Yesterday, Mr Taiwanxifu bought me a special birthday gift by request — a gleaming new e-bike.
An e-bike sounds like it ought to be something high-tech and virtual. But it is essentially an electronic bike. While it is still a bicycle, it is powered by a battery that gives it a bit more assistance with steep bits like hills. Or to power you along if you are feeling unfit and lazy.
Or at least, that is the theory. As we found out from searching for the ideal e-bike, there is a fine line between scooter and bicycle. Many of the versions we inspected were heavy and designed scoot along very fast, and really some looked exactly like a scooter with pedals (which by the look of things were merely for ornamental purposes). There were smart red bikes with giant alien-like headlights, and fat pink and white girley bicycles with big engines, and several models with substantial skate-board/scooter type platforms.
What I was essentially after was a bicycle with a small, lightweight motor to help me up steep hills when commuting. I didn’t want anything that looked too much like a scooter because I don’t want to scare people on bike paths — or be forced to register the bike as a motorised vehicle, which would defeat the purpose of using it as a bicycle. The salesman, who was a bit of a comedian, laughed and did turtle demonstrations when I asked if the bicycles we were test riding could be adjusted to go slower. (He later demonstrated a trick to make my e-bike go even faster, beyond the legal 25km/hour limit for bicycles, in the unlikely event that should I wish to break any speed records.)
The latest thing in e-bikes, you see, is the hybrid model that automatically gives extra impetus as you cycle rather than waiting for you to turn the throttle. This boost took me by suprise initially, propelling me up the laneway behind the bikeshop much, much faster than I had originally intended. Actually, I’m lucky I didn’t crash into one of the cars parked along the road. And when I got home I had this sensation of feeling almost motion-sick, like I kept wanting to hurtle myself through the walls.
According to Mr Taiwanxifu, there is nothing new about e-bikes — especially in Taiwan, which is a world leader in bicycle production and design. When he was growing up e-bikes went through a phase of being relatively common. But somewhere along the line e-bikes became unpopular. Perhaps it was the advent of the mass-produced scooter. Or perhaps lightweight but powerful e-bikes became uneconomical to make. Or perhaps they just became uncool, being seen to be the sort of beast ridden by middle aged women doing the groceries or taking the kids to school (which just about describes me, actually).
But with a focus on reducing our carbon footprint, the e-bike is back. Or at least, it would be if they were not so hard to find. Most shops — even in Taiwan — do not stock e-bikes, and they are only supplied by the factory on order. There is limited information on brands and models available in English on the internet — apart from a few reviews in cyclist magazines, which I found somewhat out of date. (Thereis apparently more information available in Chinese.) And even Giant bicycle, a former market leader in e-bikes, only has a few models. I had lusted after a Giant e-bike, but in the end I did not like the look of their newer designs.
After much, much research by Mr Taiwanxifu we found a scooter and electronic bike shop in Taipei that had some models available for test riding. And I am now the happy owner of a Sheng-Ease EV-20F e-bike. Sheng-Ease is a Taiwanese brand that specialises in electric and electric assisted bicycles.
So what’s so special about my e-bike?
Well, for starters its yellow. Have you ever seen a yellow bike? For some reason, this is not a colour that bicycle manufacturers make very often. I like the fact that it is sunny and happy. But more importantly, its brightness makes for easy visibility and greater safety. In fact, it is so bright it is difficult to miss.
Further, it is relatively light-weight at 35kg. The body of the bike itself is only 24kg, and the rest is in the battery. A lighter battery is due to come online next year, which we plan to purchase to further lighten the load. But the bike doesn’t feel at all heavy when you are riding it. Actually, it feels so easy to ride that I think I will have trouble working up a sweat. When I am riding it, I feel as if I am gliding.
It has shock absorbers. I don’t plan to go mountain biking on my e-bike, but some of the cycle paths back home are a little bumpy. Actually so bumpy that sometimes I feel as if I am cycling a cross-country track.
The bike can fold in half, with all its pieces designed to fit neatly together. I don’t plan to regularly put the bike in the boot of the car (it is heavy, although if you take the battery out the overall weight is not so different to that of a normal bike). But I suspect there will be times when I will need to transport it and having it fold will be useful. For instance if I ride to work and then feel too tired to ride home, or if I want to take it on holiday.
The battery is easy to remove, and easy to recharge. It took us under five hours to recharge battery for the first time. The battery, at 8.5kg, is a little heavy but because it is at the rear of the bike you can back it right up to a power point. Which is what we did when we got it home and parked it in our laundry: we did not need to remove the battery, and could just plug it straight in.
While technically you shouldn’t have a second person on the back (maximum load is 100kg), there is a little seat that I can use for my toddler. I will definitely be going SLOW if I give him a lift, although I can imagine him trying to convince me to pick up the speed. ‘Mummy go faster,’ I can imagine him urging me on.
I will need to purchase a sturdy chain lock, but the bike has a security feature that allows for locking so that you cannot start up the motor without the key. And I can also lock up the battery so that no-one can steal it (apparently this does happen from time to time).
The price was also reasonable, as are nearly all bicycles in Taiwan. In fact the cost was cheaper than buying a normal mountain bike in Australia.
And most importantly, the bike is comfortable. This is not a trendy mountain bike, which for some reason I always find puts stress on my shoulders, or a super lightweight racer. I don’t feel as if I have anything to prove with this bike — how could I with a bright canary yellow bike with a motor? This is an easy bike, made for easy riding.
So now that I have the bike, I will need somewhere to ride it. I have had dreams of joining the craze for cycling around Taiwan; or at least going on a long distance bike trip. Rather ambitious for a mother with a toddler and a baby, and Mr Taiwanxifu does think I am mad. But perhaps next year I will be able to talk him into a small family trip. At least I will not need to be too fit with my e-bike.