Friday, 19 October 2018

Sheffield CycleBoost!

For a couple of years now I've been cycle training regularly, down at Skyhook Cycle Coaching, but due to a few changes, a few weeks ago I had to cut down on some of my training. Work was just getting in the way, but in the grand scheme of things it had to win, and that was that. Or so I thought.

Of the three sports that I concentrate on most as part of being a (sometimes) triathlete, cycling was actually the hardest to even consider sacrificing, but it had to happen.

Since then there have been some times when I've been like a bear with a sore head, a situation made worse by having an almost brand new bike in the house which wasn't getting the quality time it deserved. Sure, I'd commuted a few times on it, but that's so different to training. Not the same in any way.

Then my cycle coach, Steve sent me a text: "Got a plan. It's something I've been thinking about for me and might be your solution too. Catch up later." I was intrigued.

We spoke later and Steve explained that he had been talking to another of his regular clients who was involved with the Sheffield CycleBoost scheme, and that it was going to be starting officially in April 2019, run by ReCycle Bikes, on behalf of Sheffield City Council.The aim of the Council is to continue to promote sustainable travel within the local area and  to encourage people to replace shorter car journeys by travelling to work by bike, thereby saving money, having less of an environmental impact, and getting some exercise whilst you're at it.

Of course to many people the idea of commuting to work can be quite daunting. There's the traffic, the cost, the bits and pieces that you need, and all sorts. CycleBoost fully acknowledges this and provides users with almost everything they need to undertake that first journey to and from work, and to keep you going for the duration of your (free!) cycle hire period - typically between one and three months.

One thing I forgot to tell you. CycleBoost is effectively a loan scheme, a FREE loan scheme at that. But that's not all! No, you don't get just any bike. You get the loan of a good quality, rugged, well-built eBike! Now that alone will start to turn some heads when the scheme kicks off in April next year, for sure.

Steve mentioned that I might be interested in taking a look at what CycleBoost were offering, and lo and behold! today I took a trip down to ReCycle Bikes to meet Angela Walker, who is managing the scheme for ReCycle Bikes. Angela had kindly agreed to my loaning a CycleBoost bike ahead of the official launch of the scheme proper. Arriving that ReCycle's building at Thirwell Road in Heeley, Angela was busy preparing my bike - a  lovely Raleigh 'Motus Tour' machine of a bike!

Now, don't get me wrong; I'm a normal bike kind of a guy. I have 2 straight road bikes, one built for speed and the other for comfort, so when Angela took me out onto the public highway and told me to hop on, I had a mix of emotions. I've always been sceptical about electric bikes, but coupled with that I was kind of worried that if everything went well, I'd be hooked on the eBike and spend less time cycling and even less time cycle training. It almost felt like betrayal if you like.

"Put it in a low gear and head off over there", said Angela, so I did. "Press the 'plus' button and it'll start to kick in" she added after a few yards, so I did, and in response the Motus' motor started to work and there as a definite easing in the effort I was putting into the pedalling versus the ground I was covering. 

At this point, it's worth pointing out that the Motus Tour comes with a variety of manual/motor settings - 5 to be exact: 'Off' (no motorised involvement) right through to 'Turbo' (maximum motor input).

I'd started out on the flat and with the bike set to 'off' but as I rode and changed the normal gearing system (hub-based gears BTW) and also went up and down the motor options, you could really feel the assistance the motor was providing.

"Stick it in the lowest gear and pedal round that corner and as the hill start, turn it up to turbo".

A Raleigh Motus Tour eBike
Well, that was indeed a revelation. As a newcomer to electric bikes it was a new feeling altogether. It was almost like sitting on a jumbo jet as the engines fire up and it begins its trip down the runway in pursuit of V1, then V2 and takeoff. Initially a bit disconcerting but quickly "oh, this is fun!."

I left Angela at ReCycle Bikes and headed home, really looking forward to trying out 'Miranda' again (what better name for a bike - her name is even emblazoned on the cranks).

Later, I came up with a plan. My wife was going to the supermarket later; I decided to scupper that plan, quickly devised a shopping list, got out the D-Lock and tools (by the way, each bike is delivered with pump, D-Lock and 'trouser rings' - cycle clips to me - oh, and a charger. There are integral lights on the Motus Tour as well, both controlled from the central control unit. More on this control unit in a future blog entry.

The journey to the supermarket - 2.5km of it - is almost completely downhill, and that can only mean one thing - it's completely uphill on the way back!

Once at the supermarket, the bike was locked up. Sadly it was the only bike in the stands at the time. The car park was chocka but Miranda sadly had no company whatsoever. Mind you, it's not everyone that shops for groceries by bike these days.

Power turned off, I headed inside after detaching the panniers so I could stuff them with purchases in-store. The panniers themselves featured quick release buckles and handy carrying straps, and are mad of robust waterproof material; ideal for winter commuting I decided.

After shopping and paying, I said to the lad on the self-service checkout that I hoped everything would fit in the panniers, but there was no need to worry, everything I had purchased fitted in with no issues whatsoever, and with plenty of room to spare. This bodes well for commuting during the week with laptop and assorted cables, mouse, office clothes and gear for running at lunch (and shower afterwards).

Packed up and ready for the ride home.
Starting off back, I had no idea really how the motor would cope with my nearly 13 stone weight coupled with the weight of 4 pints of milk, a load of natural yoghurt, 2 bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale and some other stuff. What I really didn't fancy was stuggling up a steep hill with a bike that by necessity was much heavier than probably both my own bikes added together, PLUS the weight of the groceries. It was a real leap of faith.

I needn't have worried though. At the bottom of Hutcliffe Wood Road I dropped a couple of gears and switched on the motor. Usually climbing this hill on my road bike is a full-on piece of work, and usually by the top I'm back in my seat pushing for all I'm worth with lungs not bursting but certainly working well.
The Motus coped admirably. At the crest of the hill I wasn't even out of breath. The pedals were turning quickly and there wasn't a sign of strain at all. Further on, the next hill or two also went without concern. The Bosch motor on the Motus was easily coping with everything I was throwing at it, and I wasn't cranking it up to the maximum power (Turbo) setting at all, apart from just trying it out to see how it would feel.

Not light...
Arriving back at home, I honestly couldn't tell I'd just ridden the hills I had; I would never normally even consider riding to and from the supermarket; it's just not an enjoyable ride even without the groceries!

In conclusion, as I said earlier, the panniers on the Motus are really spacious (and equipped with great quick release buckles and handles) They will easily fit everything I need for a day at the office and I'm really looking forward to starting to commute using the eBike starting on Monday. It's a comfortable ride, with disc brakes that offer very good stopping capability, the motor seems to take everything you can throw at it, and the supplied 32mm tyres provide as soft a ride as you can imagine. Overall a great first ride (albeit short) with this bike. On Monday it's an 13km downhill/flatish commute in to work down Abbeydale Road and through the centre of Sheffield. Then later it's a more direct 12km uphill journey via Prince of Wales Road to get home - I'll post details of that ride hopefully that evening.

If you're at all interested in the Sheffield CycleBoost scheme, either as an individual or an employer try visiting their web site at or by getting in toch with ReCycle Bikes in Sheffield and asking about the scheme. I'm sure they would love to help!

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