Douglas Robertson from Stirling University is the latest person to take up the Electric Bike Challenge.
Read on for his thoughts of his experience, in his own words.
Thanks to Doug for providing such fascinating detail about his life with the bike (and without it).
A very worthwhile read...
Wednesday 9th November
Daniela delivered the bike to my office yesterday. Had agreed to take up the challenge as I had been cycling for years instead of using a car to commute from Glasgow to Stirling University – yes ok a train was also involved. Then in moving to Braco, had not quite worked out that a 12-mile cycle in and 12 miles out was going to be something of a challenge. But after a month cycling with Claire from Holland to Norway had assumed our fitness levels would get us through that. But had not factored in the 1.5 meters of snow last December that made this impossible for weeks. So was reluctantly forced to buy a car and surprisingly did a lot less cycling, as the stone in weight gain verifies. So the electric powered bike would be a good way to ease me back into distance daily cycling. Daniela had noted a big time reduction on her commute along the Hillfoots so I hoped I could get it down from 55 minutes to say 45 minutes. Did it once in the summer on a road bike in 35 minutes but was hot, sweaty and so tired for the rest of the day.
So drove to work with a 1980s Peugeot ladies racing bike in the back. My daughter has just started Art School in Aberdeen, and one of her friends was having to walk back and forward to Gray’s every day as she did not have the cash to get the bus. As this bike was in the garage, a £12 buy in Kinbuck Auction, it would solve a problem, and Iris my PhD student was coming down for a supervision session and agreed to take the bike back up on the train. I had originally planned to cycle in, but it was wet and windy so was glad not to be cycling in. Used the excuse that the bike had no lights to justify that decision to myself. Did I really want to start cycling the B3008 again?
So walked into the office I was confronted by a big, black, battery-powered bike. The front end was standard, if not quite stylish, in a heavier frame gauge than a standard bike. But the back looked quite different, bulky with two solid looking panniers – one hosting the battery and the other the charger unit - and a large grey drum at the centre of the back wheel. I lifted it up at the back and found it to be very heavy, at least compared to my other bikes. Seemed odd to carry such a big heavy power unit to power what had now become a big heavy bike.
Anyway the proof of the bike is in the cycling, so clipped in the control panel, noted the array of lights and had a quick cycle around the University in the rain. Felt odd, yes you cycled but something else was going on. Picking Claire up from Dunblane so put it in the back of the car and drove back to Strathallan.
Thursday 10th November
Ok did not do a proper run yesterday, but today was a new day. Cycled to Dunblane which was surprisingly straight forward given the gears, and that odd pulsing push of power I had noticed yesterday. The hills disappeared and did Dunblane station in just over 20 minutes and then got on the train to Stirling. Did you expect me to cycle all the way to Springkearse on the outer fringes of Stirling on my first day? Was off to the Stirling Archive, where I am working on a paper exploring Stirling’s early 20th century housing history, focusing on projects in St. Mary’s Wynd, and out at the Homesteads. The train journey would allow me to sort out notes on route.
The archive is located in Springkearse, that hotch potch of tin sheds, plumbers merchants and car showrooms. What Robert Cowan, Stirling’s benefactor, would have made of his good farming land being given over to a commercial wasteland, designed (sic) to accommodate the vagaries of car transport, while his beloved town centre continues to slowly rot. Cycled out by the back of the station, past the new cinema and the massive ordinance site ensconced with green and sand coloured military trucks and land rovers. Quite an odd sensation, that power pulsing, on what is an excellent road surface. The pulsing power comes and goes and you get up to a fair cruising speed quite fast. The acceleration from a standing stop is thus very impressive.
Had settled into a good morning work when I got a phone call from my daughter. Thought she had crashed that old bike, but it was the return of something she had when she was young, a very tight chest and severe difficulty in breathing. So a rapid cycle back, and in the panic noticed just how fast this heavy bike was. It had no difficulty in keeping up with the flow of traffic. My timing was great and thus straight onto a train then back up to Dunblane then onto the house, and back into the car.
Long drive up to Aberdeen to pick up an upset daughter, then back home so she could see her GP tomorrow. Both NHS 24 and Foresterhill Hospital appeared unable to comprehend her descriptions of both the symptoms and her past experience of the previous outbreak. It was a stomach upset and Galviston and milk was the cure. It’s hard being 18 and female, when dealing with professionals.
Friday 11th November
Was woken early and thought it was Hannah, but no it was my sister. Dad had died at about 07h00 this morning so could we meet up in Dundee at his care home. Called into work to explain my absence and headed off in the car, not the bike, again.
Saturday 12th November
Shattered by what had become two days challenging days - emotion, bureaucratic, formulaic and far too much driving. So the idea of doing nothing greatly appealed. By about 12 felt guilty about not using the bike so jumped on it and cycled off to Braco shop to buy rolls and a paper. Although it is only a two-mile round trip it has a short hilly section - the bike cut through them like a hot knife through butter. The power pulse feels odd, as normally cycling is a smooth flowing activity, but I can get used to that if hills disappear. Clearly there is some relationship with the gearing, but cannot figure it out.
Sunday 13th November
Again got up late and used ‘Black Lightening’ to cycle to the Braco shop to buy more rolls and a Sunday paper.
Monday 14th November
First proper commute cycled today and it took me 37 minutes, yip so far quicker than the 50-55 norm on my old trusty Saracen mountain bike, and not that much slower than by car. But if you then add in trying to find a parking place at the University then the door-to-door time may just favour the bike. Will test this later.
Went right through Dunblane the onto Bridge of Allan, but although this is quicker than the Glen Road the section from the Kier Roundabout in, does attract an odd arrogant breed of driver who has yet to adjust to the fact they are no longer driving on a motorway. If you are reading this, slow down and give us a bit more space.
Tuesday 15th November
As I had nothing in the diary decided to work from home. It was also grey and wet so easily justified. Sorry bike, but decided to charge up the battery as I noticed the light bars on the control panel had declined to just one green and the red.
Wednesday 16th November
Drove up to Dundee to sort out the funeral arrangements. Picked up beech hedging from an old friend on the way back, and thought the new hedge might become a fitting memory.
Thursday 17th November
Was chairing two sessions at an event organised by Stirling University’s School’s of Arts and Social Science in conjunction with Scottish Government department of criminal justice to explore aspects of the proposed sectarian behaviour football bill. So if you are chairing an event you need to look the part – shiny shoes, pressed trousers, ironed shirt and jacket – and it’s not advised to cycle in them. So I had done some careful packing the night before only to discover my fantastic completely waterproof Orblit panniers do not fit on the rack, given the bulk of both the battery and charger pods on either side. This is serious design fault, which with a bit more thought could be easily resolved. But today, the lack of panniers meant no smart clothes so it became another no bike day.
Friday 18th November
Dad’s funeral took place at Dundee Crematorium at 12h30. Strange how you catch up with cousins who you last meet at their respective parents funerals many years previous. Must be an age thing.
Saturday 19th November
Shattered, but spent the day working on finishing the raised beds – so any advice on how to tie the three tiers of sleepers together would be gratefully received.
Sunday 20th November
Not sure what I did, but certainly didn’t cycle.
Monday 21st November
Cycled to University in 42 minutes. It was dark on the way in and dark on the way back. Was it the lights that drained the battery – when I had come in the other day only used the lights on the way back and still had two bars of power left. Today it all went and was running on the red bar alone, desperately worrying that it would get used up and I would be stuck in the dark with no lights and no power to help pedal what would instantly become a very heavy bike, heavier than the Boris bikes of London. I did not take the charger with me, but used the space to carry phone, wallet and keys. So it’s a 24-mile maximum distance, without a recharge, if you use the lights in both directions. That is not so good, as this is clearly a city only bike. Either that or you need to recharge it at both ends of a longish journey, but that might not be practical if you want to do a long trip. This bike seems to be designed to fit a very narrow niche, and that is not really what cycling is about. If you have a bike you can and should be able to go anywhere. But if you only need to do short distances, and want a help to accelerate to a steady cruising speed and bump up hills this is your big baby.
This dilemma got me thinking. The bike is battery powered but given the wheels go round and round, why not fit a dynamo system that works the lights when needed, and recharges the battery when it is not? Might eke out a few more miles of powered push.
Tuesday 22nd November
Worked at home in the morning, then back up to Dundee to attend a discussion event at the DCA about the Museum of Loss and Renewal, by artists Tracy McKeena and Edwin Janssen. Was quite poignant, given my dad’s passing and the fact that a friend’s dad had been nursed in the Highland Hospice that commissioned the work.
Another car day I am afraid, as I was meeting up with my son, who is studying at Dundee University, then on to his Gran’s for ‘mince and tatties’ in Broughty Ferry. Train, bike and bus do not work well if there are two people on a cold winter night.
Wednesday 23rd November
Worked from home so again it was just the bread and paper spin down to Braco. Short spins are fun on this bike, and cut out any need to use the car for such journeys as its so much less faff. Not using the bike as much as I should be, but then that’s how my life is this week. But then it changed.
Just as well I had charged up the battery yesterday because my other son rang up and asked if I could ‘dog sit’ his Newfoundland, and the new arrival, a small bulldog, as his partner was out and he was supposed to be going out with other players from Falkirk Rugby Club. Cycled over to Dunblane in the pitch dark, yes it was very dark. Rear light is very large and bright, and is what all bike should have. It is built into the battery and charger rack. However, the front should be that bit more powerful. Might be an ideal size to show where you are if there are streetlights, but it’s not ideal in the unlit countryside given the relatively small area it lights up. Some German dynamo lights are very powerful, so not sure why they are not fitted to this bike.
Cycled hard to see how the motor worked, but despite straight road sections, hills and dales I just appeared to be holding a steady speed. Got to his house in just 15 minutes though, and then under the porch light noticed I had pressed the control panel to often and set the kilometer to average speed, not actual.
Thursday 24th November
Long drive down south to Herefordshire. Had planned this in the summer as I have always wanted to see rural England, with its great pubs, beer, cider and great locally produced food. And it was my birthday, and I have never taken the day off to celebrate it before. Had thought of taking bikes but it was clear from the manual that the bike has to be kept free from wet, given its mega electrical components. And it was pouring. A normal bike does not suffer the same way in the rain.
Friday 25th November
Birthday in Ross-on-Wye. What a great place this is for a break: very picturesque town on the Wye and so close to the Forest of Dean. Up the road is Hereford, with its impressive cathedral housing the chained library and the quite amazing Mappa Mundi http://www.herefordcathedral.org/.
And England is always warm and sunny. The hawthorns in hedgerows think it is Spring and are in bloom, but it not a spring like display, more dull and muted. Pondered whether this is the result of global warming, or just another unique weather event, those that now appear to occur annually? And we have no bikes to explore the mass of cycle routes.
Saturday 26th November
On to the Cotswolds to visit friends. The place is quite stunning, physically and architecturally, but at the same time has an ‘Archers’ Virtual Reality set feel about it. In the evening the self-imposed gender specific placing of people in the pub introduced an unexpected ‘Stepford Wives’ quality to that mix.
Sunday 27th November
Long drive back home – boy we are not doing much for our collective carbon footprint adding 850 mile to the clock, which used some 110 liters of fuel costing a staggering £150. Ok using the train and cycling would have cut the carbon. We would cut out our cars contribution, and would contribute via the train that would produce it anyway, with or without us. But on the actual personal financial costs, unless we booked early these would still be less by car and that’s the real challenge.
Monday 28th November
Off to Edinburgh to chair a meeting of the Scottish Government’s Private Rented Sector Strategy Group which is considering future prospects for this complex part of the housing market. Our work to be completed by March will be considered by Keith Brown the new Housing Minister, and local MSP.
The trains are a nightmare at present given the large number of cancellations to Dunblane. It appears trains, if running late get stopped at Stirling, so the 30-minute Edinburgh service today has morphed into an hourly one. This was a major problem a while back recalled some commuters, and it appears to be creeping back in again. That said, there is an industrial dispute going on, which Scotrail is not acknowledging. All that the travel signs say is ‘lack of a driver’ so to accommodate this it is practice to cut Dunblane, certainly not the privileged Edinburgh and Glasgow line. Three cancelled trains going to and from Edinburgh, so must write to the Transport Minister. Oh yes he is also the Housing Minister.
Smart clothes on this occasion are in a backpack – not the best solution cycling with something on your back. While I am on about the frustration of trains can I point out the Edinburgh train, not the Glasgow, is absolutely rubbish for bikes, and especially for such a large one like this. Two bikes on board and the guard will not let you on, and you are forced to wait for the next one. This adds a ‘Russian Roulette’ quality to travelling on this line, and explains why three of my colleagues, who travel from Edinburgh, now own folding bikes. So why this rubbish service, and rubbish train which makes no concessions to cycling – do civil servants no longer reside in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan, or do they now drive given the problems with the train? Must write to the Minister. Rant over, but the bike was great.
Tuesday 29th November
Into Stirling for another PhD session with Iris. The train disruption is clearly having an impact given the marked increase in road traffic, which was almost stationary from the town to the Keir roundabout. You always get a smug glow cycling past any line of stationary cars, but given the scale here the smugness extended into mirth. Such feelings do have an impact on certain drivers though, and true to form you start noticing the space between the car and the kerb side closing up so you cannot pass. Clipping wing mirrors is quite confrontational.
The road section between Bridge of Allan and Dunblane needs addressing for cycling given it is dangerous. There is a cycle ‘road train’, to create a bit of a cycling presence, but have yet to link up with it and always think prescribed times don’t work well for most people. Recent work tidying up the Glen Road is great – it took someone a while to notice its hard cycling, or walking for that matter, through deep piles of accumulated leaves and a host of fallen trees. Not really sure who did the work, but whoever you are you’ve done a great job. Perhaps Sustrains and Stirling Council should get together and adopt the Glen Road as the link between the two towns. Ok there is a steep hill going up in both directions, but with my battery bike that is no longer a real issue for me. And now all they need to do is sort out the link from Dunblane to the old resurfaced railtrack that takes you effortlessly to Doune. And then all that is needed is the final Sustrains section from Doune to Callander – anyone know if the landowner has been convinced that this blockage in the national cycle network is a national embarrassment as this map illustrates. http://www.sustrans.org.uk/map?searchKey=Search+our+mapping&searchType=search&Search=Find
Being able to access National Route 7 through this part of the Trossaches via the train link from Dunblane would open up new train and bike options. Ok not on the Edinburgh train, and not on my electric bike unless I could access power.
Wednesday 30th November
The big strike day and I had such good comradely intentions but the revolution will have to wait for better weather as there was no way I was going to peddle through that lashing rain. Even the thought of a bright blazing brazier at the end of my trip, which would dry me out, could not get me over the threshold. Dry, warm but not proud.