My Electric Bicycle Experience
It seems to be our nuclear family’s tradition to go cycling on the Boxing Day (is it a tradition yet if it has happened twice?). This year we ended up cycling 60 kilometers from our house in Observatory to Hout Bay. We traveled half of the journey on our regular bicycles and then swapped them for electric bikes.
Finding electric bikes in Cape Town isn’t very difficult. There are a few rental places that can help you out with different kinds of electric bicycles. We opted for what was basically a regular mountain(ish) bike with an engine from Chilled Squirell. I’m not sure about other places, but this particular one has an insane deposit. Seeing that the bikes are worth quite a bit, you have to put down thousands of rand (15 to be precise) to rent one. You’ll get it back after the trip but I must say that for me it was an unnerving experience to be using something that potentially could make us lose so much money. That’s a big disadvantage but honestly, the only one.
The Hout Bay cycle was something I wanted to attempt forever. My husband can manage to cycle uphill for that long but for me it always seemed like something impossible to achieve. The little cheat in form of an electrically powered bike made it possible for me to also enjoy this absolutely stunning cycle. The big advantage of e-bikes is that you can make your experience as difficult (or as easy) as you want. Both of our bikes had regular gears and 5 levels of engine assistance (6 if you count the “no engine support” option). I cycled a lot unassisted and when the uphill was getting too much for me I used the additional push. I really did not abuse the engine, because even if I’m a little bit of a weakling, I still really enjoy cycling as a form of exercise. Of course, I had to try out the 5th level. It means barely pedaling as the engine does most of the work to keep the bike moving. It actually feels a lot like traveling on a scooter. The maximum speed you can go at is 20 km/h.
After having experienced the Hout Bay cycle, I must say it’s quite challenging. Now I know I hadn’t been exaggerating and I wouldn’t have made it without the occasional help of the engine. This kind of cycling has also other challenges. Traveling on bike through Camps Bay, for instance, is a bit nerve-racking because of the proximity of cars. The drivers there are often not very nice either. They’re too concerned with looking cool in their posh cars to also remember to be nice human beings towards those who share the narrow road with them. The experience gets better between Bakeoven and Hout Bay. The cyclists have basically a lane for themselves and motorists are encouraged to pass wide by the signs on the road. It’s still takes a while to get used to cars passing so close next to you, at 120 km/h or so. Still, the views are really pretty and it’s a nice work out so it’s worth getting out of your comfort zone.
On our way back we stopped for lunch, keeping our super precious bikes very close. I was quite surprised to see so many people chilling with their friends and families, celebrating Xmas in a secular way. We didn’t struggle to find the right place to stop at, though. There’s a Bootlegger in Bakoven, which is a nice and popular venue for cyclists doing the route. If you’re not ashamed to be all sweaty and sporty in Camps Bay, you can also go to one of the fanciest restaurants there.
After we dropped our bikes it was actually a bit difficult to get back on our old ones. Even if the engine was just an option, well, it was always an option. A regular bike relies only on your legs, which in my case, were a bit tired after the uphill cycle. When we arrived home I cringing with pain. My muscled exercised too but the biggest challenge for me are my knees, which cry for help after being so long in one position.
Would I do it again? I’m not so sure. I felt a bit uncomfortable with the deposit. The bikes look like they cost a lot and people keep staring at you when you use them. It’s a potential security threat. I think I would feel better if I owned the thing and had it insured. Chilled Squirrel apart from the rental also offers pimping up your bike and turning it into an electric one. Perhaps it’s something to keep in mind for the future.