If you believe that an afternoon cycling should be about enjoyment rather than charging up hills and setting personal bests, the G-Tech eBike promises to make the sport easier and more fun. Toby Keel tested one out.
Here’s a little experiment for you.
Take a stroll down to your local park on the weekend and find some people having a kickabout. Count how many of them are wearing full kit: shirts, shorts, socks and proper boots.
Next, pop down to your local snooker club, and count how many of the people you see wearing waistcoats and bow-tie.
And finally, take a quick skiing holiday and tot up the total number of people you see wearing one of those skin-tight outfits you’ll see on Ski Sunday or Eurosport.
Finished? Good. Not many, were there? You’ll also note that you’ve never, ever seen someone at the local swimming baths in one of those high-tech-full-body suits that promise to cut 0.2 seconds off your 25m time.
So why is it that so many cyclists at a similar level of (in)competence feel unable to pedal away from their houses unless they’re clad head-to-foot in clothing so thin that it might as well be spray-painted on, festooned with logos for Swiss chocolate bars or Austrian manufacturers of sunglasses? This isn’t about judging the wobbly bits of our fellow man. It’s about a bizarre trend that makes it feel like nobody can just go for a bike ride any more without donning the full skin-tight tribal gear of the Middle-Aged Man in Lycra – the dreaded MAMIL.
Recreational cycling should be fun, joyous even. It should be about the open air, the countryside views, the breeze ruffling your hair and, after the exertions, the stop-off at a country pub for refreshments.
And the latter should be achievable without having to disturb your fellow drinkers with the clack-clack-clacking of your clip-in cycling shoes. Eddy Mercx won the Tour de France four times in a pair of simple trainers and some stick-your-toes-in pedal straps; a fifty-year-old chartered accountant from Dorking probably doesn’t need any more than that to make it across the North Downs. And given that the latter is probably tipping the scales on the wrong side of 14 stone, he probably needn’t have spent £3,000 on a carbon-fibre that saves 4lb over an aluminium equivalent.
In the face of such insanity, then, what a breath of fresh air it was a couple of weeks ago to test out a bicycle that appears to have been made for one simple, utterly laudable purpose: to make cycling as much fun as possible for normal people. It’s called the G-Tech eBike.
This is not a bike designed for people who want to race each other across the Pennines. It’s not a bike for people who want the same brakes as Chris Froome. And it absolutely, categorically is not for people who think it’s okay for their clothes to fit tighter than an apple fits its skin. Instead, it’s for people who just want to go on a bike ride and not half-kill themselves in the process.
As you might have guessed from the name, the eBike is an electric bike, but not in the sense that a Tesla is an electric car – though the two do share lithium battery technology in common. The G-Tech eBike’s battery powers a 36v motor in the back wheel that doesn’t power the bike on its own, but instead cuts in when you start pedalling in to provide a delicious (and addictive) power boost. There are no gears to fiddle with – just hop on and off you go.
It’s clever stuff, and if you’re after a technical explanation then G-Tech’s website has all sorts of info and a very slick video. But since this is Country Life rather than Cycling Weekly, it suffices to say that the net result is that you whizz along with the near-effortless glee – and a huge smile plastered across your face. It’s somewhat like swimming with a pair of flippers on; no, actually, it’s not quite that. Imagine a pair of shoes which could make you run like Mo Farah, yet using only the same level of effort that you normally put into a jog around the park. That’s how it feels when you first get on.
We tested the bike out on the hills of the South Downs and Surrey Hills. On the flat, the experience is a joy. Uphill is when you’ll really need it, however, and here is where it delivers in spades. Pedalling up mild inclines feel like pedalling a normal bike on the flat, while bigger hills become far more manageable even for the unfit or those advancing in years. In doing so, the eBike democratises cycling: it’s about the pleasure of the trip, not the endorphin rush of physical exertion; it’s accessible to people of all ages and abilities, all able to enjoy cycling together. Above all, it makes cycling easier and more fun.
Are there downsides? Well, the battery has a range of 30 miles, which the makers say could be reduced to as little as 10 miles if you’re doing extreme uphill or off-road riding– in other words, it’s designed for an afternoon out, or commuting to work, rather than an entire day touring. And while it’s not heavy at 16kg, it’s a little heavier than most modern aluminium bikes, and with a single gear set-up it’s slightly harder work than a normal bike once you’ve run out of juice.
That said, it’s easy to switch the battery off on easier sections, or put it into a lower-voltage ‘eco’ mode if you want to preserve power. You can also carry a spare battery, though they’re expensive at £299. A long lunch might be a better way plan: you can pop the battery out and fully recharge it from flat in three hours, and in practice we found that charging from 20% to 60% was very quick.
Other than that, it’s worth knowing that you won’t be whizzing past the aforementioned Lycra-clad MAMIL crowd: after you hit 15mph, the eBike’s boost cuts out, presumably because for the people this bike is aimed at, that’s plenty quick enough.
When I took the bike down to the local park, I quickly amassed a queue of passing friends and neighbours who eagerly had a go, whooped in joy as they rocketed off across the grass, and very reluctantly gave the bike back a few minutes later.
Even my wife was persuaded to try it out; she’s barely cycled since the end of the last millennium. Now, I have a feeling she’ll be keener to go out on more rides – no doubt with her enjoying the benefit of the battery power, and me wheezing along behind her on what will now feel like a hopelessly-outdated pedal-only bike. Time to start saving up for another one.
The G-Tech eBike comes in city, mountain and sport versions (we tested a ‘sport’), starting at £995.99 with a 14-day free return option (subject to reasonable wear and tear) – www.gtech.co.uk/ebike
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