“Dance as if nobody’s watching” is a cracking aphorism, if you’re prepared to take life advice from Twitter. The sad fact is we do care about what others think of us. Even people who like to consider themselves mavericks tend to declare their independence of thought by looking just like the other mavericks. Being different brings a short-term high. but usually people just like to fit in.
All of which means adopting an e-bike – even one as cool as the Bosch-powered Scott E-Sub Tour 2017 I am privileged to be riding around on – is a bit of a risk in a small Pennine town with historical associations with competitive road cycling. The Milk Race used to whizz through on its way to, or from, the Snake Pass in the early eighties, and both Bradley Wiggins and David Millar lived in these parts at early points in their careers. It has a continuing relationship with serious riders, evidenced in the local greasy spoon most weekend mornings as parties of Manchester cyclists fuel up for their jaunts around the Dark Peak. While it’s highly unlikely street urchins will throw horse dung at someone riding an e-bike up the High Street, there is every chance that a straight-talking local will give you the benefit of their negative opinion, whether you have asked them for it or not. You will be judged.
When Nellie first came into my life, as early pieces in this series will attest, I kept her under wraps, riding her mostly at either end of the day. Mostly this was because I wanted to avoid dogs, children and horse-riders on local trails and white van men and BMW drivers on local tarmac but deep down there was a little bit of social unease at how acceptable riding an “easy bike” might prove to be. Cowardly? Perhaps, but not unfounded.
Since my early expeditions, however, my confidence has grown, both on the road and off it and, having learned more about how the Intuvia computer manages the boost to make life easier, and often safer, in a variety of situations and come to love the sense of freedom that cycling without having to avoid inclines brings, I have recently been making a point of taking Nellie into company. It’s been take your bike to work week for Be Well, the social enterprise I manage, and it’s been illuminating.
The first man to pronounce on electric bikes was a local joiner who was insulating our allotment shed for us so that groups of beginner gardeners can use it during the winter. An affable and chatty chap it turned out that much of his non-work time is given over to triathlon training. He entered his first race at 50 years of age and now accepts that he is slightly obsessed, mostly with the cycling element of the sport. Electric bikes, he opined, are cheating and refused to countenance their use in any circumstance. It was one of our shorter conversations. In contrast the former bus driver from three allotments along showed far more interest in Nellie, and while not risking a test ride, asked about cost, battery life and range.
A similar polarisation of opinion occurred when I rode to Walking Football rather than taking the car. Walking Football, done properly, is a series of chats interrupted by spates of a version of football which owes more to the playground than it does to the Premiership. The chatting, and indeed the laughing, which accompanies these sessions are the main reason why men attend and health and wellbeing are often the topic under discussion. It certainly was when the E-bike came under scrutiny. While one man, a former semi-pro footballer with a dicky ticker, declared that “when you get on a push-bike you’re supposed to bloody push it yourself” other, perhaps more open-minded chaps commented on the size of the bike, checked out the boost settings, asked questions about how much effort was needed or took the mickey; a default setting with the group whether the discussion is Jose versus Pep or prostate cancer.
But it was the reaction of the other regular bike user in the group which was the most telling as he was the only one to take up the offer to “have a go and see what you think”. After a couple of circuits of the car park and a trip to the mini roundabout and back he was more than impressed, he was joyous. The balance of the bike, the elevated riding position and the boost coming out of the roundabout when threatened by a half awake Qashqai driver all made him smile from ear-to-ear and his first comment on dismounting was “That was fun!” Having seen that the bike didn’t bite, the men opened up about e-bikes and talk turned to people they knew who swore by their own e-bike, all of whom claimed a new lease of life since getting one.
Clearly e-bikes have a way to go to be as accepted in the UK as they are in Europe and one of the last bastions of tradition – the competitive man and the serious cyclist – will always resist. But the word is spreading. Physical activity is necessary to sport but the converse is not true. People can get the benefit of moving regularly without having winning and losing involved and e-cycling, which puts less pressure on ageing knees and hips than even walking, is an obvious addition to the bank of activities used by organisations like ours. All we need now is a philanthropic manufacturer to let us have half a dozen unsold e-bikes and our Old Boys Bike Club can get on the road and start doing good.