Our first ever electric bike was stolen. Here's how we got it back.
The idea of 50cycles Electric Bikes became a reality one day in August 2003 when our first electric bike arrived in the UK. It was a little Honda Step Compo that had been hand-packed and despatch from Tokyo by my brother and 50cycles co-founder Scott Snaith. The very same bike was stolen from us late last year, but now it's back in our possession and on display in our new London showroom.
Honda Step Compo
This first e-bike of ours was perhaps a little too small to carry a 6'2" bloke around Central London, but it did the job magnificently while being small enough to fold away, carry into the lift and stow under my desk at work. There was no way I was going to leave a bike this unique, eye-catching and desirable locked up outside.
The Honda Step Compo remains one of the very best folding electric bikes ever manufactured. Weighing under 18kg it was light and easy to fold and store. It was also exciting and fun to ride with plenty of power to make the most of it's 3-speed Shimano hub. Its aircraft-grade Aluminium frame had beautiful lines with a look that has never been matched (though attempts were made to imitate it).
The 2001 Step Compo was designed to be sold with the Honda's Step Wagon concept to give "last mile" mobility between car park and ultimate destination. We also heard that the company's racing team used them as pit bikes. One of our early customers planned to cycle from the terminal out to his private plane and stow it in the cockpit.
If it had a shortcoming it was the battery capacity, 24V and 3.6Ah. It was also a bit on the small side for most European riders. Despite both of these drawbacks it was an incredibly capable and compact little bike that survived a tough daily commute for the best part of a year before we put it into storage.
Our first bike was quickly followed by a couple more as the embryonic 50cycles.com website soon attracted interest from other London commuters, a tiny underground of e-bike enthusiasts and even a paparazzo who understood its potential to be deployed from a car boot and pursue A-Z listers around Soho. Then another shipment and another... until Honda stopped manufacturing them and ran out of stock early in 2004.
Despite the demand we always managed to hang on to Bike Number One over the years and it moved around from one location to another, finally finding a home in the foyer of our new headquarters in Loughborough in Spring 2016. Perhaps we should have made a greater effort to secure it because within six months it had been snatched from the foyer. Never to be seen again, we feared.
We scoured the usual stolen bike dumping grounds of ebay and gumtree, but no trace. Nothing at all until a couple of weeks ago when Anthony Douglas of 50cycles stumbled up an advert on Facebook. Our bike had washed up in a town about 20 miles away from our office, so we decided to investigate.
Scott drove to see the gentleman who was offering the bike for sale and explained its origin, its history and its symbolic importance to us at the first ever bike we imported. He'd bought it recently for about £150 so we agreed to a finder's fee of £50 and Scott loaded the bike up and brought it home.
The funny thing is the bike was in a better state when we collected it than when it was taken. We were certain it was the right bike as it still had the 16-inch Schwalbe Marathon tyres I fitted after a couple of punctures early in its London life. The seller had even found a way to hot-wire the battery so that it could be recharged, thought the 14-year-old power pack is past it's best.
We could have it re-celled and ride it around but instead it's going to take pride of place in our new London electric bike showroom in Twickenham. Back in its home town but kept safely under lock and key in an alarmed and camera-monitored premises.
To see a key part of our company's history and a bike that remains one of the best-designed electric bikes ever to make it off the drawing board and onto British roads, visit our new electric bike showroom at 46-48 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3RJ