This is the first of a series of blogs about people’s experience of ebiking. Firstly we must thank Wheels For All for running the ebike loans. This blog is about the experience of Sobia Afridi’s two weeks of using an ebike in November 2019. Sobia is a councillor at Oxfordshire County Council and has worked at Oxford Brookes University for 22 years.
Sobia was born in Marston, Oxford and has lived there all her life. Sobia had a bike when she was younger but didn’t really use it as she suffered from bullying at school and so her mother would walk with her. As an adult, Sobia got back into cycling when she had her daughter, who would ride on the back of the bike to the nursery. Sobia wanted her daughter to understand bikes and helped her learn to cycle, along with her son.
Motivation to use an ebike
Sobia’s cycling stopped completely last year due to a back injury and has since struggled to step onto her bike. This meant Sobia put on weight and was getting overtired when she did cycle occasionally. Sobia was motivated to try the ebike as cycling was previously her main form of exercise and she thought the power assistance would help her get back into cycling.
Experience on the ebike
Sobia’s initial concerns were that the bike would shoot away from her with the added power and that she wouldn’t get much exercise from riding the bike. However, Sobia described her experience as very positive and she had been using the ebike more than she would use her normal bike.
The ebike was changing her transport choices for longer distances: ‘I used it to go campaigning in Iffley which I usually would have taken the bus.’ Compared to her normal bike, Sobia’s journey times on the ebike were much quicker and left her feeling more relaxed: ‘I was always out of breath and stressed I wouldn’t make it to work on time.’ As well as enjoying the speed of the bike.
Other challenges noted were the weight of the bike when pushing it around to lock it up and the road infrastructure around the University. ‘I tend not to go on the road, I tend to go on the pavement. I don’t feel safe with the buses so close to you. The [cycle lane] lines are really narrow, and you have to be careful of pot holes.’ When asked about Oxford being a ‘Cycling City’, Sobia replied ‘we have the name the Cycling City but we’ve got a long way to go.’
Future plans for cycling
Sobia had already begun looking to purchase an ebike for after the loan period. Not only for herself but also for her daughter to get to school, who has a chronic illness that prevents her from cycling easily.
When asked how the ebike experience may influence her work as a councillor, Sobia replied ‘Any opportunity where cycling or infrastructure is talked about I will certainly talk about ebikes and promote it. I have already told all 41 people in my office. We talk infrastructure and cycling quite a lot. Some of the councillors are a bit anti cycling. It’s good to have Councillor Susanne Bartington as the cycling champion who does a lot of cross party work and is always on her bike.’
Sobia concluded by saying ‘there are so many cars coming into Oxford every day, but not everyone can go on a bike. More people who are less able could ride an ebike’. Sobia would like to see more loan schemes allowing people to ride ebikes, particularly for older people.
In this blog I have written about my parents first experience of riding ebikes and may be of interest to those considering ebikes for getting themselves, or their parents, back onto a bike. My parents Helen and Mike are both retired, aged 70 (roughly), walk their dog as daily exercise and have not ridden a bike for years. The roads surrounding their house are hilly and are a mix of country roads and main roads, neither having pavements and offering no protection from cars, a real barrier for my mum's confidence. Fortunately I live near a park and a traffic free cycle route in Oxford so I thought to take them for a ride. This is how it went.
After my mum established that I wasn't joking about going for a cycle ride, we spoke through her initial concerns. These were about the weight of the bike, followed by the idea of the power assistance running away with her, and lastly that she did not want to be anywhere near traffic.
Firstly, I took my parents to a calm open space where they could see other park users at all times and went through the basic controls. The electric bikes do weigh more and this is only really an issue at stand still when there is the tendency to topple over, which my mum did do on her first stop. Enjoying a roll around in the grass, I helped her up and we spoke through how to stop safely, using the brakes gently and finding the ground with your feet. When the bikes are going, there was no complaint about the weight due to the electric motor assistance. The bikes offer varying levels of assistance which gently come in to help you as you pedal, meaning no jolty starts and stops. As soon as I showed my dad the turbo button he was off like a dog after a tennis ball, tongue hanging out and all, while mum shouted 'show off' and insisted on letting other people in the park know that she doesn't normally ride bikes, but today she is.
We rode out on a leafy cycle route, away from any roads and then along the canal path. The main learning points here were that they must avoid other path users, much to my dads disappointment, by staying left and looking into the space where they want to go. Then we were off, away from all the people and buildings and they were loving it! Looking around, chatting away, noticing the autumn colours in the trees, seeing all the kids come out from school with their funny hair styles. Their favorite bit was seeing the swans and their cygnets with my mum giving David Attenborough style commentary. I was hit with a nostalgic feeling of being taken to feed the ducks when I was a kid, but this time I had facilitated the experience for my parents. It seemed a big deal for them to see the swans that I often see, but it made me ponder. A simple interaction with wildlife. Letting us humans know we aren't the only occupiers of this world, a point easily ignored in urban landscapes.
They were chatting away over dinner very proud to tell my girlfriend Christie what they had learnt and achieved, my mum showing through her jeans where her bruises will be! The next day I cycled with my dad into the city to get a hair cut. We followed the narrow cycle lane on the main Botley road into the city and although I could see he was a little more nervous with the traffic, he made it all the way without a problem. He even cycled off to the cash point on his own.
Getting back on your bike
If you would like to try an ebike or get assistance in learning about getting back on your bike, our friends Wheels for All at Horspath Athletics track, Oxford may be able to help. To read more about the research on well being benefits of ebikes for older generations, click here.
Co-CAFE is led by Tim Jones (Reader in Urban Mobility) with Ben Spencer (Research Fellow) and Tom Shopland (Co-CAFE project administrator) based in the School of the Built Environment at Oxford Brookes University.