No sweat, no tears, electric gears
There’s a rumour going around that biking in UK’s The Lake District doesn’t have to involve sweat, slogging up hills or lycra. Yes really. And as a Cumbrian biking family we felt it was our duty to find out if it could possibly be true. If you are a real mountain biker, or you believe you can only achieve happiness through hard work; then look away now. But anyone who appreciates maximum speed with minimum effort should read on to hear about a pioneering electric bicycle scheme in the UK’s Capital of Adventure…
Lake District Electric Bicycle Network
I knew I’d love my electric bike. But the butterfly feeling only starts when I gently press on the pedal. There’s a whirr and a thrill as I accelerate effortlessly across Staveley Mill Yard like a fat mama on a moped. Under my cycling helmet I feel eighteen years old. And Bowness feels a hop skip and a jump away.
An electric bike has a mind of its own
After an hours power assisted pedalling we grind to a halt. It’s nothing to do with the battery and for once its nothing to do with my legs. We are lost. We know we are in a place called Heathwaite but it’s not on our map and we’ve never heard of it. The problem with electric biking is you go so fast, you can easily lose track of where you are. It’s the only disadvantage we’ve found so far.
A few minutes later we find ourselves in Windermere. Without knowing it, we were in the ‘burbs’ of the Lake District town. That’s the plus side to electric biking; if you do get lost it doesn’t matter that much. You just switch to ‘sport’ mode and zoom off up the hill. It’s not a moped; you do have to pedal; but for all the effort you put in, the bike matches it, or in sports mode puts in more.
Watch this video and see what I mean.
How does it work?
Well, you hire your bike from one of a series of hire points which are typically hotels and adventure providers in the Central and Southern Lakes. You then zip off on a route of your choice, or one recommended to your by the hire point. If you run out of battery or feel in need of a top-up you can call into one of the designated charge points at cafes restaurants and tourist attractions.
There are no parking charges, no petrol costs and little or no carbon emissions. It’s really fast, these models have a range of around 30 miles without needing recharging, and there’s an emergency pick-up service in case of a breakdown (of the bike, not you). And best of all you finish your ride with the saintly glow of someone who has pedalled their way up a fair few hills, without the sweat marks to go with it.
A long term plan for Lakeland sustainability
The Electric Bicycle Network in The Lakes was launched in 2011 and for 2012 there will be at least twenty bikes to hire in the area, available from 10 different hire points, with a further 18 charging points. On its own this isn’t going to save the planet for my future grandchildren, but the Lakes Electric Bicycle Network is part of a bigger plan, the Go Lakes Travel Programme.
The Go Lakes Travel Programme is a £6.9 million initiative that aims to make a step change in how visitors travel to and around the iconic lakes. The idea is to reduce the impact of tourism on the area through more sustainable transport, while improving the experience for those who come looking for fun or tranquility.
Over coffee back in Staveley we meet Isobel Stoddart, one of the Directors of the Electric Bicycle Network. Although the scheme is also being run in the Peaks and the South Downs, she believes this area is perfect for the bikes. “Electric bikes break down key barriers to cycling like fitness and hills. They really do flatten hills and dismiss headwinds.” She points out how reliable and easy to ride they are, but I’ve found that out already. “They are ideal for people who have done some riding, but haven’t cycled for a while. They’re the first step back to getting back on a bike.”
I can almost imagine my mum on one. Almost. And I definitely know some parents who would love one as a secret weapon to help keep up with their bike mad teenagers. There’s a minimum legal age requirement of 14 to ride an electric bike, so sorry kids; you’re young enough to pedal.
Stuart forces me to give mine back. He says I’m young enough to pedal. And old enough to sweat.
If you’re interested in trying out a superbike, check out the Electric Bicycle Network or one of the other electric bike rental schemes near you.
Have you ever tried an electric bike? Or do you prefer to sweat?
This post is part of our Family Adventure Capital Season. We’re exploring different ways families can adventure together in and around Cumbria, sharing ideas and inspiration to encourage families to get out, get active and adventure together.
Got some ideas for things we should try? Let us know.