Any pedestrian recently out and about in Newcastle might be familiar with the rush of wind that hits you when someone on an electric vehicle flies past. E-bikes, E-scooters and E-skateboards are nothing new, but bike sellers around town can tell you how they've advanced and increased in popularity. Locals love them.
Stephen Brown of Newcastle Electric Bikes on Maitland Road in Islington has been in business for 12 years. He says once you've ridden around the block on an electric bike, you wouldn't ride anything else. Physically, it's like a normal bike, but you go further because of the extra charge and you go more often because it's more enjoyable.
He's always sold electric bikes.
"Back then they were a joke and a toy. Now they'll spend $20,000 no trouble," he says.
"All of my bikes are commuter; I've got some mountain bikes, but they're not for hurtling down Glenrock. They're for around town and have become very popular."
he maximum motor size on his bike is 250 watt (the legal limit for footpath and cycle ways) and top speed is 25kph. He has six brands and each come with four to six models. They weigh around 25kg and are charged in ports. In terms of theft, he recommends not chaining them to the same lamp post every day if you ride to work.
Although some are Australian brands, all of the bicycles that Brown sells are made in China and operate on lithium ion batteries. They don't have a memory - meaning charging them to full or running them to flat doesn't harm the battery. The battery life can be from five to 10 years, but someone who rides every day would probably get three years out of a battery. They are easily ridden uphill to King Edward Park or Tyrrell Street on The Hill while sitting in the seat. A rider can get six hours or more on one charge.
Brown has opted to only sell e-bikes.
"I don't sell scooters; mainly because I don't want the clientele," he says.
One of his customers, Joe Conneely of Lake Macquarie, had been researching bikes before buying one in March. He says he always used his bicycle to get around, but he didn't love the hills.
"I wanted something to help me get to work with the rising cost of living," Conneely, a nurse, says. "I have a sore knee; I wanted to keep moving but not have high impact on my legs. The assistance of the bike was perfect."
Conneely tried eight different bikes before going with Earth, an Australian brand, that cost him just over $3000. They come with both power assisted in the rear and in the pedal. He liked the ones with the power in the pedals; it felt much more intuitive.
He bought an electric bike for two reasons.
"One for exercise, but also the ability to commute to work. It's got storage on the back. It's really good, the lights are built into it. You can ride at night. As a nurse I commute back at night many times," he says. "It's nice to get the fresh air when you've been working all day."
Metro Cycles in Newcastle West has stocked e-bikes since they opened in 2014. Lyn Patrick, one of Metro's owners acknowledges an increase in sales, particularly when COVID hit.
Metro sells at more than 15 brands of electric bikes.
"COVID made people think of other forms of transport and not being so reliant on cars. There's definitely a commuter factor there. Also infrastructure is starting to improve," she says.
She notes it has a long way to go, but there are visible bike path changes on Hunter Street and Honeysuckle Drive and better bike access on bus routes. People are slowly starting to realise cycling is a good option. She says she finds that the commuter market tends to be a bit younger or people concerned about the petrol situation.
"There's also the older people, retirees that are just wanting to get some exercise. That's a good way for them to get into it. People have more confidence [now]. The earlier days of e-bikes were less reliable," she says. "They've been around for a long time; there were certainly customers who bought them in the early days and put motors on them."
Patrick personally opts for an e-bike. It is a good way to get around with an 18kg dog and a load of shopping.
"I think parking is the other big thing that has turned it,' Patrick says. "People living and working in an area where there's no parking, it makes 100 percent sense to ride."
Patrick owns an Orbea Katu, a mini-cargo bike with a Bosch mid-drive system. She charges it once every three weeks for a 5km ride each way every day. She doesn't mind riding at night in dark areas; an e-bike makes her feel safer than a regular bike.
Recently Marilyn Oughton decided to buy e-bikes. Her husband Mark just turned 70, and she's approaching the same age. They've ridden bicycles all over the world, though she wouldn't classify herself as a serious cyclist.
"I have spoken to quite a few people lately who are our age and older who are going back to bike riding with the electric component and they feel they can manage that," she says.
"I think the big thing, with older women, they just go 'no I'm not going there. That's too difficult; I'm passed it.' I think it is a confidence thing."
The Oughtons are very active and also do yoga, but they both have arthritis in their knees. They recently moved from Dudley into the city.
"We hardly ever use the electric component of the bike, but I think it's a psychological thing that you've got it on your bike and if you do get tired you can switch it on," she says. "For instance when we go to Harris Farm we'll go to Memorial Drive. I'll go up with the electricity turned on."
The opted paying $5500 each for a French brand called Moustache Xroad Open.
The e-bikes can be for people in every stage of life.
Over a year ago, Oceane Campbell of Maryville bought an electric bike to act as a second car without the cost. She chucks her three kids on the back and they go to the beach or preschool.
"There's no way I could do it without the electricity," she says.
She's never been a big cycler, but after having her third child and thinking about it for a year or two, she decided to purchase an electric bike.
"I'm not particularly good at cycling. I've done it to get around particularly since living in Newcastle. I've been riding to work at John Hunter for the last five or six years. I've used it as a way of transport and exercise," she says.
"It's for practicality and fun. I knew the kids would enjoy it during school. We drop off and pick-up and don't have to worry about parking. I can chuck whichever kid off the bike. He can walk in by himself, same with pick-up. I don't have to worry about getting there to get a park."
She finds it is definitely a nicer way of travelling. She opted for a Yuba Spicy Curry Longtail. It looks like a normal bike upfront, but it's longer. She charges the battery every one or two weeks, depending how much she rides.
People of all ages and backgrounds are hopping onto the e-bike craze; it doesn't seem to be slowing down.