Sarah Riley, who works for the Great Places Housing Group, writes a diary about her experiences on an electric bike - the first time she's cycled since she was a teenager.
I had been thinking about buying a bike for a while, so when our environmental team advertised a three-month bike loan with Transport for Greater Manchester I signed up straight away. I only live a mile and a half from work so it’s not a gruelling commute and it’s actually quite a nice walk, but inevitably 99% of the time I drive in. In my role as community development coordinator at Great Places Housing Group, I have tonnes of equipment to drive around and can have several meetings across the city in a day, so I was reluctant to buy a bike that would just gather dust at home. Try before you buy was the perfect solution and I was very excited to hear that there were electric bikes available. According to the information I received, I may alarm other road users with my speed – I can’t wait!
My bike has arrived and it’s beautiful! Transport for Greater Manchester has also supplied every possible bike accessory and arranged for me to get cycle training along my actual commuting route. I have been for a wobbly trip around the car park and the electric boost is brilliant – not too terrifying, although it definitely took me by surprise the first time it kicked in! Unfortunately, it turns out that due to the enormity of my head, the helmet doesn’t fit so I’ll be keeping the bike in the office until a massive one can be sent over!
Bev, a volunteer from Transport for Greater Manchester, met me this afternoon for my cycle to work training. In true Manchester style it was absolutely lashing it down, but I didn’t let this put me off – the wet weather training will definitely come in handy. With the hood of my waterproof over the helmet I must have looked like ET from a distance! My office is based on one of the busiest roads in the city, and I was very nervous about crossing it, so together we came up with a route that misses out the scariest junction. I felt quite vulnerable as I hadn’t cycled since I was 13, but Bev was very reassuring and talked me through bike checks, road position and turning right at junctions, which was my biggest worry. I made it home in one piece, without falling off or startling other road users, and Bev offered to come back and cycle with me again if I felt I needed it. She then headed off into the drizzle to complete her 12-mile commute – putting mine to shame!
I have been in Ireland for a wedding over the last few days and haven’t had a chance to put my training into practise, so I decided to take the bike out for a trip up and down the Fallowfield loop cycle route. It was drizzling but I didn’t care – I felt 12 years old again, flying down the path on the highest speed with my jacket blowing behind me. Some of my fellow cyclists looked mildly surprised to be overtaken by an unfit-looking middle-aged woman with a look of childlike joy on her face. I left the loop and practised my road skills on a trip to Aldi. My cycling skills are improving but I am officially rubbish at securing the pannier to the bike. I have to look over my shoulder every five minutes to check that it’s still attached, which leads to quite a bit of comedy wobbling!
We’re running a healthy eating project in Levenshulme all week and my car is full of fruit and veg so I haven’t been able to bring the bike to work. To make up for it, I cycled round to my friend’s house for a movie night. She was very impressed with the bike but less impressed with me as she pointed out my helmet was on back to front! It was my first night ride, but I felt completely safe rocking my high-vis vest, especially as the bike has built in lights so you can see me coming a mile away.
Another few days of being unable to commute on the bike, so I dropped off my car at lunchtime and cycled back to work. Unfortunately, the bike had run out of charge, but I persevered, deciding the pedal power would do me good. It’s much more hard work without electric assistance, and I was hot and a bit of a mess by the time I reached work. That was when I went to take off my helmet and realised I had left it on the kitchen table – oops! Once I got home (cycling very carefully!) I learned that the bike recharges itself as you pedal, however you can also connect it to the mains. I managed to successfully take the battery out and fully recharge it, ready for my next ride.
After swapping a few meetings around, I managed to base myself at the office all day so I could take the bike to work. It was a beautiful morning and the ride in was exhilarating. I put the bike on its top speed and flew through the leafy streets smiling at children and bus drivers! Electric bikes still require you to pedal, but it’s like getting a helping push. There’s a lovely breeze as you cycle that stops you from overheating – perfect for riding to work. I suffered from a slight case of helmet hair on arrival at the office but it was only temporary and I definitely arrived feeling happier and more alert than I would after driving in.