The Power Cruiser electric bike gives you a workout, but only when you want it to, finds Tricia Wright

Specifications

Range: 20 miles (varies according to weight and road conditions)

Speed: 15 mph (legal limit) Frame: Aluminium alloy
Gears: Shimano 6-speed
Motor: 180 watts
Battery: Nimh 8Ah (weight 4kg)
Charge time: 6 hours
Colour: Silver
Net weight: Including
battery 22kg

Some things are more potent than they seem. Theelectricbike.com's sleek Power Cruiser looks like a conventional pushbike, but apply the smallest pressure to the pedals, which ordinarily would have you wobbling slowly into action, and whoosh - you're off. It's as though you're being spirited along by some invisible, benevolent force and the world is truly on your side.

They call it intelligent power. Unlike previous e-bikes, which did all the work for you, as far as exercise is concerned this new-age brand places you firmly in the saddle. Working on a supply and demand basis, the 1 bhp engine is signalled (through sensory communication) to output a force corresponding to that applied to the pedals. "Although it's a cross between a motor vehicle and a bike it's definitely still cycling - you do get a workout," says John Deverell, marketing manager of Brighton-based theelectricbike.com.

Even die-hard exercisers would welcome the e-bike in certain situations. It relegates arriving at work a sweating mess firmly into the optional category, just as after a hard day's work it takes the sting out of a hilly journey home and makes cycling against a prevailing wind more bearable.

But the e-bike doesn't just assuage unwelcome situations. It's also good fun, as I discovered today as I sailed round the Isle of Dogs, wind in my hair, the temptation to let the motor take the considerable slack utterly irresistible.

The great thing is, everything conspires towards the merry delusion that you are operating under your own steam. The engine is near-enough silent and the brakes and six-speed gear control work in the same way as on a regular bike. Since e-bikes are not considered by law to be motor vehicles, you're not obliged to wear a helmet, pay road tax or insurance.

The law has, however, limited the bikes' maximum speed, curbing it at 15mph. But given that you only need to be 14 to ride them, this is understandable. Today's trip provided ample opportunity to test the Power Cruiser's thresholds and it felt far from slow.

And it's not as if running out of batteries is a huge concern. "It costs virtually nothing to run," says Deverell, referring to the 10p it will cost for a single charge (a car's equivalent is 500mpg). With a range of 20 miles, the Power Cruiser will cater effortlessly for most people's commute, both to and from work, and if the battery is running low it can be recharged in six hours.

Although, with its up-to-date nickel metal hydride batteries and aluminium frame, the Power Cruiser is very light for an e-bike (by law they must be less than 40kg), at 22kg it's no mean feat to lift. A regular bike weighs around 10kg. The idea is that you remove the 4kg battery, which is a very simple operation, before attempting to lug it up apartment stairs.

The inconvenience of having to partially dismantle and carry the e-bike, perhaps in two journeys, up the stairs is surely outweighed by its advantages. Aside from the personal benefits, there are those to the environment. E-bikes do not produce emissions or use up the world's dwindling supply of fossil fuels. "The supply of oil is finite," says Deverell. "Half has already gone and what remains will become increasingly expensive to extract, which means that petrol prices will only go one way."

Persuasive government incentives join rising petrol prices as a deterrent to travelling by car. Over the past two years, London boroughs have introduced 5,000 bike parking stands, the London congestion charge encourages bike transport and the Department of Transport has given out £17m to promote cycling over the next three years (to be shared among six towns and cities - Brighton, Lancaster, Darlington, Derby, Exeter and Aylesbury).

Gone are the days when the e-bike was considered nerdy. Now, people can't jump on the e-bike eco-wagon fast enough.

Europe accounted for 95,000 e-bike sales last year, and that number is expected to triple this year, growing to a million a year within the next decade. "Electric bikes are about to hit the streets in a big, big way," says Deverell. "It's already happened in China, where petrol-powered motorcycles are being restricted in 60 cities. It will happen here."

www.theelectricbike.com; 0845 602 8848

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