Pedal Power - Rebecca Taggart

Rebecca Taggart tests a Specialized e-bike.

E-bikes are the latest must-have, spanning a new movement of cyclists keen to explore New Zealand with  little extra pedal power. INSPO takes up the e-bike challenge and finds out more.

It took 43 seconds. That’s all. For me to do a complete turnaround from being a tad judgemental and dismissive about e-bikes to being a complete and utter convert.

Trust me, it comes as much of a surprise to me as to anyone else. Once upon a time, long ago, I vaguely recall enjoying cycling; setting off on solo or group ride, choosing to cycle from Hamilton to Morrinsville just because I could, and even participating in the Hamilton to Whangamata bike ride – but that’s many decades ago. And it’s about that long since I’ve been back in the saddle. I’ve long preferred an actual saddle and a horse to pedal power.

Pedal Power - Speed

Plenty of power and speed for hills.

To be perfectly truthful, I have to admit to some initial reluctance to test-driving an e-bike. Partly because I’d already decided that cycling wasn’t ‘my thing’ anymore, with other activities I enjoy far more. The other (larger) reluctance is that no matter which way I set off from home, there’s a walloping great hill to endure within the first few minutes. So before I even get to enjoy the leisure of cycling, I have aching legs, a throbbing knee and am out of breath. Not so appealing.

So it was with minimal expectations that I took temporary possession of a couple of e-bikes from Cycle Time (Hamilton) and Evo Cycles (Cambridge).

First up was the Hybrid carbon frame bike, designed in New Zealand by engineer Frank Witowski and recently taking out a podium finish in a Consumer NZ report on e-bikes. The carbon frame is lightweight to manage, has a 160kg load capacity and there are five power options.

Getting back on the bike
I expected to wobble around a bit and need an instruction manual before mastering the complexities of an e-bike. I was wrong. Turns out it’s as easy as, well, as riding a bike.

Just turn the screen on, choose your setting (I started on the lowest of one from five settings) and you’re off. And really off – the power of the e-bike takes all the pain out of cycling (take that you meaty hills) and leaves just the pleasure.

I’m delighted to report that I soared up those dastardly hills with ease and ended up cycling far further than intended, just because I could and yes, I was having fun.

I can see why e-bikes are proving so popular across all age brackets. It makes cycling achievable regardless of the terrain.

I know plenty of enthusiasts who have ached to tackle some of New Zealand’s glorious bike trails, but been unable to, either due to a niggling injury or fear of not keeping up with their fitter more experienced group of friends. The e-bike removes these barriers, more than proving its worth.

Pedal Power - Sam Ballantyne

Sam Ballantyne

Get on yer bike
The sport of cycling is in a major growth phase, both for those with high performance goals and for recreational enthusiasts. We are fortunate to have such epic cycle trails here in Waikato with hundreds of kilometres of trail to enjoy.

Hauraki Rail Trail is an ideal scenic route for laid-back riders and families, while the Timber Trail offers a little more backcountry adventure, and Waikato River Trails cater for mountain bikers who enjoy off road terrain.

Then there’s Te Awa – The Great River Ride; perfect for those finding their e-bike cycling legs, and the Cambridge to Lake Karapiro is another ideal stretch (with plenty of cafe pit-stops along the way).

The e-bike has changed the way I plan my day. When the sun is shining and the e-bike sits charged and ready, it seems ludicrous to hop in the car to go and get a coffee or pop to the dairy. So not only am I getting some fresh air and exercise, but I’m saving fuel too – what a win!

Heading off road
The next part of the challenge was to head off road for some more challenging terrain. Given my newly minted cycling legs (and the fact I’m just a few weeks into recovery from a hospital operation), I nominated my partner, brother-in-law and nephew for this part of the test. They’re both keen mountain bikers, so with much enthusiasm set off for Te Miro Mountain Bike Park with a couple of Trek Powerfly e-bikes.

I didn’t expect to hear from them for hours, as usually they’re completely off grid when out mountain biking. However about 10 minutes in I received a text proclaiming that the bikes were ‘epic’.

Turns out these two adrenalin junkies absolutely loved the extra power they could access to explore even more track than usual. And thanks to a little more oomph going uphill, they could pedal for longer and further.

The ‘quick e-bike test’ turned out to be an all day excursion. They returned filthy but buzzed from their adventures and absolute fans of the e-bike (so much so, that an e-bike purchase has since been made!).

Having got chatting to some groups on their ride, they met a few other e-bikers as well. One was a family where dad and the kids ride competitively, and thanks to an e-bike mum could now join in and keep up on their training excursions.

Pedal Power - Bike

The Ed’s ride – the Hybrid e-bike.

The e-bike surge
If you ever needed proof that the e-bike trend is on the move upwards, just take a walk around CycleTime, where e-bikes take equal pride of place in store. Over the last

three years, e-bikes now take up more than 30 percent of the shop floor.

Owner Dave Spring shares dozens of stories (from hundreds he has) of how e-bikes have transformed people’s lives; from enabling a less experiencing cycling partner to enjoy the activity and keep up with his or her faster, fitter cyclist; to giving older couples the ability to rediscover cycling; and those with knee or other injuries to enjoy cycling again.

Particularly popular are the Specialised Turbo Levo models, which sell out practically before they even arrive in-store.

“I’ve been in the industry for more than 30 years and this is such an enjoyable experience changing people’s lives getting them out riding,” says Dave.

“It’s really great for the sport of cycling and there are so many cool stories. It’s not always about being competitive, e-bikes remove barriers and enable people to enjoy cycling. I recently sold one to an 82-year-old which is pretty inspiring.

“Also I’ve got a friend who used to ride with his wife on a tandem bike, but had to give up after her  knees gave out. She stopped riding altogether, lost fitness and her mental health deteriorated as well.

“I suggested an e-bike and they weren’t originally keen, but after a while decided to give it a go. It was such a cool moment when they arrived in the store with tears of happiness that they could cycle together again. Now they’re back regularly cycling, healthier, fitter  and definitely happier and loving being back in the activity again.”

Have a go
If you still have reservations about cycling (like I did), here’s my advice – just have a go. I dithered for months before being convinced to ride an e-bike and wish I’d done it sooner (and yes, one now has pride of place in my garage. Bring on summer!)