This powered bike can feel like magic, says David Prosser - but don't even think about carrying it upstairs....


Range: up to 30 miles on motor only, depending on weight carried and the road conditions
Speed: 15mph on motor alone
Frame: steel
Battery: 36v/8Ah
Charge time: 6-8 hours
Weight: 38kg
Guarantee: one year for frame, six months for battery
Colour: black
Price: £399

The humble cyclist's lot is a difficult one. Never mind the outrageous hostility of increasing numbers of drivers to their two-wheeled friends in the gutter. Forget the humiliation of forcing yourself into Lycra. The real problem is that in the summer months, when the lure of the open road is at its strongest, this darned hot weather makes cycling hard work, even in the flattest terrain. Throw in a hill or too, and even the fittest riders are reduced to sweaty puddles.

For commuters keen to give up the car or avoid overcrowded public transport, such exertion is an obstacle to be overcome. Cycling may be good for your health, but don't expect your colleagues to be so understanding, particularly if, like most people, your workplace is not equipped with showers.

Enter The Electric Bike company, which is not modest with its sales pitch. "A new generation of lighter power-assisted bikes," is what it sells. "Ridden by people like you who share our concern to reduce pollution and use transport options that draw less upon fossil fuels and more upon man's ingenuity and technological advances."

Who could resist such a device? Particularly as electric bikes, under European legislation, are not considered to be motor vehicles. That means no registration, no road tax and no insurance. Riders must be at least 14 years of age, but all the rules and regulations that apply to every other powered vehicle on the road have no bearing on the electric bike rider.

Eager to repay the generosity of our friends in Brussels, I took a trial ride on the Power Cruiser 1, which is described in the publicity as "a super all-use bike" that is "at home both in town and in the countryside".

First the good news. There's no denying the Power Cruiser is much less hard work than my usual non-powered steed. Flick the handlebar-mounted throttle and the bike sets off with no pedalling at all, though this feature is designed for an extra boost on hills, rather than a rider who just wants to sit there.

For the rest of us, the bike has a six-speed Shimano gearset. As with a conventional bike, you move up the gears to go faster (and work harder). But there's a difference - the Power Cruiser is equipped with a mysterious feature known as "intelligent power". Basically, your pedalling sends a message to the 36-volt battery, which answers you by assisting you with turning the cranks. Pedal harder and you get more assistance from the battery.

It works. Cycling into the headwinds for which The Independent's Docklands home is renowned, the bike whizzes along. Barely a bead of perspiration is on my brow. Climbing the biggest hill the Isle of Dogs has to offer (an admittedly small bridge over the docks), and I feel up to giving Lance Armstrong a run for his money.

The Electric Bike Company promises the battery will last six to eight hours, depending on usage, road conditions and how often you use the turbo boost throttle to avoid pedalling. That should be enough for any commuter, and if you're cycling out of town on country lanes - or on London's potholed streets for that matter - the suspension built in to the bike will add to the comfort of your ride.

And yet. There are some catches. The first is the sheer weight of the Power Cruiser - 38 kilograms, twice as much as a conventional bike. Thank goodness for the long battery life because without help, keeping the beast moving will save you the bother of going to your gym's spin class. Don't get caught far from home with a flat battery

That weight issue has another side. Unless you have a garage to store the thing, you'll need to carry your bike into and out of the house. If you've got stairs or you need to take it through to the garden shed, you can look forward to a pretty decent upper-body workout.

My second concern is the look of the Power Cruiser. If I'd wanted the chunkiest child-style mountain bike on the road, I'd have asked for it. This is not a lean machine by any stretch of the imagination.

Finally there's the £699 price tag, more than most people would consider paying for a decent commuter bike without a battery. And with a guarantee of only six months on offer for the battery, you could end up needing just such a bike.

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