Freewheeling now

Lucy Wheater had plenty of excuses for not cycling to work every day. Then she tried an electric bike – a small motor made everything so much easier.

I’m not a cycling novice but when it comes to commuting I make a lot of excuses: I live at the top of a big hill, it’s due to be windy today, I’ve got a lot of things to carry, I’ve got a gym session tonight, I’ve got to get home quickly for the dog/put the tea on/change for the gym. 
In early 2015, I decided to swap the car for the bike just once a week. That first time, I zipped off to work and back, thoroughly enjoying the experience despite the February weather. I arrived home hot and sweaty, but happy. Then I checked my phone. I found a text from an old university mate to say that our dear friend Steph had been killed that morning as she rode her bike to work. 
After a rollercoaster of emotion and much reflection, I decided I must keep going and stuck to my plan. Steph pushed me up that hill and through the headwind every time I did my weekly cycle commute. 
But my list of excuses didn’t disappear and I stuck to my one day a week regime.  
Then came the cheater. I’m lucky enough to have friends in the cycling industry. One works for Raleigh and offered to lend me an electric bike for my daily commute. This has been an absolute revelation. My no-excuses bike. 
As the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather – just the wrong clothing. I’ve got two panniers which hold all my kit, plus my laptop. On the way to work I turn up the pedal assist, so I don’t arrive sweaty, and on the way home I push on a bit. It’s quicker than driving, especially when the schools are back. Win, win!
It’s also cheaper than driving. I have meetings up at our acute hospital sites and it costs £2.50 to park. (I can claim it back but the money comes out of our budget). 
Clearly, the cost of the bike is significant initially but, over time, it will pay for itself although the gains are immediate. 
I also thought I would get fitter by using the bike. My theory was that I would spend more time in lower heart rate zones than my usual commute and this would therefore improve my fitness. I’m not convinced this has been the case but it has got me exercising regularly. Not only do I feel fitter when I get back on my non-electric bike, but I’m beating my previous travel times (which I record on a GPS). 
I also took this a step further to satisfy my inner geek. At the start of my trial with the ebike, I did a fitness test on a Wattbike which measures (among other data) your average power output. So I decided on a 12- minute, as-hard-as-I-could time trial. Six weeks later, I repeated it and to my delight I’d gained 10 watts which equates to approximately five per cent increased power output. 
In terms of speed, the bike gets me to places about 30 per cent faster than my standard commuter bike. This means I’m exposed to traffic fumes for less time and, at the risk of sounding too pessimistic, 30 per cent less chance of being knocked off my bike too! Oh, and I get home quicker.
I’d like to think that my patients’ experience is enriched too. I’m more energetic and mentally alert, and I can use my experience to encourage them (where appropriate) to consider an ebike, breaking down the stereotypical reaction of thinking that it’s cheating, and highlighting the benefits. I’m a strong advocate of physiotherapists promoting exercise so to add this experience to my toolbag is great. 
So, all in all, I am sold on the ebike and I look forward to the arrival of my very own model to continue commuting and maybe even try some longer rides without all the daily baggage I need for work.
  • Lucy Wheater is a specialist physiotherapist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and a CSP steward.
Lucy Wheater is a specialist physiotherapist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and a CSP steward

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