E-bike popularity powers up

Mahurangi Matters editor James Addis and reporter Ben Donaldson went head-to-head when they decided to race an electric bike against conventional pedal power. See the race online at localmatters.co.nz

A growing interest in electric bikes as a form of mainstream transport will bring multiple benefits, both for riders and the wider community, according to the owner of one of NZ’s largest electric bike retailers, Electric Bike Hub.

Jace Hobbs has been promoting e-bikes in NZ for around 14 years. Last year, business was up 50 per cent on the previous year and it is a trend he sees accelerating.

“E-bikes are definitely not a fashion or a fad,” he says. “As well as being good for the environment, they offer real health and economic benefits for riders. It can mean some families can avoid the necessity of a second car.”

Jace says the uptake of e-bikes has been slower in New Zealand compared to overseas and he puts this down to Kiwis’ equating bikes with children or exercise.

“Their use for commuting is less well appreciated, but I think that is changing. There is a misconception that our roads are dangerous to ride on, but statistically, the health benefits of cycling far outweigh any risks.”

Jace says there is a lot of choice in bikes. From those catering for commercial deliveries and commuters, to bikes for off-road and recreational use. His company supplies bikes to six local authorities, including Auckland Council, and the NZ Transport Agency.

Paull Robson, of Matakana Bicycle Hire, describes the growing interest in electric bikes as “phenomenal”.

Last summer his commute between Warkworth and Matakana on an e-bike took an average of 15 minutes.

“At peak times, when there were queues, it was taking most cars around 25 minutes,” he says.

“I think it’s really the narrowness of our roads that is the main impediment to e-bikes being used more widely in this area. Most of the bikes we’re selling are for recreational use, off the main roads. Omaha is full of e-bikes now.”

The Volterra e-bike retails for $2500 and can do a top speed of 25kph. A full charge takes six hours and this gives the bike a range of between 65 and 70 kilometres.  

Staff at Mahurangi Matters had the opportunity to road test an electric bike this month, and here are their impressions:

Angela – Surprisingly enough I could feel the electric cut in on the flat when the gears were high and the bike seemed to glide you along. However, on Church Hill, by the fire station, I still had to change the gears down and pedal reasonably strongly up the hill, and I could feel my heart rate rise slightly. It was not quite as easy as I had imagined going up hill. I’m sure that over time you would better master the gears and the bike would glide along with little work from the rider.

Rob – Today I rode my first E-bike. What a sensation! You start off and pedal like normal, but after a few seconds the technology kicks in and off you go cruising the streets with very little effort. The combination of pedal power and electronic motor is strange at first, but you soon ease into it, and every now and then you are reminded that you are not doing all the work, and that’s pretty cool!

Marty – You could definitely feel the assistance on the flat. It’s not like a motorbike, you still have to put in some effort on the hills, but you can feel a bit of a boost.

Mahurangi Matters thanks Matakana Bicycle Hire for the use of its Volterra electric bike for this article.


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