Sakura Electric Chopper: Stylish, but why do it?

James Daley hates electric bikes - slow heavy and ugly. Would a cool one change his mind?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A friend of mine proudly announced he was buying an electric bicycle recently. I couldn't help but give him a hard time.

Given that he wanted it to make the modest five-and-a-half mile commute from his house in Dulwich, south London, to his work in Canary Wharf, east London, it appeared to me to be the height of all laziness. As someone who commutes 11 miles to work on my pushbike each day, there seemed no justification. I struggled to understand why anyone would consider buying an electric bike at all.

With top speeds of only 15mph (a legal requirement), and an average battery life of an hour or so, surely any lazy commuter who could not face the physical exertion of a genuine cycle, would opt for a scooter. Not only can you go for many more miles before having to worry about running out of juice, but there's a safety argument as well.

A little acceleration can help to get you out of trouble when you're weaving through a busy metropolis. Acceleration, alas, is not something that electric bikes know anything about at all.

Electric bikes are also very heavy - and when they run out of battery mid-journey (as inevitably happens to every proud owner one day), it can often be next to impossible to pedal them manually when you reach any sort of incline.

Worst, and the main reason electric bikes have never won a place in my heart, is that they are normally extremely ugly. Hiding an enormous battery pack on the sleek frame of a bike is a serious challenge for designers - one that most do not succeed in meeting without sacrificing the aesthetics.

Having said all this, my opinion of electric bikes has improved over the past week after getting the chance to test ride Sakura Battery's new Mustang Chopper. Although it comes with all the same operational flaws as every other electric bike I have ever come across, it does have one important difference - it looks cool.

Modelled on the Harley Davidson motorcycle, it has a relatively low (and fairly comfortable) saddle, as well as the trademark Harley-style handle bars, which still manage to make any two-wheeled vehicle look trendy almost 100 years after they were first invented.

Furthermore, the battery is neatly contained in a box under the saddle, with no compromises in terms of design to accommodate it.

Like all electric bikes, however, its 7ft 2inch frame is extremely heavy - 40kgs - and was a big effort to pedal without the help of the engine, even on the flat. And while its handlebars may be stylish, they make manoeuvring around tight corners a little tricky.

Sakura conceded that the Mustang was designed for fun, not for commuting. However, it pointed out that the other models it sells are extremely popular for making the trip to work. Retailing at around £600, they are much cheaper than scooters and do not require insurance or road tax. You just need to be over 14.

Around half of the 20,000 sold a year in Britain are bought by over-55s who, Sakura says, are often not fit enough to attempt an unaided commute.

If you're one of the 10,000 younger riders though - what's your excuse?

Go to: www.sbsb.co.uk or call 020-8896 1133

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