13th April 2016

On owning an electric bicycle: Confessions of a fit young lad

United We Ride

Annie Leibowitz’s portrait of Lance Armstrong, who would never cheat by using an electric bicycle

Written by Simon Atkins, Digital Marketer at the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative

I’m what might traditionally be called a ‘fit, young lad’. I’ve done triathlons, Tough Mudder obstacle courses, and until recently 5-days-a-week of Thai boxing. At 30 years old, my heart and lungs are probably in better shape than they’ve ever been.

But I can’t stand cycling up hills. In hell, there’s an infinite hill created just for me and I’ll have to cycle up it but I’m not allowed to do the downhill bit. If I was the protagonist in 1984, my interrogation in Room 101 would involve an incline treadmill and a bicycle.

Which is worse: The rat mask or cycling uphill?

Which is worse: The rat mask in 1984 or cycling uphill?

I also don’t particularly enjoy the faff involved with a long-distance bike commute. The change of clothes. The sensible footwear. The hurried showers at work. None of this is difficult obviously, but just like a river, I enjoy taking the path of least resistance.

Electric Salvation

A couple of months after starting work at the Edinburgh Bike Co-op HQ in December, my 11-mile bicycle commute had become a murderous slog. I’d been using a lovely hybrid Specialized Sirrus that was the nicest bike I’d ever owned, but even that didn’t flatten hills the way I wanted. What I needed was cutting-edge technology. What I needed was the Whyte Coniston electric bicycle.

So I bought one, and life has never been easier. And as one of the first Co-op members to own one, I get asked a lot of questions by my colleagues about what it’s like. I’d like to share these with you here, because I think they help address a lot of the concerns people have about electric bikes.

Whyte Coniston 2017

The Whyte Coniston 2017. The solution to all of life’s problems?

What does riding an electric bike feel like?

It feels like being 6 years old and your dad is pushing you along at a swift 15 miles per hour. You don’t get sweaty. Your legs never feel tired. You never have to strain against the pedals, like when you’re turning across traffic on a busy road with a furious driver bearing down on you. You prefer going uphill than going on the flat. Most important of all, it feels really, really fun.

“Any form of technology is cheating. Using a bike with more than one gear? Cheating. Flying to France in a giant metal plane? Cheating.”

The pedal-assist motor senses when you need it and kicks in with a little whir, making pedalling a breeze and keeping your speed topped up. In keeping with EU law, the motor cuts out when you reach 15.5mph, but you can cycle as fast as you can manage. The other day I hit 31mph going downhill, which is fast enough for me.

>>> Read: 30-plus reasons to love Shimano STEPS motors

Doesn’t it take the enjoyment out of cycling?

If you enjoy the feeling of an impending heart explosion, your legs shouting at you while you chew on the handlebars and feel like you might puke, going 3mph up a hill when a gust of wind brings you and your bike to a complete halt, then yes, it takes the enjoyment out of cycling.

If you enjoy whizzing up a hill at 15.5mph with absolutely zero effort, and once you get to the top continuing to go at that speed, then it puts the enjoyment into cycling. If you add to that the likelihood that you’ll pass another cyclist who’s struggling to get uphill, it gets even better.

Electric bikes: Taking the enjoyment out of pushing your bike up a hill.

Electric bikes: Taking the enjoyment out of pushing your bike up a hill.

Isn’t it cheating?

Of course it is! Any form of technology is cheating. Using a bike with more than one gear? Cheating. Flying to France in a giant metal plane? Cheating. Fixing a saddle to a horse and sitting on it? Definitely cheating.

In fact, take that argument to its logical conclusion and the only thing that isn’t cheating is living in a cave, barefoot and naked, hand-plucking fish out of a river and eating them raw.

One thing I really love about my electric bike is arriving at work, locking my bike up, and sitting down at my desk. No changing out of sweaty skin-tight cycling gear and realising you’ve forgotten your trousers at home.

Likewise, when my colleagues are busy changing back into their kit at the end of the day, I’m already half way down the road, wearing my jeans and shirt.

You’ll regret having that heavy bike if the battery runs out.

That’s probably true, although the same is true of a car and running out of petrol. You make sure it doesn’t happen, right?

The computer display on the Coniston lets you know how much battery you have left, you know how far you can go on a charge, and if the worst comes to the worst then it’s usually easier to find somewhere to charge a battery than it is to find petrol. The charger just plugs into a normal wall socket.

You can still cycle an electric bike if you ever run out of juice mid-ride

What did we learn?

The really neat feature is that you can choose to plug the bike straight into the wall without removing the battery, and the Coniston also comes with a nice kickstand so you don’t have to lean it against your bookshelves.

At the moment I travel 44 miles before I have to recharge, which for me is 2 full days of bicycle travel. Since a bike battery lasts for 1,000 charges before it begins to degrade, that means that I’ll have to replace the battery in 7 years at a minimum.

In any case, at least you can still use your 20kg electric bike when it runs out of juice. Unlike a car.

But what will you do for exercise?

If the amount of exercise you’re doing at the moment is zero, then pedalling an electric bike to and from work every day is a lot more than that. If that’s not enough, you can put the pedal-assist on a lower setting (or off) and sweat your way to oblivion.

You could buy a moped/car/horse-drawn carriage for that!

True, but for me buying the Coniston was a lifestyle choice. I never learned how to drive, and to be honest I don’t think I can be trusted behind a steering wheel. I could buy a Vespa, but I’d be on some pretty big roads on the way here. I could take the bus, but it would take me 1.5 hours to get to work instead of 40 minutes, and cost me £8/day.

A horse-drawn carriage: Less bang for your buck

A horse-drawn carriage: The height of inconvenience

I’ve done all the calculations, and the cheapest, fastest, most-stress free and fun way to travel is definitely by electric bike.

Electric bikes don’t need petrol, you can remove the battery and charge it up at work, and the Coniston is guaranteed for 2 years in case anything goes wrong. The STEPS motor is also made by Shimano, one of the biggest manufacturers of bike parts in the world, so it’s incredibly reliable and replacement parts are easy to find.

>> Read: How much money could you save commuting by bike? (Infographic)

God, that was one hell of a headwind coming in this morning.

Was it? I didn’t notice. I was too busy whistling and enjoying the scenery. This morning I saw a fox and a bouquet of pheasants (yes, a group of pheasants really is called a bouquet.)

Me being a fit young lad at St. Andrew's triathlon.

Me being a fit young lad at St. Andrew’s triathlon. For your eyes only.


I used to wake up at 7:15a.m., look out the window and see tree branches straining in the Edinburgh wind, and die a little inside. Now I wake up at 8:00 because the journey is faster and I don’t have to change clothes when I get to work, and I don’t care if it’s windy and raining because it doesn’t make much of a difference. My bicycle is a beautiful piece of tech and it makes a great talking point.

It’s one of the best things I’ve ever bought, and I’d recommend that even if you don’t want to buy one you get along to one of our shops and try one out. You won’t regret it!

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4 comments on “On owning an electric bicycle: Confessions of a fit young lad

  1. David Harrison on

    Having bought a KTM full susser E-bike with a Bosch motor I agree with everything you say. I am 73 in 2 weeks with a dodgy knee having to use a walking stick when going for a walk but I did Querqus at Whinlatter in 39 minutes my son and partner then while they were recovering, I did again in 18 minutes passing 6 other struggling riders. I alway return after a ride with an E-bike smile on my face. Finally, I bought the bike in April and have already clocked up 800+miles.

  2. Harry on

    Love the blog. I’ve had 2 e bikes, 1st bike bought as a ready to use e bike. Both are\were fantastic.

    Right then, time for a reality check. If you are unfit and heavy you will sweat and feel the strain on your muscles and if you’re getting on your joints are going to ache later on..but and its a big but you will be able to cycle loads more with only the steepest hill being a challenge, you can get out and really enjoy a good ride and not be completely tired out afterwards. Of course the fitter and lighter you are the easier it gets.

    If you’re getting on, or well overweight don’t give up on some fresh air and exercise just get an e bike. I go out with a few friends on our e bikes and even travel to other areas such as the fantastic coastal paths in North Wales. Prestatyn to Llandudno and back no problem. Stop on the journey have a drink and a meal, great fun..Do it.

  3. Steve Johnson on

    Have to agree. I bought an ebike earlier in the year and they make the perfect commuter, particularly if your commute is more than a few miles each way.

    I previously alternated between cycling and motorcycling for my commute between Linlithgow and Edinburgh. Cycling this route (12-15 miles each way depending on route) used to take an hour plus showering time. Now it’s 45-50 minutes each way, no shower needed and the nasty hill in the middle is no longer a pain. Windy? Who cares.

    They are quite expensive but I sold my motorcycle, which more than paid for the ebike. 2000 miles so far, no problems.

    In terms of fitness, I haven’t noticed any difference, since I’m spending more time cycling, at a slightly lower level of effort. I still use a normal bike at the weekend and for touring.

    For me at least, an ebike is the perfect commuter.

  4. Andy Wallace on

    I’m amazed with these things. I’m an avid mountain biker and runner, hit the Peak District 2 or 3 times a week. The electric bike is doing wonders for my fitness – since the purchase, I’m getting out even more and working harder. How come? – the eBike belongs to my wife, she can now come out with me and leave me for dead on the climbs. She’s still hesitant on the descents so I get a breather on the valley floor. Biggest ride so far is 26 miles, nearly all off-road, and some grueling climbs, that one used up 60% of a full charge. Off to Austria and Switzerland for a month in May (ahhh just love Retirement!), apparently the mountain cafes have Bosch charging points. Will I survive?


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