MIDWAY : Green conundrum

Is electric pedal power really better for the environment? Here’s an interesting eco-conundrum. If you take a bicycle, one of the greenest forms of transport available on earth, and put an electric motor on it, is it still green? You would think not, but in the battle to get commuters out of their cars, electric bikes are regularly cited as an eco option,

particularly for those who live too far away from work to cycle, or those with injuries or fitness problems, or those who are just too lazy to cycle.

They also get rid of the excuse that you don’t cycle because you don’t want to arrive at work sweating. One enthusiast even suggested to me that the energy saved by not showering cancels out the energy used to power the bike, making it just as green as regular cycling.

On top of being greener than cars, electric bikes will get you through rush-hour traffic quicker and with less stress; they don’t require taxing or a driving licence and parking is free. Yet, if you want, you can still pedal it and get your daily dose of exercise.

To find out if they are as great as they sound, I borrowed a Commuter Powabyke, an electric bike aimed, as the name suggests, at commuters, and took it on a 13-mile trip in the hilly part of Somerset, south-western England. The best bit was starting off.

After one laboured pedal the motor kicked in and I took off, whizzing surprisingly quickly and effortlessly down the road on my way to work. Freewheeling up hills was also fun, and had some people scratching their heads at my Jedi-like powers.

After a while, however, as the motor began to lose its charge, the bike began to struggle. Hills needed pedalling up, and were almost as much effort as on a normal bike — the now feeble pull of the motor being virtually cancelled out by the added weight of the bike. By the end I was sweating. My route may have been too much for it, but for shorter commutes, an electric bike will definitely take the strain out of cycling.

The motor detaches, so you can take it into the office and charge it up during the day for the journey home. It is certainly greener than a car, but if you are fit enough and your commute is manageable, then a pedal bike is still the greenest