Earlier this month I was mere seconds away from being assaulted by a man armed with a very dangerous looking shopping trolley. I blame the electric bike.
There I was, on the aforementioned bike, at a pedestrian crossing in Sydney's North Strathfield. The man was friendly at first, jovial almost. He asked about my bike – which I was testing for CHOICE – how much it cost, how it was to ride, et cetera.
Then, without a millisecond's warning, his face crumpled into a deep, molten rage. A rapid, mind-boggling tonal shift worthy of Bob Katter.
"DO YOU HAVE INSURANCE FOR THAT THING?" He screamed. "YOU PEOPLE ARE GONNA KILL SOMEONE. THREE TIMES I'VE NEARLY BEEN HIT."
I was bewildered, shocked, confused.
I made the mistake of responding, telling him to mind his own business. And that's when it happened. That's when I was almost assaulted by a man with a shopping trolley.
"YOU'LL BE WEARING THIS SHOPPING TROLLEY IN A SECOND!"
Thankfully, the little green man appeared, to the rescue. I zipped off as fast as I could, leaving a fist-shaking foe in my rearview mirror.
Turns out some people really, really hate electric bikes.
Not me though, I love them.
For the past couple of months CHOICE has been reviewing electric bikes. If you're not sure what an electric bike is, you're not alone. Until last week, I considered them akin to mini motorcycles, but no. Electric bikes are more like normal bikes that – thanks to the magic of battery-powered assistance – are easier to pedal, particularly uphill. In practice it feels a little like putting your mountain bike in a higher gear, but without sacrificing speed.
I wanted to give one a try. So, for the last couple of weeks I've been integrating an electric bike into my everyday life. It's been a joy. It's been rewarding, surprising even. It's allowed me to explore crevices of Sydney I never knew existed. If you have the means and the time, I highly recommend getting one.
I wanted to try an electric bike because I'm sick of driving cars.
It's allowed me to explore crevices of Sydney I never knew existed
A recent job switch forced me into the unenviable situation of driving to the city and, to be frank, it sucks. Tolls, traffic and soaring petrol prices are hitting my wallet and stress levels for six.
And it made me wonder: what if I just… cycled to work every day?
I live in a nice leafy suburb in Greater Western Sydney, 26km from the CBD. Depending on traffic, it can take anywhere between 35 and 45 minutes to get to our office in Sydney's Inner West. For laughs I'd already checked how long it would take to cycle, despite not owning an adult-sized bike. Two hours. Damn. That's a long time. But then I thought, two hours? I can handle that. Bugger it. Why not?
My butt cheeks weren't ready for what was to come.
Magical mystery ride
I hauled my lazy self out of bed at 6.30am, hopped on the bike, and began my journey.
The main reason I was keen for a two-hour cycle at an ungodly time in the morning was the route. I knew it would be glorious.
Google Maps had me cycling down Windsor Road to the Parramatta River, then free wheeling all the way to Rhodes. After a brief tour through North Strathfield it would be parks and riverside jaunts all the way to the CHOICE office.
I thought it would be magical, and I was right.
Parramatta River is a gloriously wide body of sparkling water, broad and deep enough to be a ferry route, that carries tourists and commuters all the way from Parra to Circular Quay, where Sydney Harbour meets the CBD. Despite being a damp Tuesday morning, cycling on the riverside – with incredible views that stretched into the vanishing point – was a complete dream worth waking up for. I'd replaced a nerve-shredding drive into the M4 motorway hellscape for a life-affirming cycle in paradise. Friends, I was living.
I'd replaced a nerve-shredding drive into the M4 motorway hellscape for a life-affirming cycle in paradise
But it was far from perfect. It's mind-boggling to me that electric bikes don't have a slot for mobile phones. Perhaps it's a legal or regulation issue, but when I wasn't sure where to go, I had to fumble in my pocket for my phone, clumsily unlock it and somehow navigate to Google Maps without crashing. It sure would have been convenient – and probably safer – to have easy access to Google Maps while cycling.
It also took me a while to figure out exactly how to maximise assisted pedalling. At first I assumed the assistance would be constant, but it wasn't. The bike I was using assisted me to a point, until around 25 km/h, then I noticed that the bike didn't just stop assisting me, but seemed to actively create resistance which forced me to slow down. A little frustrating, but fine. I kept things at a steady 20–25 km/h and enjoyed the ride.
The bike in all its glory. Very red.
Butt pain and apex predators
My butt cheeks didn't enjoy the ride.
They are in turmoil. They have been permanently altered and I'm uncertain they'll ever recover.
Without those Lycra shorts with the comfy little butt cushions, I endured a decent amount of pain. Understandable. I spent four hours on the bike that day. It got so bad I had to get really super creative, placing different parts of my meaty cheeks on the seat during the cycle home. I was still feeling it days later.
I also came under attack from Australia's apex predator – the magpie. As someone who arrived in Australia late in life, I thought the stories of magpies swooping in from the skies to attack cyclists were just children's tales. I couldn't have been more wrong. I was terrified, shaken to my core, to discover magpie attacks are a very real thing. In the magpie, I've uncovered an enemy for life.
I thought the stories of magpies swooping in from the skies to attack cyclists were just children's tales
My legs hurt a lot less than I thought they would. Having never really cycled since I was a teenager, I thought it'd take me days to recover from four hours on a bike. That wasn't really the case. Assisted pedalling really took the bite out of hills. The journey felt like exercise, but light exercise. The best type of exercise.
It was a beautiful start to the working day. My legs were a teensy bit wobbly, but nothing I couldn't handle. High on endorphins, I had a great day, and looked forward to the cycle home.
Game changer, for shorter trips
But as enjoyable as my cycle to work was, it didn't feel sustainable. As a parent of two kids drowning in "activities", devoting four waking hours to work travel would be impossible, regardless of how fun it was.
But I've found a sweet spot. Those little trips to the shop – those "too far to walk" trips – are perfect for an electric bike. I suspect an electric bike would also be perfect for folks who live closer to the city. If it's a choice between a 15-minute train and a 30-minute cycle, I'm taking the bike every time.
Despite apex predators swooping from the skies and permanently altered butt cheeks, I find it impossible not to recommend an electric bike. If you've got the means and your life circumstances align, they can be a game changer.
Just watch out for enemies of the e-bike armed with shopping trolleys.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.