BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 07 April '17

E-bikes are taking off in the UK – and a new tax break could encourage even more people to saddle up

This article appears in the spring issue of MyGreenPod.com Magazine, distributed with the Guardian on 07 April 2017. Click here to read the full digital issue online.

What’s not to love about electric bikes? They address all the things that put people off cycling in one clean, green, effortless go.

Not fit enough to get up the hill home? No problem – just sit back and the motor will give your legs a hand. Don’t want to arrive at your destination all hot and sticky? Fear not – the assistance will kick in as soon as you start pedalling, which could be long before you’re close to working up a sweat.

Here’s why the Wisper 705 SE with Step-through frame has been crowned a MyGreenPod Hero.

HOW E-BIKES WORK

There are two broad kinds of electric bike on the market: the more basic models work with a cadence sensor, which triggers the electric assistance when it detects the rider is turning the pedals. When the rider stops pedalling, the assistance stops.

More sophisticated e-bikes combine cadence sensors with additional pressure sensors, which read the level of force applied to the pedals and adjust the motorised assistance accordingly. ‘It’s not a free ride’, warns David Miall, managing director of AMPS Electric Bikes (manufacturer of Wisper bikes); ‘the rider must be pedalling for the assistance to kick in.’

The benefit of an e-bike is that a rider can choose exactly how much effort they want to put in; an electric bicycle will give a rider assistance on journeys of up to 75 miles. Once you’re moving you can take your electric bike anywhere you’d ride a standard bike and it will go just as fast – though UK and European law forbids motorised assistance at speeds higher than 15.5mph.

‘Wherever there’s a road or track’, David tells us, ‘there is an e-bike that’s perfect for the job – from very serious downhill mountain bikes, which can command up to £10,000 for the latest carbon models, to light and nimble city and trekking bikes starting at around £1,000.’

When you’ve finished riding you simply plug the bike into a wall socket, as you would a laptop or phone, and it’ll be fully charged in about 4.5 hours – adding about 20p to your electricity bill.

REFINING DESIGN

Wisper was one of the very first brands of e-bike to appear in the UK, and David admits that the first electric bike he sold, back in the summer of 2005, ‘sounded a little like a milk float on steroids’. While the benefits of e-bikes have always been clear to see, the design and usability have required fine tuning.

Over the last 12 years all components – from the frame to the motor – have been refined, and today Wisper Torque models are among the most quiet, powerful and sophisticated electric bikes on the market.

The goal was to develop a practical, stylish and affordable range of bikes designed for everyday use: the motor is now all but silent and nestles neatly and unobtrusively behind the rear gears. ‘For day-to-day commuting, getting about town or riding down country lanes, our bikes are ideal’, David tells us.

The design is proving a hit; ‘Our customers include children of 14 riding to school, young parents in Chelsea going about their daily business, commuters, motorhome owners, octogenarians and people who simply want to improve their fitness and help reduce pollution in our cities’, David says.

With six e-bikes in the Wisper range – including a folding bike and a traditional crossbar bike – Wisper seems to have the ideal model for everyone.

It’s been a long time coming, but the UK is finally starting to catch up with Germany, Holland, Denmark and other cycling nations, where electric bicycles account for over half the adult bike market. ‘People all over the UK have started to discover the health benefits and sheer joy that come from e-bike riding’, says David. ‘E-bikes are used to ride further and ridden more often than the vast majority of standard bikes.

‘The UK market’s now growing at an incredible rate; we have three times as many bikes on order as we did this time last year; the season has certainly started with a bang!’

THE GREEN COMMUTE INITIATIVE

Electric bikes could be about to get even more popular thanks to the Green Commute Initiative (GCI), a revolutionary new version of the popular Cycle to Work scheme that specifically targets e-bikes.

This social enterprise is the only Cycle to Work provider authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority; unlike other Cycle to Work schemes GCI has no £1,000 upper limit and no sting in the tail for employees who want to own their bike.

‘Whenever I commute or travel in the City I use an e-bike – and I always make sure I’m really smartly dressed in a suit and tie’, says Rob Howes, managing director at GCI Ltd. ‘When I arrive I apologise for wearing my cycling clothes. People are always astonished that I can commute on an e-bike and arrive looking smart and relaxed.’

Under the initiative commuters will pay 32-42% less for an e-bike, depending on whether they’re lower or higher rate taxpayers. Unlike the standard Cycle to Work scheme, where employees have to pay a hefty fee to own the bike, the cost of ownership with GCI is just £1.

‘42% of people who don’t cycle to work say it’s because they aren’t fit enough, there’s a hill, it’s too far or they don’t want to arrive hot and sweaty’, Rob tells us. ‘All of these concerns disappear with an e-bike. We also know from academic research carried out by Brighton University that people who have access to an e-bike use their cars 20% less.’

GCI is working with the City of London to help get more commuters out of cars and onto e-bikes. ‘I see e-bikes as a valuable tool to help us reduce traffic congestion and help improve air quality’, says Rory McMullan, behaviour change manager at the City of London. ‘I’ve become a fan because my 17-mile commute is easily possible and, after a long day at the office, I know I’ll have the legs to get home again easily.’

Employers including Heathrow Airport are promoting the scheme because they’re aware of the benefits of getting employees out of their cars. A tax break provides an added incentive; employers will save 13.8% of the bike’s value in unpaid employer NI.

A final bonus is that GCI can finance the cost of the scheme to employers, so cash flow is untouched. ‘From a corporate perspective it’s a no-brainer’, Rob says. ‘There’s no cash outlay, you’ll have happy employees, admin’s handled by GCI and you’ll still save on tax. There has never been a better – or cheaper – opportunity for employers to help improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion.’

Click here for more on the Green Commute Initiative. The full range of Wisper e-bikes can be found here.