Electric are beginning to enter a new phase of popularity, spurred on by rising oil prices, cheaper components and a populace eager to save money on their commuting and daily travel costs. The result has been a flood of new entrants to the market in recent months, underpinned by a new crop of cheap Chinese electric motors which are more efficient, and cheaper than ever.
I thought I’d take a look at two of the products jostling for our cash, from both ends of the spectrum. In one corner the ultra-modern, designed by a Formula 1 engineer, sleek GoCycle and in the other a more traditional but much lauded veteran of the electric bicycle world, the Brompton Nano.
Both are urban oriented folding bikes in a similar price band, but apart from that they’re chalk and cheese in many respects. Read on for more details as to the differences, similarities and what it’s like to live with them for a while.
First Impressions. You can recognise the Formula 1 pedigree immediately you start riding this smart looking, distinctive e-bike. For one thing it stops on a dime, which becomes very apparent after you finish picking bits of gravel from your teeth. Disc brakes all round, injection moulded magnesium body, sleek side panel and chain guard (no oil on this baby, ladies) and some very impressive tyres, make this bike a real high tech crowd pleaser.
So far I’ve had three shouts of recognition from the roadside as I’ve been travelling, all of them admiring, including one who insisted on a quick guest ride. This bike gets you noticed!
In Use. It’s no slouch either. That tiny little front wheel mounted 250W electric motor pulls away with alacrity once you push the little red button. Up hills, down dales, across busy intersections, whoosh! Or rather squeaaaaal. Because, as well as being fast on the uptake and very distinctive, the GoCycle is also a tad noisy. Push the button down a quiet side street and you’ll get people looking at you as you whizz by – well OK not exactly whizz, top speed is a legal max of 15mph in the UK – but you know what I mean. This is a bike for those who like to be noticed, not shy retiring sorts.
Practicality. Designer Richard Thorpe tells me he didn’t really create it as a commuter bike, more as a fun, runabout and I can see what he means. If you’re serious about travelling through 10 miles of dense, snarling traffic every day you’re probably not going to buy something which needs a button to be kept pressed all the time, you’re going for a bigger wheeled, heftier road racer type bike.
But saying that, I found the bike immensely enjoyable for extended runs around town. The fact that you can hop on easily with no battery to carry, no keys to turn, no bicycle clips to adjust means it’s perfect for hopping across town for a hair appointment, or to visit some friends for a barbeque when you’d otherwise train it or take the car. The secret is in the fact that it’s lightweight and well balanced enough to act like a normal bike, so you can start off just pedaling as normal and enjoy yourself. Only this time hills, buses and busy intersections hold no fear, as your friend the Red Button is near. Or something.
The gearing is perfectly adequate, although at times I did wish for a couple of extra top gears to help me hustle along a bit more, and it’s choc full of balance, poise and confident chutzpah. Only 16.2kg in weight, and with a range of 6 -20 miles depending how you use that button, you’ll whizz through those journeys. The only things I would ask for are a speedo of some sort, a battery gauge and some more luggage space, although there are front and rear bag options you can buy.
The only terrifying thing is the fact that for those who live in a big city, this bike is almost certainly a honeypot for thieves. I spent the first three rides convinced that every time I secured it with the flimsy default chain lock thing, it would be gone by the time I returned. The first time I was so paranoid I took a photo of it with my phone cam just to prove to Richard and the police that I had actually locked it to a stout metal barrier. Needless to say it was still there when I returned later. Nevertheless, if it was mine, I’d buy a BIGGER LOCK! Definitely!
Verdict. A stonking piece of really classy technology. My first ride on the thing was a 10 mile cross-city hack, weaving deliberately and safely through typical big city traffic with aplomb. Only a couple of time did I lose my nerve, but that was not the bike’s fault, just my inexperience alongside fast moving vans and buses. And I got back home with a huge grin on my face, which really says it all.
Richard is right, it’s not really a commuter bike. But it is a bike that will encourage you to make more local trips without the car. A bike that turns any location into Holland, flat and non-threatening for biking. A small bicycle which just happens to have a hidden super power, in the form of a lovely little Red Button. Delicious.
Price: From £1495.00.
Pros: Beautifully designed to be lightweight, well balanced and a pleasure to ride as a bicycle as well as an e-bike. Head turning looks, powerful torquey engine for steep hills, superb brakes and a beautifully smooth gear change mechanism.
Cons: Thief magnet in town, could do with some higher gears and a battery gauge, spare parts probably a little too non-standard to be cheap. Noisy motor and gear system at speed. Not really an easy folder, more of an ‘if-you-must’ folder.