Column: A fraction of the energy needed - but e-bikes still sustainable option

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More and more people are choosing to use a pedal cycle for every-day urban journeys in Sheffield as word gets round that cycling, especially on one of the increasingly common electrically assisted bikes (e-bikes), gets you from door to door quickly, conveniently and cheaply, using cycle friendly routes that can take you through some of the most tranquil and interesting parts of the city, often just a street or two away from busy polluted roads.

We all of us pay for and share the public space that is our road system, and it is good to see contributors in recent issues talking about their own positive experiences of cycling, and about the need for mutual respect and observance of the codes designed to keep everyone safe on the roads, whether we are road users in a vehicle, on two wheels or on foot.

In the same issue (August 3) there was a full page item on the pressing issue of poor air quality in and around our city, so bad that it has for a long time been exceeding safe and legal limits, adversely affecting Sheffielders’ lives, contributing to chronic airway conditions, and even to the premature deaths of 500 Sheffielders annually.

We now understand that this poor air quality is predominantly the result of our current habit of choosing heavy, complex fossil-fuelled vehicles to get ourselves around an urban environment that quite simply lacks the space to utilise them as the useful and more efficient means of transport that these vehicles can be for longer journeys.

The inevitable result of this habit is congestion, and with it the accompanying and stressful stop, start, accelerate, brake and stop again driving pattern that results in high outputs of noxious gases, lethal exhaust soot (particulates) and also health sapping particles, these being the less often discussed but equally deadly bits of stuff that rub off tyres, roads, brakes and clutches with every stop and start - that grey dust along the roadside.

So currently, our dominant choice of travel is compromising our own and our children’s health and quality of life - our city’s liveability.

The government’s recently published climate change plan suggests that we have a four wheeled electric saviour waiting in the wings – electric vehicles – hailed as the solution to our air quality woes.

Well yes, such a switch to electrically powered cars and vans will undoubtedly help tackle our exhaust emissions, helping our breathability. However, unless we also grasp the opportunity to start choosing different transport options, better suited to the type of journey we are taking, we will still have the same number, or on current trends an even greater number, of heavy resource intensive vehicle shaped objects clogging up the roads and pavements as they do now, throwing off these same toxic particles as they move, and seducing us away from travelling more freely, socially and actively.

So what do e-bikes bring to the liveability party?

An EV car, like, say, the admirable Nissan Leaf, actually needs a whopping 300kg Lithium ion battery pack to power its 1500kg bulk and driver along, taking up a big chunk of road in the process, and like all four wheel vehicles, has the tendency to intimidate and discourage other less imposing road users on bikes and on foot.

This EV driver can instead be easily transported by the energy from an e-bike battery pack weighing just a tiny fraction of the EV one - 2.6kg.

This powers a 23kg bicycle, so the rider is using just a fraction of the electricity, road and parking space the EV demands, and creating negligible particle pollution.

So e-bikes are much less resource intensive, have far less need of our precious urban space, cause far less pollution and feel much less threatening to other road users.

As an e-bike rider, in addition to contributing to a huge reduction in pollution, you are also getting mild yet essential cardio-vascular exercise, and enjoying the feeling of freedom and downright fun that e-bikers experience as they power from door to door along interesting and convenient cycle routes, freed from fuming in queues and hunting for parking places.

Having an e-bike also means you can dismiss those concerns normally associated with cycling in a hilly city, your e-bike maintaining its more traffic like pace up hills whilst carrying all your shopping, and you reassured that you won’t be that perspiring and red faced cyclist who needs a cool down period and a fresh set of more normal looking clothes on arrival at your destination.

So choose an e-bike for your next urban journey, enjoy the fun, freedom and convenience they bring, and at the same time help to improve our city’s liveability.