Imagine yourself cruising along the side of the highway, the wind gentle on your face and rustling your hair, if you have hair. You are coasting at a leisurely 30 km/hr as you take in the sights en route to work. You pass by a filling station and think to yourself, ‘what a bunch of cavemen’ as you glance at the vehicles queueing to get their fill because it has been six months since you pulled up to a fuel station.
Six months it has been yet you have made your 30km round trip to and from work every working day. It has been six months not because your new vehicle is a fuel sipper, it actually does not take any fossil fuel whatsoever. It is because that is when you got rid of your gasoline car and teleported into the 21st century. You smile smugly as you secure your electric bicycle and stroll into the office.
I might have lost you at ‘bicycle’ and you might be thinking, ‘bicycle, really?’ You are skeptical and understandably so but electrical bicycles have come a really long way. For one they are much more affordable than just a few years ago. You can get one for just a dollar shy of US$400 and prices go up ridiculously to well over Honda Fit prices. High tech or not, US$6,000 for a bicycle is hard to wrap your head around but we are not talking about those but about the US$1,000 and below variety. It may still seem like a lot for a bicycle, well, it is, but before you write off the idea let us consider what you get for the price.
Looks, Battery and Motor
Inconspicuous, it looks mostly like an ordinary bike but fitted to it is a motor and battery. The battery capacity will be in the 10,000mAh, 48v or 0.499 kilowatt range (you might have a 10,000 mAh, 3.6v battery pack for your phone, that is 0.036 kilowatts.) With ZESA tariffs at US$0.10/kilowatt hour you will not burn your pocket recharging your bike. The 4 to 6 hours needed to top it up kind of sucks but you could just charge overnight. The components are not bulky and on average expect a gross weight of 32kgs for the fully fitted bike thanks to an aluminium frame. Support for maximum loads of 120kgs are standard and with under-springs in the seats your rear will be snug. There will also be a headlight and rear light as you would expect and a much needed LED display to see how much juice you have left, distance traveled and the speed you are traveling at.
Performance and Power Options
You will get three power options: fully electric, pedal assist and power off.
- In fully electric mode no grunting is required, you just sit and steer like a boss while the bike eats up the miles to the tune of around 35kms. Yes, 35 KILOmetres on just the battery and no grub power. This is more than enough for most of the round trips to and from work for most of us. Considering that you will be doing this at dizzying speeds of up to a top speed of 40km/hr, you probably won’t get posterior aches before you get home.
- In pedal assist mode it gets a little interesting as now grunt is required but the motor will assist you as the name suggests and make pedalling easier and lighter whilst you whizz past traffic jams. If you have ever ridden a 21 speed mountain bike set to the lightest gear you know what it feels like but unlike the mountain bike there is a motor which provides power assist depending on the gear you have chosen. A low gear and more assist is provided enabling you to scale hills as if you were rolling downhill. In this mode the range you get almost doubles to around 65 kms. We are talking Chitungwiza to Harare and back here. Quite impressive considering all this is at over 30km/hr.
- Power off mode a.k.a health mode does not need explanation. It means grub power only. Use this mode to get some much needed exercise and your body will appreciate it.
Having pored over all the above where does that leave us. The package is quite compelling, no fuel costs or bus fare. It costs way less than a dollar in ZESA payables to top it up.However can this bike be a replacement for a car? It depends. We all have very different needs; school runs, ware lugging and balling for example.
If you decide to take the plunge there are about 4.75 billion considerations yet, you still would have to navigate the jungle that is AliExpress or ebay and Zimra will most probably hit you with some duty, green vehicle or not. How long will the battery last before it needs changing, 1,000 cycles as promised or 500? If it dies on you where can you get it fixed? What to do in the rainy season and winter season. What of unleashed dogs in the streets and goblins thrown from SUVs. Serious questions but after all this would you bite the bullet and dive in head first into the future? If you won’t bite just yet, what would it take for you to change your mind? Let us know what you think in the comments below.