bikes are heavier than most – if you live up a flight of stairs, as I do, you'll get a bonus upper-body workout. And if you forget to charge the battery, you'll do double duty on the ascents.

Sure, they're not for everyone. But that's the great thing about cycling – so many ways to join in. I know at least three people who swear by E-bikes as a low-cost, convenient commuter option. And with legal restrictions lifted and importation on the rise, I'm sure we'll be seeing many more.

Would you consider buying an E-bike? Do you think power-assist bicycles will help to boost cycling numbers?

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Email: onyourbikeblog@gmail.com

E-bike loan courtesy of Gazelle Bicycles