Just for a change this week, I thought I’d leave the V8s and the behemoth SUVs in their garages and take to an electric vehicle. A bicycle.
This was a big deal for me for a manner of reasons. First, because I’ve hardly been on two wheels (not counting over-enthusiastic cornering in a car) for more than 30 years, that is since I was a student. Even then I had an old, rusty unreliable Skoda that I couldn’t afford to run.
Second, more seriously, I have seen too many people too badly damaged through cycle accidents. I think none of their collisions was their fault, far from it, but tell that to the surgeons. I don’t like cycling on public roads, for me or for others. For that reason, by the way, I am nervous about the current mania for building cycleways in towns. Having tried them, I can see that they can save lives, reduce congestion and make us all healthier; but they are not, and never can be, completely comprehensive. Sooner or later the cyclists will find themselves sharing a carriageway with motor vehicles and, frankly, that’s not really safe.
Anyway, with some trepidation, off I went and covered a total of 60 miles over a few days on the Volt Metro. As you can tell from the photograph, I had enormous fun. The machine has a lot going for it.
Literally. The powerful electric motor will help you along to about 15mph, which was plenty fast enough for me. The Metro has Shimano Acera eight speed gears, plus four electric power boost settings – off, low, normal and high. The power only cuts in when you’re pedalling, and so you have to move your legs around in order to make progress. It’s electrical-assistance rather than pure electric, you see. Thus, you can still get some exercise on the bike. The difference is that the electric boost means that you can get further, faster than you would if you were relying on your poor old legs. The advantages of this are mostly obvious, and I particularly liked the way that the Metro can get you home and dry if you’re far away and caught in the rain… as tends to happen in a British summer.
I also found it a safer way to cycle. When I had the power off, my progress was predictably wobbly and slow; with the boost, once you get used to it, you can move along with the rest of the traffic much more smoothly, and setting off on a steep hill, say, does not invite disaster.
The Metro has its power directly driving the rear wheel and housed on the hub, with the big Panasonic battery lodged under the seat and along the frame in front of it. All this kit, as well as the sturdy aluminium foldable frame, makes the Volt Metro rather a heavy affair, undermining its status as a commutable, public-transport friendly folding model. It is, in short, a bit of a pig to lug around, weighing in as it does at 21.7kg.
It is a smart small-wheeled cycle, reminiscent of the original Moulton of the 1960s, and quite manoeuvrable around town and in traffic (if you dare). It has suspension on the front forks, which helps comfort, but I did get a little saddle sore nonetheless. You can have your Volt black or white (as well as a literal green option) and with a more or less powerful battery, giving you an electrically assisted range or either 40 or 60 miles.
At £1,400 this is no trivial purchase, and nor is it a toy. There are tax breaks, though, under the cycle-to-work and green commuting initiatives, which might make the Volt Metro an attractive alternative to public transport or the car – but always take into account the safety factor, let alone comfort.
As with electric and hybrid cars, the battery may be affected by the temperature and will have a shorter range in the winter months, other things being equal. Your Volt cycle will also require regular servicing, and you are not legally required to tax, register or insure it (although the latter is advisable). Apparently, there’s a 15-stone limit for the rider.
Even something as enjoyable to ride as the Volt Metro can’t, however, convince me that cycling to work, especially in London, is a great idea. Nothing can, I fear. For the park though, it’s quite the breeze.