East Croydon Cool talks…is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts. With social distancing set to be part of our new normal, the search for alternative travel solutions has resulted in a huge increase in sales for both electric and manual bikes. So this month, we chatted with the founder of Energise E-Bikes (a pioneer in electric bike retail who now offers the largest range of e-bikes in the country) and who started the business right here in Croydon!
The moment founder, Ray Wookey, tried an electric bike for the first time, he realised just how transformative this new technology could be. Being able to set off from home and complete a journey in comfort without having to worry about traffic jams, train cancellations or parking problems was a revelation; not to mention enormous fun!
He could see that commuters who had seen train ticket prices rise and rise over the years could use e-bikes to get to work cheaply and quickly. People who had long given up cycling could start riding again with confidence, knowing that the e-bike would help them throughout the ride. Leisure riders, tired of the same old cycle routes could expand their horizons and go further and do more.
Ray was so inspired by the e-bikes that together with a business partner, he began selling electric bikes in 2012 via a small retail outlet in Coulsdon called Cycling Made Easy. The interest in electric bikes grew so much that the store soon had to expand; moving to a 2000 square foot, purpose-built showroom which happened to be on the London to Paris cycle route; a route that a team from Cycling Made Easy have completed using e-bikes!
In 2019, Cycling Made Easy was renamed to Energise E-bikes to reflect the life-changing effect the products had on their customers. Today, Energise E-bikes has the widest range of electric bikes of any retailer in the UK from small, folding electric bikes, to Dutch-style stepthrough e-bikes, to full-suspension off-road e-bikes.
What is an electric bike?
Imagine going on a bike ride but no matter where you went you had a helpful tailwind pushing you forward. Imagine how much fun that journey would be. Imagine how much quicker you’d arrive somewhere. That’s what an electric bike ride feels like.
Electric bikes (or ‘e-bikes’) are bicycles with an added motor which boosts your pedal power with lithium battery power. It’s a bit like a microphone for a singer. A singer sings loud, quiet, and everything in between, while the microphone amplifies the power of their sound. An electric bike is similar. The rider pedals hard, pedals soft, and everything in between, while the motor and battery amplifies the power of their pedalling. You can turn up and turn down this electrical assistance to the level that you want.
If you’re riding uphill, you’ll be able to pedal up without putting a dangerous strain on your heart, muscles or joints. If you’ve got a long journey ahead, you can use that extra energy to make sure you get to your destination feeling fresh rather than becoming a sweaty mess. If you’re carrying shopping, the extra energy is there to help you haul the load back home.
Essentially, you’re riding with the power of two people. An e-bike is not, however, a moped. If you want the extra power, you have to pedal. It’s not a free ride but it is certainly a fun ride.
What makes Energise E-bikes different from the competition?
I think people are reassured to have experts on their high street. Energise E-bikes is a specialist retailer with a bricks-and-mortar premises where people can test-ride the bikes and ask a human their questions.
We also offer free lifetime servicing which no other bike retailer in the country offers. We know buying an electric bike is a big purchase. We can help people get a long life out of them with free annual maintenance.
Not only that but we practice what we preach. Most of our staff ride an electric bike into work. It keeps us energised and our carbon footprint low. And it means we can advise people from personal experience.
Most bike retailers would stock a couple of electric bikes but every single bike you see in our showroom is an e-bike. In fact our expertise was recognized by the bike industry as a whole when we were nominated for ‘Best Specialist Retailer’ in 2017 at the BikeBiz Awards and we are also one of only ten places in the country to be listed as a Bosch E-bike Expert.
How did you get into the e-bike industry?
The seeds of Energise E-bikes were planted when I was still running a former business. While exploring where my staff commuted from, I found many lived in hilly, traffic-choked areas. I looked at electric bikes, which presented the solution but back then, when e-bikes were simply watered-down mopeds, the quality disappointed me.
However, when I sold my business in 2008, e-bike design and quality had vastly improved. They were lighter, quieter, smoother to ride and they looked great. The market on continental Europe was booming but had no strength here in the UK.
I thought we could be pioneers in the market. So we took the plunge first with a small unit on Chipstead Valley Road in Coulsdon and called ourselves Cycling Made Easy. Now we have a 2,000 square foot showroom on Brighton Road and we’ve rebranded as Energise E-bikes to reflect how our products makes people feel: energised!
What are the benefits of using an e-bike?
E-bikes can go where cars aren’t allowed, where walking would take too long, and where a conventional bike would struggle. Most of all, they are incredibly fun to ride. Many people say it feels like the way cycling felt when they were a kid – a real sense of freedom and possibility.
Most of our customers use their bikes for exercise and leisure, using the extra energy to help them do longer more ambitious rides, so they get to see so much more of the ‘hidden’ green spaces our country has to offer. For example, did you know that there is a National Nature Reserve here in the south of the borough? It’s perfect e-biking territory. There are so many natural beauty spots like that in this country and sometimes the only way to explore them is on an e-bike.
The customers who commute on their e-bikes are able to get to work without needing to shower on arrival and they can usually guarantee their journey time as well.
Are they expensive to buy/run?
E-bikes are a long-term investment but incredibly cheap to run. Per year, we estimate it will be around £5.20 to keep the battery charged. You wouldn’t get much petrol for £5.20 these days! Plus of course Energise E-bikes give you an annual service for free.
If anyone is thinking of buying an e-bike, please, please do not buy one which is similar in price to a conventional one. You will end up buying something which is mechanically compromised.
People do raise an eyebrow when they see a £2000 price tag on our electric bikes, but they truly can replace your petrol-guzzling car, your annual travelcard and gym membership in one fell swoop.
How do you charge them?
In the same way as your mobile or laptop. You plug it in at the mains and top it up when you need to. You can take the battery off the bike so if you’ve stopped off at a café or pub, you can plug that in and get a quick top up.
How fast do they go/can you ride them on pavement/road?
E-bikes go as fast as you can pedal them but the motor is active at all speeds between 0 and 15.5mph. That’s the difficult bit for the human body – going from a stand still to cruising speed. Above 15.5mph, the bike is being powered by your leg power and momentum alone. In reality, you will find yourself cruising along at 12-15mph which is actually faster than the average speed of traffic in towns and cities.
You should ride them on the road if you can. Since an e-bike’s average speed is so much faster than a conventional bike, you will be passed by fewer cars, so it’s a much nicer experience than you might be used to. If you feel like the road is becoming too dangerous when you’re out riding, guidance says you can go on to the pavement, but please go at a ‘pedestrian-friendly’ speed.
It’s worth noting, that while e-bikes are completely road legal in this country, the increasingly common e-scooter are still actually illegal for public use. E-scooter trials are happening in a few areas, but for most people, e-scooters cannot legally be used in public.
What is the future for the e-bike industry?
Very often, someone who test-rides an electric bike with us will end the ride by saying, “That is the future!” I think with the pandemic, e-bikes are the vehicle for today. They create zero-emissions, they get people exercising, and can help keep people off public transport while the pandemic continues.
There is no doubt that more commuters will switch to e-bikes and away from cars especially if more protected cycle lanes are created. The government has pledged millions to create these so fingers crossed this is done well.
It’s great to see that there are temporary cycle lanes being created and hopefully this will make cycling in general much easier.
For more information or to book in for a free Test Ride, visit www.energiseebikes.co.uk.