Powabyke Electric bike
ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORT?

I was very sceptical of the claims made for electric bikes so would like to offer our totally independent findings - we have no connection whatsoever with the company.

However I would stress that they are not exhaustive results since we have only had the bike a few weeks (see update at foot of page). The foot and mouth epidemic, poor weather and delays in obtaining parts have conspired to hamper our planned trips.

Please read on but, unfortunately, we no longer feel able to recommend this brand due to excessive delay, involving 'phone calls and emails, and much frustration, trying to get a replacement part from Powabyke. Part ordered June 19th with the promise of delivery to our nearest dealer within 24 hours and we're still waiting a month later and waiting and waiting (July 19th)..................... Part has finally arrived July 20th with the package to the dealer being postmarked July 18th. Sorry, Powabyke this is not an acceptable level of service. Great bikes, poor service.

August 2003, just two or three years later! I have received an email from Toby Davies, an Area Manger, telling me that Powabyke are now able to deal with spares enquiries in a much more efficient manner and holding most spares in stock.

I have also received an email from Roy who is 70 and just bought his first Powabyke. On his first trip he was really pleased to have managed 28.5 miles with the last mile being almost constant 1 in 6 gradients and there was still some charge left in the batteries. This is one of the newer pedal assist type models.

First some background material to put everything into context. I am aged 53. my wife is 48. I enjoyed cycling as a teenager and I enjoy tinkering with obscure machinery and electronics. 

My wife doesn't drive and this was one of the main reasons that I contemplated buying a Powabyke. When she was a teenager her father bought her an Ariel 3. Do you remember them, too slow to escape chasing dogs, too wide for traffic to pass? Awful machines that probably contributed greatly to the downfall of Ariel. 

She rode it occasionally and decided to have a windscreen fitted. Unfortunately the mechanic failed to fit it correctly and at the first roundabout the steering locked and my wife collided with some railings, narrowly missing a Jaguar showroom and damaging her fashionable leather coat and kinky white leather boots.

From that moment she declined to be in control of any device supported by wheels. I bought two elderly VeloSolexes (now three!) with one being possibly for her use. Unfortunately the laws regarding learners and mopeds have become so convoluted that this seems unlikely to happen.

The mean machine - Powabyke Classixc

Danger, wife at speed!

I spotted an advert for an electric bike. It was just 15 months old and had covered only about 300 miles. At this point I knew nothing of electric bikes so I rang the vendor and asked if it was a gent's frame. He advised that it was, and so sadly it seemed obvious that the machine would not be suitable for my wife. My wife was quite disappointed. However, I switched on my 'phone the next day to find that the vendor had left a message that it was actually a unisex machine. A date was arranged to view the machine.

It was for sale in Cardiff, my nearest city just 25 miles away. I plotted a map of the vendor's area on the computer. The next day we departed with high hopes but quickly became increasingly frustrated at becoming lost and mingling with heavy traffic. I was on the point of giving up when the vendor rang and offered to come and find us. He must be desperate for a sale, I thought. 

I was slightly surprised to find a retired old chap who guided us back. We tried not to look too interested as he swung open the shed door which revealed a very smart silver Powabyke Classic - almost as new, wow! The vendor had now bought a motor scooter because he wanted greater carrying capacity and indicators!

I was even more surprised on the first trial run along the garden path to find that the electric motor had quite a kick. I had expected a slow gentle pull but no, it pulled off quite smartly.

That evening was spent checking the bike. The wheel bearings and headset were all fine and only adjustment was required to the front and rear brakes. The paintwork was unmarked, there was something light rusting on the chrome carrier and I was pleased to find that the wheel rims were not chrome but an attractive silver finish, probably alloy. I believe the bikes are of Chinese origin but they appear to be made to a very acceptable standard.

It was the next day before we ventured out. The cycle was transported in the back of our Volvo 340 (it just fits with the rear seat down) to the nearest industrial estate which was quiet on a Sunday afternoon.

I tried the bike first. Pushing off on one pedal and holding the throttle full on the motor kicked in almost immediately and then I could forget about pedalling as the motor provided a good strong pull. In fact, it was just as the vendor had described, virtually an electric moped. There was no feeling of danger; the bike  accelerated meaningfully but never was there any fear of accelerating too quickly. Releasing the throttle put the bike back to freewheeling. The brakes were not very powerful, there was no possibility of an emergency stop but were just about adequate.

My wife was next to try the machine. In fact the only time that I could get her off it as she whizzed backwards and forwards was when she fell off it! She was trying to turn in the road, I could do it under full pedal control, but my wife attempted to foot it round - just imagine a child trying to walk with a bicycle between their legs and you get the picture. Over they both went! Fortunately the bike was undamaged! We stayed out for about an hour and it was great fun until it became chilly. On our return the battery was put on charge and took about four hours (total charge from flat is about 8 hours). This would seem to indicate the possibility of almost two hours riding from a fully charged battery.

Just last weekend my wife was keen to get out again. I had, meanwhile, been persuaded to buy a bicycle so that I could accompany her. We headed, early morning, for the Mumbles cycle path. If you don't know the area, there is a cycle path right along the seafront between Swansea and the Gower, in South Wales.

I had fitted a computer, to my bike, to monitor our progress. We set off eagerly with me in the lead position. At just 1.3 miles we had our first break. Well, I hadn't ridden a bike for 30 years! We continued with several rest stops. I had forgotten that even a 1 in 240 gradient is hard work on a bike. I had also forgotten that it helps to speed downhill to make progress up the next one! Meanwhile I occasionally caught the buzz, behind me, of the Powabyke. In fact one rude chap cut my wife up when joining from another cyclepath, forcing her to brake. However, she was not to be outdone and instantly opened the twistgrip throttle and accelerated past him!

We covered almost eight miles. I was exhausted and my wife was refreshed, commenting how pleasant it was to cycle alongside the coast - I didn't get chance to see it I was too busy trying to keep the legs going round!

The battery was once more charged and was full in 3 hours, again suggesting that a 24 mile fairly flat run was possible. I would mention, though, that there were no real gradients and my wife was not using constant power. We are keenly looking forward to the Easter break.

Answers to some FAQs (from our experience)

Note that you don't need road tax, insurance, MOT or crash helmet. They can also be ridden from the age of 14 and they can legally be used on cyclepaths. There are, though, some restrictions; there is a limit on the power of motor which can be fitted and the motor must cut out at 15mph, although you can of course pedal faster if you wish. I think there is also a restriction on the weight of machine allowed. There is also a move (2003) to make it law that new ones can only use motor power whilst you are pedalling ie motor assisted rather then motor driven - I think this is the law in the Netherlands, too.

The most important question - does it work, do I have to pedal?
Yes, it works, it is as mentioned earlier just like an electric moped. You do have to pedal very briefly, maybe one or two turns,  the motor doesn't work until the bike is just moving. From that point on you can either release the throttle and pedal normally, or pedal along with the motor as assistance or just freewheel and use the throttle to pull you along (except for gradients where you might have pedal assist).

Is the motor noisy?
The motor makes a buzzing sound when under power but this doesn't draw attention. In fact, on our last run, I heard a buzzing sound approaching me rapidly from behind. I was just about to turn and call "showoff" because I thought it was my wife on the Powabyke. Just as well that I didn't as a burly cyclist buzzed past on his mountain bike. The buzzing was caused by his tyres being under inflated. So that gives you an indication of the noise level.

Is the bike awkward? 
No, but it is much heavier than a normal cycle, a little top heavy, with its strong frame and very heavy battery. In fact, all of it is of very strong construction. I tried to fit the cycle computer but discovered that the Powabyke has thicker, stronger spokes that wouldn't allow the fitting of the magnetic sensor.

What is the range?
As yet I can't tell you definitely. I have guesstimated purely from the battery charging aspect. I would hope to realistically achieve 15-25 miles on simple undulating terrain. We haven't tried any steep hills but I am quietly confident that the motor would haul us up most inclines. The bike does have a simple LED gauge to display the amount of power left. Not too sure how reliable it is since I suspect that it doesn't start to fall for ages and then drops quickly ie it is not linear. The new and replacement batteries are greater capacity so should provide slightly longer range. Call back again in a few weeks and I'll tell you more.
At the moment, 17/05/01 we are still being hampered by the foot and mouth restrictions to local bridleways.

Can the bike be used as a normal bike?
Well, ours is the early single speed machine - no gears. It is very like riding a three speed bike in second gear, Too high to get any speed and not low enough to climb gradients - and the bike is very heavy, although we do lift it in and out of the back of our car without any great problems

Are there any downsides?
The only problem we have at the moment is transporting it. We want to take it camping but wouldn't have room for bike and camping gear in the car. It feels too heavy to sit on a rear bike rack and we may have to buy a camping trailer to carry our equipment. I am also considering buying an inverter to allow us to charge it from the car battery  - does anyone have any experience of using these? I wouldn't expect the drain on the car battery to be very heavy.

In fact Chris Blount has emailed to say that he carries two Powabykes on a towbar mounted rack from Halfords and our own solution, after being quoted 180, was found locally for 35. Yes, we found a homemade, towbar mounted, removable, wheel support rack just 10 minutes way. It had been made to carry a small scrambler bike and took the Powabyke perfectly. The only slight problem is that it is very heavy - even the mounting plate, which remains attached to the towbar is heavy. I would suggest that you check the maximum carrying capacity of any cycle carrier before purchasing. To some extent this is limited by the noseweight allowed on your towbar and this varies from car to car.

Overall
We feel that the bike meets the manufacturer's claims and in fact, it surpasses our expectations of an electric bike. My wife absolutely loves it and says that it has given her a new sense of freedom. Now every weekend begins with, "where can we take the bike?" (well, it did, until we needed a new battery connector - damaged in the bike fall incident, earlier).

Update April, 2002
The spares problem caused quite a hiccup, and because our 2001 holiday had passed, the bike hasn't been used since. I am sure that it will be. Having said that we have both, recently, graduated to full pedal power which gets easier the more that we practice! 

Update October 2002
Surprisingly we still haven't used the Powabyke although I do charge the battery about every 3 months. This is largely due to the fact that I have changed the car and bought an expensive Thule, wheel support, cycle rack for the back. Its so simple to throw two push bikes on the back that I can't be bothered to lift the Powabyke in and out of the back of the car and I'm not convinced that the rack would safely carry the Powabyke.

Our Conclusion

Lots of fun. Great machines for popping to the shops or for short journeys to and from work. Get a friendly dealer for repairs. Note: I have since seen a Powabyke carried on quite a cheap towbar mounted support.

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