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Getting used to an ebike? It was a breeze!

By Alan Hendry

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The Volt Burlington with Castlehill harbour in the background.
The Volt Burlington with Castlehill harbour in the background.

When I was offered a short-term loan of an ebike, I agreed readily but had one or two nagging doubts at the back of my mind. Firstly, would the settings be too complicated? And secondly, having been a cyclist (off and on) for many years but never having had the option of battery assistance, wouldn't this be... cheating?

My initial misgivings were misplaced. The ebike was easy to use, once I'd had a chance to familiarise myself with the controls, and it is most definitely still a form of exercise. On the first day of my ebike trial, pedalling up the A99 from Reiss at a gentle pace and glancing over at the sparkling blue sea and pale golden sand of Sinclair's Bay, I was noisily overtaken by what seemed to be a never-ending convoy of motorcyclists. Now THAT'S cheating, I said to myself, as the bikers roared effortlessly into the distance and disappeared from view.

The ebike – a Volt Burlington – had been made available through Wick-based Caithness Voluntary Group as part of an active travel scheme operated by Home Energy Scotland. It is funded by Transport Scotland to deliver ebike trials to individuals and organisations.

A major element of the whole ebike philosophy is encouraging people to see it as a viable, practical travel choice where the instinct might be to just “jump in the car” – whether for commuting, attending appointments, doing a bit of shopping or visiting friends. The goal is to make sustainable transport a daily reality for these short journeys.

My ebike came with a helpful user guide, which I duly studied, but luckily I was also able to call upon the expertise of George Ewing, Caithness-based development officer for Cycling UK.

George is busy running the charity's Rural Connections project, aimed at getting more people in rural areas of Scotland walking, wheeling and cycling, and he kindly spent 20 minutes one evening taking me through the basics of the Burlington. He explained the various levels of battery power that are available and how they interact with the gears.

Having fully charged the battery the night before, I set off from Wick on a tour of some of the back roads of Caithness, dodging the inevitable potholes along the way. Leaving the A99 at the Lyth turn-off, I continued through Reaster and Greenland to Castletown via Thurdisoft before taking a short break at Castlehill harbour.

Alan with the ebike at Keiss harbour.
Alan with the ebike at Keiss harbour.

Up until this point I'd had the wind more or less behind me so I had stuck almost entirely to the zero setting, which essentially means normal cycling and (logically enough) puts less strain on the battery.

On the return trip I headed out on the B876 and turned off at Bower. By this time, dark clouds had rolled over from the west and I was feeling a few spots of rain. More to the point, the headwind was quite punishing – or at least it would have been if I'd been on my conventional hybrid bike. The battery now came into its own, as I navigated between the various levels to make steady progress into the stiff breeze.

Veering off at the Brabsterdorran war memorial, I came back to Wick through North Watten and Sibster having racked up 38 miles – just as the battery (as expected) was beginning to run low. On my regular bike, that headwind would have been a grim ordeal. On the ebike, it was (for want of a better word) a breeze.

Using an ebike is not about breaking records, setting personal bests or fantasising about the Tour de France. You're still doing a lot of pedalling, but with the reassurance of knowing that some extra forward momentum is available at the touch of a button if and when the going gets a little tough.

You're not pushing yourself to the limit – you are simply opting for a healthier, more environmentally friendly way of getting from place to place than sitting in a car. It makes for a much more enjoyable and satisfying journey. And it's good for the planet into the bargain.

CVG has two ebikes that are being loaned for three to four days at a time until October. Each ebike is checked over by a trained mechanic before changeover and Covid measures are in place. Since the project was publicised in July there have been so many bookings that a waiting list is now in place.

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