Fre e-wheeling

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Last updated 16:36 05/07/2011
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Nelle Rose feels like she is 18 again and Bruce Miller reckons he has an invisible friend.

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Nelle Rose feels like she is 18 again and Bruce Miller reckons he has an invisible friend. The New Plymouth- based husband and wife may sound a little, um, delusional, but they are actually talking about owning electric bikes, also known as e-bikes.

Mr Miller explains his phantom feelings by saying that often people head out on a bike ride and face a gruelling hill climb.

"All you can remember when you get home is that hill, and the nice little moments in the sun go away."

But an electric bike takes the hill horrors away. "When you get to the hill, it's like you have got an invisible friend that runs out of the bushes and pushes you from behind up the hill so when you get home all you remember is how easy it was."

That means you're more likely to head out again. Before we go any further, let's get this straight - you do pedal with an e-bike. Nelle Rose, the networking co-ordinator at the Hive Taranaki environmental centre, says their Wisper bikes both have three modes. There's straight manual, which is the same as an ordinary bicycle. Then there's manual with throttle, so if you need a bit of help you can. Finally, there's the pedal-assist mode.

"With this, the motor automatically engages when you are going seven kilometres per hour. You will be pedalling and suddenly you'll go zoooom," Ms Rose says, doing the sound effects.

The first electric bike in the family was a 21st present for their daughter, Cheyenne, back in 2007.

At the time she was studying at Victoria University and getting the bus every day from Newtown. The young woman would have preferred biking to uni, but facing that Salamanca Rd hill with pedal- power alone was too daunting.

"So we thought we could give her an e-bike for her 21st birthday, instead of a car."

At that time the only electric bike her parents could source had a nickel MH battery. It was a small bike, which meant if the weather turned foul, one of Cheyenne's flatmates could pick her up from university.

"She used to love telling stories of people on bikes, some even wearing lycra, slogging up that hill and she would cruise past them with a smile. They would look at her and think 'What did she have for breakfast'."

That 20-minute ride, including the big hill, would provide her with daily exercise and exhaust her battery. A coffee vendor at the top of the hill let her recharge her bike battery there every day.

Since those times, the technology of electric bikes has improved greatly and they are becoming more popular. The big change is in the batteries, which have moved from nickel to lithium. Ms Rose says the problem with the nickel battery was that it had to be completely drained before recharging. That's not the case with lithium batteries, which can be recharged at any stage.

"If you go around the mountain, you can stop at a cafe and ask them if you can recharge."

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She always offers a gold coin in return for the favour, but says it only costs 10 cents for a full recharge.

The pair enjoy touring on their bikes. Ms Rose says she has biked around Mt Taranaki three times and has also been to Whanganui and back. The American-born parents of two daughters also have a vehicle with a bike holder so when they go longer distances they can explore new places using pedal power.

Ms Rose says that when considering an electric bike, there are three components to look at: The battery, the motor and the control system.

"The important part is the battery." She advises going for a lithium battery, one at least 14 amp hours (AH). "Buy the biggest. It will go further and last longer, so it's worth the extra money."

A battery that size takes five to eight hours to fully recharge if it's been run right down, but it's best to keep them topped up.

"There are some batteries out that have super charge times of about 1.5 hours."

The batteries are the most costly component of an e-bike. "To get a good bike, you are going to pay somewhere between $2400 and $3000," she says. Of that, the battery will cost between $900 and $1200.

"These days, a good battery should last for 1000 full charges."

A good battery will also power bikes between 50km and 70km. Just how far an e-bike will go on one recharge is too variable to pin down because it all depends on how much pedalling you do, how much you weigh, what you are carrying and what winds and hills a cyclist might face.

While these bikes are great for leisure riding and travelling, their main purpose is for commuting. Ms Rose's home is in the New Plymouth suburb of Spotswood, 4.5km to 5km from the city centre.

"It takes us about eight minutes in the car, driving at 50km per hour, but guess how long on the electric bike?"

The writer and photographer's guesses are all too long. "It takes 10 minutes on the bike," she exclaims.

Her favourite motivation for getting an electric bike is to do with age. She has a bad right knee so, physically, can't handle gruelling hills. "The other cool thing is that it makes me feel like I'm 18 years old again. I'm 60, but I can get on a bike and go."

During the last week this month, Hive Taranaki will have a visiting speaker to talk on e-bikes, followed by a workshop the next day on converting regular cycles to e-bikes.

- Taranaki Daily News

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