The humble bicycle offers a level of freedom and self-reliance that is hard to find with other modes of transportation. Human-powered and versatile, it can be used as a tool for exercise, for ultimate human suffering, or simply as a vehicle that enables the rider to get from point A to point B. But what if you can’t ride a bike like you used to? Perhaps your health dictates it, or you live in a hilly area and travelling by bike is strenuous and inefficient. This is where the electric bicycle can offer salvation. E-bikes are often overlooked by the general cycling population, but can be a lifeline to those who use them, providing mobility and freedom to those that would otherwise be restricted.
For many, the e-bike is not just a means of transportation, but a way of acquiring independence. It is not about beating their mates up a hill, but the fact they can now ride up the hills at all. Some snobby road cyclists may chunter under their breath when an e-bike rider comes sailing past, but notice how much happier they generally are and how much less they’re struggling.
Modern e-bikes are becoming more and more advanced as well. The batteries are much less obtrusive, while the bikes themselves are no longer incredibly heavy machines with limited battery life.
Age and lack of fitness (for whatever reason), no longer need be a barrier to cycling, and with the market exploding, the choice is overwhelming with more and more brands jumping on the e-bandwagon. Whether you need one for health reasons or if you just want to arrive at work a little less sweaty and a lot faster, there is an e-bike for everyone.
We spoke to Ged Higgins, member of a pioneering cycling club the ‘Electric Cranks Cycling Club’ to discuss how using an e-bike has impacted his life.
How my e-bike saved my life
Ged Higgins, 60, turned to cycling in 2013 after suffering from a Myocardial Infarction (otherwise know as a heart attack) and requiring Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) treatment. An LVAD is a pump placed inside a person’s chest to help their heart pump blood. This is often used in heart failure patients who are either on the heart transplant list or are too ill to undertake heart transplant surgery. Ged is in the former group and is on the transplant list.
A former 5-a-side player and runner, Ged needed a new way to stay active and so began by riding his hybrid bike across popular cycle tracks in the north, particularly in the Peak District, such as the Monsal and Manifold Trails. However, he quickly began to feel restricted. Living in Holmfirth, an inherently hilly part of West Yorkshire, he was limited by the lack of accessible and flatter routes close to home. He admits he often spent more time travelling to and from the start of his rides than he did actually riding.
This led to the decision to buy an e-bike in 2016, a Cube Cross Hybrid Pro. Riding his new e-bike has allowed him to dramatically increase his self-reliance, as he can now begin his rides from his house, and can tackle hills with relative ease. With the motor maxing out at 16mph he can keep up with his friends on the flats, and sail past them on the hills.
After his latest outing he says “My e-bike clocked up 4,000 miles in just over three years, that’s the same distance as cycling from Manchester to Kuwait!”, impressive riding considering it was all in and around the hilly Peak District. Just under 400,000 feet of elevation was included in those miles, equivalent to an impressive 13 Mount Everests.
This increase in overall riding has led to significant benefits physiologically and psychologically.
“It dramatically increased my ability to be self-reliant, to be more positive in my outlook and to develop more friendships,” Ged says. “Buying the e-bike was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
The Electric Cranks Cycling Club
In 2019 the Electric Cranks Cycling Club was born out the Transplant Centre in Wythenshawe, Manchester, after 4 LVAD or pre- and post-op heart and lunch transplant patients discussed electric bikes at a patient meeting. They completed their inaugural ride in June 2019, a ride along the Monsal Trail in the Peak district – rounding out 16 miles and three cafe stops – an excellent cake to mile ratio.
There are now seven of the Electric Cranks regularly riding together on a variety of e-bikes, ranging from full-suspension mountain bikes to hybrids, allowing them to tackle both road and off-road rides with relative ease across the North West of England. Ged and his club mates’ longest rides have been around the 100km (60 miles) mark, while encountering high elevation gain.
“Being part of the Electric Cranks Cycling Club helped all of us to develop a team mentality as we support and encourage each other via our WhatsApp group – and when we were able to cycle together in the Peak District last summer.
“This group approach helps all of us to have a positive outlook as we are always planning our next route (especially our Hadrian’s Wall C2C ride) and checking the weather forecast for when we can get out again. The benefits are definitely both psychological as well as physical. Go Cranks!”.
There’s no doubt that the e-bike has enriched Ged and his clubmates’ lives, through new and shared experiences and their newfound friendships.
Unfortunately, as with everyone else this year, their major club trips have been scuppered, with the aforementioned 172-mile Hadrian’s Wall Coast to Coast (C2C) route on the agenda for this month being postponed. However, they’ve now tentatively planned the Bowness-on Solway to South Shields C2C route for mid-September. Until it is safe to meet for group rides again, the club has been keeping each other motivated by sharing their activities to their WhatsApp group and on the @ElectricCranks Twitter account. Their new club jersey should be launching next month which marks another exciting landmark in the club’s short history. Although the motivation of group rides is not currently available, these are not riders to take for granted the ability to turn the pedals.
There is no doubt that e-bikes have a big part to play in modern transportation. In their ability to reduce the numbers of cars on short journeys, they offer a lifeline to the planet in the face of undeniable climate change. British highways policy is at a crossroads at the moment and if we can break down the barriers to cycling to more groups of people, we can push forward the changes needed to see a more sustainable transportation model.
Ged and his fellow club mates have proven that even with life-threatening health conditions, they can – and have the right to – conquer the roads on their bikes. Physical fitness need not be a barrier to adventure any more.