Electric bikes safer in London

Kalkhoff Integrale LTD
A good electric bike will carry you across London in safety and style. Photo source: Kalkhoff.

What makes electric bikes safer in London?

My experience of riding both electric bikes and pedal cycles, as well as conversations with other ebike riders, offers an answer: Yes, emphatically so. E-bikes are safer, faster and more fun.

I can only write from my own experience, as someone who has been riding electric bikes in London since 2003,  and share some of the stories of other electric bike riders I’ve encountered (hundreds, if not thousands) over the past dozen years.

Most of my experience and that of the riders I’ve talked with having been riding Kalkhoff electric bikes manufactured in Germany and sold by www.50cycles.com, an electric bike specialist based in London. If you’re nervous about cycling in London an electric bike might be just the thing to give you the confidence to ride in the capital. Here’s why.

Safer in traffic

DSC00017This is the key to why electric bikes offer better safety when riding compared to pedal cycles. It’s thanks to two features of electric bikes – their higher average speed and their ability to get up to that speed quickly.

Cycling a non-assisted bike in traffic takes courage and a great deal of effort to pedal up to a safe speed, and stay there.

Whenever you’re forced to stop for traffic or pedestrians, you have to expend the same effort to get up to speed again and again. This is the single thing that makes cycling in a busy, congested city a little gruelling.

This is where electric assistance really comes into its own – it takes the sting out of stopping and starting.

Electric bikes are much less of a hindrance for following road users. On the contrary, you’re likely to be the first to cross a junction while cyclists are still wobbling into action and motorists are getting into gear. When you’re underway, your speed is more likely to approach or match that of cars, buses, lorries and motorcycles, making them less likely (or able) to overtake.

Electric bikes tend to be a little larger as well, with thicker wheels, more upright seating positions and bigger lights, all of which adds to your road presence. You’ll feel safer and you’ll be given due respect, not cowed into making way.

Electric Bikes make hill-climbing safer

Electric bike test riders at last year's Redbridge Event
Electric bike test riders at last year’s Redbridge Event

London is a deceptively hilly city. Head north or south of the centre and you’ll soon find hills in places like Chalk Farm, Hampstead, Highgate to the north, Richmond, Battersea, Wimbledon and out into South East London.

It’s not called the Thames Valley for nothing. London is bumpy and unless you’re riding East to West, you will encounter tough climbs on your ride.

How does the tired pedal cyclist typically take on a hill? Head down, possibly standing up, weaving from side to side while pedalling and climbing relatively slowly. There are lots of things going wrong here – the rider is paying less attention to their surroundings and what’s ahead, taking up more space on the road, making it difficult for following traffic to pass safely. Any unnecessary exposure to passing traffic is to be avoided and hills are the worst for this.

Electric bikes fix all of these problems – there’s no need to get up and out of the saddle, no need to weave to find more energy in your tired legs. You can keep your eyes on the road ahead, glancing behind to see who’s coming. You’ll be climbing the hill perhaps twice as fast as is possible for most people on an unassisted bike.

Electric bikes not only climb hills more quickly, they mean you can do so without exposing yourself to extra risk of accidents.

Electric Bikes are Safer in Bad Weather

Your higher average speed means you’ll complete your journey more quickly, especially if there’s a headwind to deal with (headwinds can really suck the joy out of cycling), limiting your exposure to the elements. Your electric bike’s extra weight will make it less skittish on slick surfaces and more stable in gusts of wind. The long wheelbase and low battery position on most of our bikes is great for stability.

All Kalkhoff electric bikes are properly equipped with full mudguards, non-slip pedals and powerful lights and reflectors, all of which are essential in British weather.

Electric Bikes are Safer over long distances

Kalkhoff Tasman and Ergo electric bikes
Kalkhoff Tasman Classic and Impulse Ergo XXL electric bikes. Source: Kalkhoff

Most of our current range of electric bikes come with a whopping great 36V 17Ah Lithium ion battery that will assist your cycling for over 100 miles in favourable conditions, a good 50-70 miles even up against some hills and headwinds, with shopping on board.

That’s a long way on a bike. You’d have to be a fit and committed pedal cyclist to cover that distance and by the end, you’d be knackered and probably sore.

Being a tired cyclist is not ideal – your attention may wander as you devote mental energy to running the “keep going” part of your brain rather than the “where am i going? who’s behind me?” part that keeps you safe. Your speed is likely to have dropped. Hills present even more formidable obstacles than usual for the tired rider who’s already fending with the ‘man with the hammer‘ who is the cyclist’s worst enemy. On an ebike, the man with the hammer has no chance.

On a comfortable electric bike, surprising distances can be covered in relatively short lengths of time. Rather than be stripped down to save weight, a good electric bike doesn’t compromise on comfort, so cycling great distances is going to be less of an ordeal for your backside, hands and wrists.

As for your knees, they’ll keep going well beyond your usual unassisted cycling range. That’s why we have so many customers who use their e-bike to take on a daily commute without wearing themselves out even before the working day starts.

An electric bike will see you cycling further, faster, day after day.

Electric cyclists are better behaved, more considerate and kinder to animals. Better-looking too.

2016 Kalkhoff Impulse Evo Electric Bikes and riders demostrating impeccable behaviour.
2016 Kalkhoff Impulse Evo Electric Bikes and riders demostrating impeccable behaviour.

Jumping red lights, riding the wrong way up one-way streets, cycling on the pavement, riding two abreast and going out at night without lights are just some of the things that wind people up about cyclists.

However, some of this bad behaviour is an understandable effort to stay safe and clear of danger, or to save energy (stopping and starting is a pain on a pedal cycle).

Of course, not all cyclists behave like this. Some of assiduously observe the rules of the road at all times, whether or not someone is likely to be looking. I suspect that some of the best-behaved and considerate cyclists are riding electric bikes these days. Why?

Less exposure to pollution

April 2015 Pollution map
April 2015 Pollution map

London is known for many things – its world-class mix of cultures and peoples, its historical buildings and public spaces, its arts and entertainment, its jellied eels and street markets. It is definitely not known for the crisp, alpine freshness of its air.

In fact its air quality can be atrocious, down there with the worst in Europe, with hotspots like Oxford Street regularly breaching air quality limits.

But we all have to breathe and if your pedalling like mad to cycle across town to a meeting, you’ll be breathing a lot of it and deeply. Gulping down great lungfuls of central London’s air, all laden with noxious fumes and particulates, are very likely to cause long-term harm.

One way to avoid the worst of this is to wear a face mask and filter the air on its way in. Another is to avoid the need to breathe hard by by riding an ebike and avoiding undue exertion. You’ll be taking less pollution into your lungs and your extra speed and power makes longer or hillier routes that skirt around the most polluted areas yours to enjoy.

Throttle versus Pedal Assist: are all electric bikes equally safe?

eZee Sprint electric bike
eZee Sprint electric bike circa 2007 with twist and go throttle.

While all electric bikes should offer the benefits of increased hill-climbing oomph and speed, the way that power is applied could affect safety. A long time ago all our bikes came fitted with a throttle that you had to twist to apply power.

The benefit of this was that you could whizz around without pedalling, but on the downside you had to hold the throttle open all the time and letting it go would see you come to a halt eventually. Losing power after using your hand to signal when turning right across a lane of traffic into a side road certainly felt less than safe at the time.

With a pedal assist bike – usually a crank motor, or a hub motor with pedal sensors – you’re pedalling controls the motor rather than your hand on the throttle. You’re free to give hand signals when turning in either direction and crank motor bikes handle better than those with a front hub motor, with better weight distribution than a rear hub motor.

So in my experience, pedal assist bikes with a crank motor – Bosch, Impulse, Shimano STEPs, Yamaha, Brose, etc – offer the best combination of power, range, handling and control. They’re the safest electric bikes of all on this basis, especially if fitted to a fully-equipped bike with lights, non-slip pedals, and reflectors.

Where to test ride an electric bike safely in London

London Electric Bikes - 50cycles Shoreham-by-Sea
50cycles Electric Bikes Showroom

We moved our London electric bike showroom recently to put it within easy reach of one of the capital’s finest cycling settings – Richmond Park. A short ride from our shop along Sheen Lane gains entry to the Park, with its 20 mph speed limit on the road and miles of off-road cycling around its perimeter. It’s where all our early testing of Kalkhoff bikes was carried out, back in 2007 and 2008. We still love taking the latest models out for a spin around the park and along the Thames.

We keep a good number of electric bikes to test ride in East Sheen branch, you’re welcome to take one or two for a test ride, to try out different frame styles, sizes and gear set-ups.

We’re the best-placed electric bike shop in London for test rides. Call 50cycles East Sheen on 0208 876 4750 or just call in at:

50cycles Electric Bikes
345 Upper Richmond Road West
East Sheen
London SW14 8QN

Tel: 0208 876 4750 or our switchboard on 0333 900 5050


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