I’m on a ladies’ Dutch bike, cycling up Malling St. towards the Ringmer turn-off. It’s one of those long climbs I’ve always dreaded, but this time
I’m euphoric, as I pass the line of drivers stuck in their gridlocked cars. I clock the figure on my speedo: 15mph, which is usually the sort of speed I go downhill.
I’ve done a fair amount of hill-riding recently, but I’m not usually so Froome-fit. You see, I’m getting quite a lot of help. I’m on an electric bike: the power I’m putting into the pedals is being matched by a pint-sized Bosch motor hidden within the frame under my saddle.
I’m borrowing the bike from Cycleshack, and I’m accompanied by Harvey, manager of their Friars Walk branch. I’m riding a Gazelle Orange C7+ HM; Harvey’s on a Trek Powerfly+ 7.
He’s previously given me all the details I want to know. The bikes have a range of between 25 and 85 miles, depending on the power setting and other factors like weight of cyclist, gradient of ride, wind, & tyre pressure. The motors do not assist the bikes without you pedalling. On their highest setting, they double your effort, thus enabling you to go twice as far using the same amount of energy as you would on a conventional bike… or go up hills with half as much legwork.
I’ve cycled a lot in Lewes over the years, and I’ve come to think of the many hills as adversaries. This time, I hope I’m going to glide up the buggers. St John’s Hill? You’re just a little flatty.
It’s not that simple, it turns out, but after all, this isn’t a mini moped. My bike has seven gears, and I need to go into the highest gear to get up the steep bits; for example whilst climbing St Pancras Road & into Rotten ow.
On the whole, the experience is a delight; though I do get a shock when I realise I’m doing 27mph coming down the one-way system towards the Phoenix Causeway, thus technically breaking the law!
I may not ever buy an e-bike – these models cost £1,999 each (Prices from £1800), and one of the reasons that I cycle everywhere is because I relish the challenge of hills, and the exercise value they represent. But I realise these machines are great for a wide variety of people who might not want to push themselves to the limits for one reason or another, whether that’s a medical condition, or the desire to arrive at work in the morning not covered in a sheen of sweat.
To finish off our ride (we’ve done 13 miles in under an hour), I swap with Harvey, trying out the mountain bike on an incline I’ve never attempted, Chapel Hill. When I reach the golf course, I realise I’m not even breathing heavily. King of the Downs? Well, maybe, if just for an hour…