This Friday I tested with some partners a speed pedelec. The bikes were kindly provided by Juizz, a company specializing in electric assist bicycles and electric mopeds. We tested two Blue label Cruiser NuVinci, and a Strömer ST2, a real power bike. They both assist cycling to 45 km/h and multiple the power you deliver to maximum four.
We started at the showroom in Utrecht and weaved in and out the busy bicycle traffic. This is part of a route I regularly take from my workplace to the office of the city of Utrecht. As I am often late, I am used to ride this with a 30km/h speed, which is quite challenging with unpredictable behavior of cyclists and pedestrians. Riding a speed pedelec was even more challenging, my heart rate was lower as normal with the same speed, but the demand for attention was at the same level. The acceleration at traffic lights was fabulous, but the number of traffic lights limited the average speed in the city a lot.
Climbing the yellow bridge with some headwind was fun, but the busy two-way cycle path demanded more attention than normally. We soon left the city via the industrial area Lage Weide and rode along the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal in the direction of Amsterdam. The average cruising speed was 30 km/h, but for a comfortable conversation the speed dropped to 26 km/h. The route along the canal is one of the first fast cycle routes created in recent years. It is a direct route, connecting Utrecht to Maarssen and Breukelen.
In 1998 the vision was delivered to connect Utrecht to Amsterdam (the so-called Dom-to-Dam route, a nice alliteration of the landmarks of both cities), and between Utrecht and Breukelen the surface of the road has been changed to a fietsstraat. After Breukelen the road along the canal is divided into a separated bidirectional cycleway and a narrow lane for cars. At junctions there is no separation, but due to the limited number of cars this wasn’t a problem. However the transitions between the cycle lanes and the separated cycleway were designed as recommended in the manuals, they were not comfortable for high-speed cycling.
After one hour we concluded that Amsterdam was too far and we returned along the canal. We now faced some headwind, but the speed remained approximately 30 km/h. For rehydration we had a refreshing pitstop at railway station Breukelen. In Utrecht we took another route to return the bikes and crossed the canal via the very narrow cycleway at Demkabrug. Unfortunately co-rider Harry had been too enthusiastic and one bike was out of power, so speed dropped to 22 km/h. Back in the bustling Biltstraat I sped up once again, to remember the feeling of the bike.
More pictures of the infrastructure between Breukelen and Utrecht and the high-speed ride can be found in my Flickr-album.
In a short evaluation we concluded that speed pedelecs can extent the range of bicycles for commuting to approximately 25 kilometers, depending of the traffic conditions. They perform best in low traffic volumes, without delays of traffic lights. We also concluded that bicycle infrastructure is not designed for the speed of these bicycles, even at the so-called fast cycle routes. In fact, speed pedelecs are no traditional bicycles and shouldn’t be treated as them. Does this mean new regulations are necessary, or have the riders enough responsibility to adapt their behavior to the circumstances? We don’t have a clear answer to that, it also depends on the future penetration of the marked. Will they remain a niche or will they become widely accepted by the public? The shop owner doesn’t expect to drop the prices in the future, but expects improvement of the motor and the batteries for the same price, comparable to the evolution of computers.
As a last conclusion we noted that the relation Utrecht-Amsterdam is too far for an average commute by bicycle. Parts of the route might be interesting, but most of the route along the canal is too far from villages to be attractive for commuting in between. The railway remains the solution for connecting the city centers of Amsterdam and Utrecht, but the attractiveness of that is highly depending on the number of available parking places at the railway stations.
Riding home on my regular bike I discovered that the full suspension of the Cruiser bike also absorbed a lot of energy, and the direct contact to the street of my regular bike adds a sensation of speed.