I have a very soft spot for folding bikes as many happy days were spent using one while commuting during my final year of University. She, for she was most definitely a she, was called Helga. Helga is heavy, slow, West German, made of poor quality steel and wears a bronze paintjob that was the height of fashion in the distant past. One gear, a back pedal brake whose effectiveness depended on the ambient temperature, and a saddle that peaked at least four inches lower than it would ideally have been to accommodate a man of my 6ft stature. Helga is a terrible bike, and yet I love her.
Fast forward to 2018, and I had the opportunity to try Helga’s great niece, a very sleek looking contraption called the Emu electric mini. This was one of several electric bikes that the Active Travel Hub had on loan from the Electric Cycle Company in Leith as part of our market research for updating our bike library fleet, and the little Emu was by far the most intriguing to me. What could 40 years of progress and an electric motor do to the humble folding bike that I knew and loved?
My commute from Glasgow comprises a four mile cycle from the West End to Queen Street Station to board a Stirling bound train, so this seemed like the perfect test run for a folding bike. Though perhaps not as compact as a Brompton, once folded the Emu fitted comfortably into the train’s luggage rack with minimum fuss, requiring only four quick release levers and about one minute to transform. The battery is hidden in the seatpost, which causes minimal interference, and it can be charged without being removed. Built in lights, mudguards and disc brakes - this was looking promising. The Emu weighs around 16kg; not lightweight by traditional bicycle standards, but sufficient to allow it to be carried single handed up stairs, or onto a bus or train with relative ease. For an e-bike, the price tag is enticing too; at around £1000 this could theoretically be a Cycle to Work scheme purchase.
With all of this in my mind, I popped the Emu onto the train and waited with anticipation to get it unfolded in Glasgow. What then transpired was one of the most enjoyable commutes I have ever had. The Emu is just a blast. Like all pedelec bikes, the motor provides an adjustable level of assistance while you turn the pedals, up to a maximum speed of 15.5mph (25km/h). This certainly felt a lot faster when rolling on the Emu’s 16 inch wheels! The motor was responsive and quiet, ideal for getting away swiftly at traffic lights and flattening out the climb up Bath Street. A particular highlight was sailing past a Deliveroo rider, who was visibly struggling with the incline, with minimum effort. I arrived home sweat free, with a huge grin. The ride back to Queen Street and onto the train the following morning was equally smooth and smile-inducing.
I think that the potential for electric folding bikes is huge. For people who lack space to store a bike at home or work, or whose daily journeys regularly involve a bus, train or subway ride, they could be a real game changer in enabling more regular cycle journeys. I can also see scope for these kinds of bikes as office pool bikes, where again their small footprint and promise of sweat-free journeys could make them a viable option for business travel over shorter distances, or as an addition to a longer train journey. I am very excited to see where further development and technological advancements will take the concept of a folding electric bike, but already I think that these could be a viable option for many people struggling to overcome different barriers to bike ownership and use.
One ride, and you’ll be thinking about what to christen your very own Emu – a bike with this much character deserves a name. I’d like to think that my old Helga would be proud of her little electrically assisted descendant.
If you would like to try an electric bike as part of your own commute, please get in touch with the Active Travel Hub team to discuss borrowing one of our fleet of bikes.
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