Cape Town and Durban have established bicycle lanes webbing out of their CBDs, and now Joburg is on track too, creating bicycle lanes in key parts of the city and Soweto.
Over 100km of safe-cycling routes are being demarcated to improve the city’s carbon footprint.
Thing is, not all of us are inclined or able to get those legs pumping on pedals all the way from home to work. Nor do we want to get into bicycle gear and arrive at the office all sweaty. So what’s the solution? It’s the electric bike.
There are tens of millions of electric bikes on the road in China, and sales have been surging in Europe, and lately, the US. In South Africa, however, the electric bike industry is still a fledgling, but as more bicycle lanes become available, and commuters catch on to the idea, the “e-bike” is likely to become a far more visible feature in our cities.
“A lot more people are buying electric bikes than in the past, and now that the Joburg metro has committed to cycle lanes, I believe the market will grow exponentially,” says Terry Gormley, owner of Pedego, a nationwide e-bike retailer selling nine different styles priced between R24 700 and R36 700.
In the meantime, from Pedego’s Cycle Lab megastore in Fourways, Gormley is targeting greater Joburg’s swanky housing estate complexes, as many of them have cycle paths and make ideal cycling environments.
WILL IT BECOME SAFER?
“There is still a perception that cycling amid city traffic is dangerous, understandably so, but as awareness among motorists grows, it will become safer. Bike safety rules apply, of course, so you always wear a helmet,” he says.
A prominent e-bike retailer in Joburg is Cycology, which started selling high-quality electric bikes last year. Ten different styles are available, ranging in price from R14 000 to R35 000 and marketed mostly in Sandton, Fourways and Rosebank.
Cycology is partnered with the Green Building Council of SA (GBCSA) and Solid Green Consulting in a campaign called Decongest, which has been lobbying for cycle lanes and a corporate-backed e-bike leasing scheme, supported by lock-and-charge bike stations in Sandton’s bigger office complexes.
“So far we’ve sold more than 175 bikes in the Joburg area,” says Cycology owner Vincent Truter. “In 2015 we will release 155 electric bikes to lease as part of the bike leasing scheme in and around Sandton. To support this scheme, we’ve got 11 corporate lock-and-charge stations, so the trend in Sandton will be fuelled by corporate employees.”
Truter says Cycology is targeting the higher LSM (living standards measure) market “because this will create the behaviour change and fuel the desire to ride these bikes”. He adds: “If corporate workers are seen riding electric bikes to work, it’s an assurance to the broader public that green modes of transport are the way to go.”
The most established electric bike retailer is eZee, which has been around for seven years and has a countrywide presence, selling top-end e-bikes for between R22 000 and R27 000, or you can buy a R14 500 kit (battery, controller and rear or front wheel) that can be fitted on any bike. “We import the bikes from China to Cape Town and distribute from here. The market is still quite small but it’s definitely growing,” says owner James Swift.
Still, if electric bikes are going to really become part of our city landscapes, the lower LSM group also needs to get a look in. From his warehouse in Cleveland, east of the city, Johnny Nelson, the owner of eBike South Africa, is selling three different bikes: the X-Trail, Hopper and Ezrider, costing between R7800 and R14 500. He also has agents in Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria, and can deliver a bike to your door.
“We’ve sold quite a few already, but when the bike lanes are in place around Braamfontein, Wits University, the SABC, the University of Johannesburg and Soweto, we expect a steady increase in sales. They are particularly useful for students because they are so cheap to run,” says Nelson.
On average, an e-bike gives you more than 60km travelling distance. It is powered by a lithium battery, which you can recharge overnight. The bike comes with a charger pack, which looks like a laptop charger, and you need to charge it for between three and six hours, depending on the type of bike.
Electric bikes are quiet and emit zero emissions. They cost less than 50 cents electricity for every 100km travelled. Compare this to the fuel consumption and pollution caused by vehicles, and you can immediately see the advantage of them in terms of savings and carbon footprint, not to mention the health benefits.
In China and Europe, workplaces have charging stations at key points in cities, and although this hasn’t been mooted here yet, if enough commuters turn to electric bikes to escape congestion and drive down their transport costs, such charging stations might well be seen in the future. “You can lock an e-bike the same way you lock an ordinary bike,” assures Nelson.
“Greening the environment is becoming a priority, and electric bikes are going to be a big part of this. They’re also healthier. Studies have shown that cycling is good for everything from your heart to your stress levels and your immune system,” he says.
If you’re not sure you can still ride a bike, a good way to test yourself on one is to go on an electric bike tour. Cycology runs a weekly tour through the Sandton CBD, visiting “green” buildings in the area such as those of Ernst & Young, Alexander Forbes and Nedbank, while for Capetonians, there’s a tour starting at the Mount Nelson hotel. Pedego offers e-bike tours in Cape Town and Durban, where it is based.
I recently took the Cycology tour, led by Jarrod Lewin, business development manager at the GBCSA, and was pleasantly surprised to find that within 15 minutes of tootling up and down the carpark at the GBCSA complex, I knew the tricks to riding an e-bike.
Your first instinct is to pedal, but you soon get used to twisting the throttle, which can make the bike go as fast as 32km/h. You should pedal on the upslopes, because it takes the strain off the battery and you get in some exercise, but you don’t have to.
Once on the busy streets of Sandton, I found the greatest challenge was getting used to the bigger vehicles whizzing past, some too close for comfort, but Lewin assured our five-strong group that motorists are aware of us, and as long as we obeyed the road rules and hugged the left verge, we’d be fine. Towards the end, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Still, I’m not sure I’d tackle a trip into the CBD.