Are electric bicycles the future of transport for Irish commuters?

Published by Catherine O'Toole on

February 22nd 2017

Last year over 12,000 cyclists made their way into Dublin city centre each morning.

This is a record number of cyclists and it looks like it’ll keep becoming a more and more popular choice for commuters. Electric vehicles have been getting better and more affordable every year. With growing concern for the environment and our own health, why aren’t electric bicycles more common in Ireland?

The trends for electric bicycle sales in Europe are growing, with 70% of new bikes sold in Belgium being electric, while Germany holds mountain bike competitions purely for electric bikes. Ireland is steadily following their example, with sales here growing every year.

Speaking to Greenaer, the only dedicated e-Bike shop in Dublin, it seems that more and more people are opting to buy electric bikes over regular bikes. It is mostly commuters who are purchasing them. You can arrive to work without breaking a sweat, and you don’t have to worry about parking. They are also great for people with injury or heart conditions, or older people who want to keep up their love of cycling but would like some help up the hills.

Before going into the shop I wasn’t sure exactly what an electric bike really was. I had an idea of course; a bike that was powered by electricity, but I still had lots of questions! Inside I met with Aurel who’s been working for Greenaer since 2013.

‘I have used bikes all my life in France but had never tried an e-Bike before joining Greenaer’ he told me. ‘Shortly after I arrived, I went for my first cycle to the Howth summit on an e-Bike, and I understood how fun and practical they were!’

Over the next hour, Aurel talked me through everything to do with e-Bikes, and even gave me a go on some that are available there.

The two models I tried ranged from the lightest available to the heaviest. Both were extremely comfortable, and incredibly fun! Nothing quite prepared me for the experience of the electric assistance kicking in, but once it did I didn’t want to turn it off! I could see myself getting very dependent (ie. lazy) on the assistance. Aurel pointed out that because it takes the pain out of cycling long distances, people tend to use the bike even more, even choosing to leave the car at home in favour of the cycling experience. They end up cycling much greater distances than usual and getting more exercise as a result.

Let’s talk facts:

Electric bikes do not take all the work out of cycling!
Electric are bikes are still pedal bikes. They have gears, chains and brakes just like any bike. You can cycle them like an ordinary bicycle with no electric assistance, or you can turn on various levels of assistance depending on how much help you want at the time.

They look just like any other bike.
Five or ten years ago it was obvious if you were cycling an electric bike as the battery pack was large and bulky. Now they are sleek and hidden, some being a slim box on the rear carrier, while others are built into the frame of the bike itself. This makes the bike lighter too.

You don’t need a licence.
Just like a regular bicycle, you don’t need a licence or insurance to operate one of these. Some motors reach speeds of 25 km h, while a few larger ones reach 45 km h! However they are all still pedal powered pushbikes, and so no additional paperwork is needed.

Is more maintenance required?
Some extra maintenance is required as the bikes have electrical components too. It is recommended to get your bike serviced at least once a year, or every six months if you are using it to commute. At Greenaer this service is a very reasonable €55 for adjusting the physical components and also electronic diagnostics. You can of course keep up the maintenance yourself like you would with a normal bike. With most of the bikes all the electronic components are inside the frame, so there is no danger of accidentally disconnecting anything while you change your brakes or tweak your gears. An important habit to get into is to store your battery inside. It can be taken off the bike and brought in, but if you leave it in the cold it will affect the battery life.

What if the battery runs out during your journey?
The battery will last longer depending on what setting you have it on. On a low assistance setting you can get up to 180km on a fully charged battery depending on the model. It takes 4-5 hours to fully charge a battery, but you can give it a boost while you’re in work or grabbing lunch. If you’re really expecting to be no where near a power supply you can always buy a spare battery to bring with you. You can also switch off the assistance completely and cycle like a normal bike, so you’ll never be stuck.

E-bikes do seem to be taking over, and for good reason! They make cycling an accessible past-time for everyone, and seem a cost effective way of commuting. They’re great exercise and a great way to cut down on fumes in the city. There are styles and models available for any lifestyle. Above all, they’re great fun!

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Catherine O'Toole

Catherine is a contributor to the Green News. She has a BA in Photography from DIT and has a keen interest in conservation photography.