HARRY WALLOP examines the potential pitfalls of the latest travel fad 

The SWIND EB-01 is one of the most powerful electric bikes on the planet, with top speeds of more than 60mph. Indeed, it’s got so much va-va-voom that it wouldn’t be allowed on British roads, where the top legal speed for e-bikes is a stately 15.5mph.

But this does go some way towards explaining how Simon Cowell ended up with his back broken in three places at the weekend after falling off his new toy.

It has been claimed the ‘impact missed his spinal cord by about a centimetre’, a factor that spelled the difference between life in a wheelchair and the ability to walk again.

But this does go some way towards explaining how Simon Cowell (pictured) ended up with his back broken in three places at the weekend after falling off his new toy

But this does go some way towards explaining how Simon Cowell (pictured) ended up with his back broken in three places at the weekend after falling off his new toy

But this does go some way towards explaining how Simon Cowell (pictured) ended up with his back broken in three places at the weekend after falling off his new toy

‘Some good advice. If you buy an electric trail bike, read the manual before you ride it for the first time,’ the Britain’s Got Talent and X Factor supremo tweeted after emerging from a six-hour operation on Sunday.

That advice would presumably have said do not twist the handlebar accelerator too sharply when you are dealing with a motor that generates as much torque in the rear wheel as the Swind’s does.

Cowell was trying out his new £16,500 (before tax) e-bike in front of his son Eric, six, and his partner Lauren Silverman’s son Adam, 14, in the courtyard of his Malibu mansion when he came a cropper. It was an accident waiting to happen.

In a 2017 interview with the Mail, Cowell admitted to having had a few ‘close shaves’ on his electric bikes after splashing out £60,000 on seven of the vehicles in recent years.

In the past, he has owned an M1 Sporttechnik Spitzing and, later, switched to a Haibike Xduro — tellingly, both had a top speed of 15.5mph.

His new baby is in a different league. As the manufacturer says: ‘This is the most technically advanced and powerful electric bicycle on the market.’

Alongside Cowell, British celebrity fans of high-performance e-bikes include screen tough guy and his Malibu neighbour Jason Statham.

Electric dreams singer Miley Cyrus looks on trend in LA with a Pedego in 2012

Electric dreams singer Miley Cyrus looks on trend in LA with a Pedego in 2012

Electric dreams singer Miley Cyrus looks on trend in LA with a Pedego in 2012 

Biker chic actress Blake Lively on a Stromer in New York in 2011

Biker chic actress Blake Lively on a Stromer in New York in 2011

Biker chic actress Blake Lively on a Stromer in New York in 2011

Nice at-tyre: Actress Kate Hudson wearing flip-flops while riding a Mate X e-bike in Malibu

Nice at-tyre: Actress Kate Hudson wearing flip-flops while riding a Mate X e-bike in Malibu

Nice at-tyre: Actress Kate Hudson wearing flip-flops while riding a Mate X e-bike in Malibu 

But while Statham is never seen without a helmet when out and about, Cowell has historically taken a more devil-may-care attitude to health and safety, with fans observing that he not only often goes without a helmet but has even been seen riding in flip-flops.

Which brings us to accident rates. It is no surprise to hear that as sales of e-bikes in the U.S. have rocketed — up 90 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2020, according to one analyst — so the number of accidents associated with them has risen, too.

A study published in December last year revealed that there were 3,075 e-bike injuries in the U.S. between 2000 and 2017.

It also found that people riding e-bikes were more likely to suffer internal injuries and be hospitalised compared to either e-scooter users or traditional cyclists.

E-bike injuries were also more than three times as likely to involve a collision with a pedestrian, the researchers reported in the U.S. journal Injury Prevention. It did not mention any e-bike-related deaths, however.

In Britain, e-bike sales are rising fast, too. Once derided as expensive, heavy and inefficient cheat-mobiles, e-bikes have become this year’s must-have gadget for those who no longer want to take public transport to work in the Covid era.

In 2016, Halfords offered just three models. Now it has 40. It says sales are up 96 per cent on last year.

And Brompton, Britain’s biggest manufacturer, expects at least one in ten bikes it sells in the UK to be electric — even though it only launched an e-version of its famous folding bike in 2018.

As in the U.S., this rise in sales is likely to spark an increase in accident rates. But e-bike-associated incidents have been few and far between until recently.

The UK did not record its first e-bike death until September 2018 when a female pedestrian died, the victim of an e-bike hit-and-run.

Britain’s better safety record can no doubt be attributed to the fact that our most popular models bear little resemblance to the fearsome Swind EB-01. In most cases, a British e-bike looks like a normal bicycle with a large battery, the size of a shoe box, placed either on the back or integrated into the frame.

Although most models have a low-powered motor, you still need to pedal — otherwise it is classified as a moped and will be taxed as such. But, depending on how well the bike is designed, you don’t need to pedal as hard as you would a mechanical bike.

The rule is that the motor can assist you up to 15.5mph. You can, of course, go much faster — but only under your own steam.

A commute becomes a zip across town, while an arduous slog up a hill becomes enjoyably light exercise. Some of the biggest fans are older consumers who fell out of love with cycling — as well as those who can’t face a steep incline.

Which is why we chose elevated Hampstead Heath, North London, to put five e-bikes to the test for Mail readers who are considering making a purchase (and who haven’t been put off by Simon Cowell’s experience).

The 4.75-mile route involved main roads, a couple of roundabouts and a rugged, bumpy track through woodland to recreate a rural commute. The bikes also had to climb a steep 382 ft before hurtling back to the start.

I recorded the time to complete the circuit — but since this may have been affected by traffic, I also measured the average speed, stripping out periods when the bike had to stop behind a bus. Though some bikes fared better than others, I soon realised that Simon Cowell is on to something with his passion for e-bikes. I had a blast!

You still feel like you are cycling — but with a very stiff breeze pushing you along. And managing to ride to the top of Hampstead Heath without breaking a sweat? That’s a miracle.

VanMoof Electrified S3 

 

Price: £1,798

Weight: 19kg

Stated range: 37 to 93 miles

Charging time: Four hours

Battery at start: 96 per cent At end: 83 per cent

Average speed: 12.99mph 

Time to complete course: 21 min 35 sec

Wow. A beautiful, relatively light contraption that doesn’t look like an e-bike. The battery is hidden in the frame, and the machine just eases down the road. It has four different speeds. Plus, there’s a booster button on the handle for an extra spurt of power when you are really struggling.

HARRY’S VERDICT: 5/5

Assist Hybrid Electric Bike

Price: £599

Weight: 18kg

Stated range: Up to 20 miles

Charging time: Three hours

Battery at start: 100 per cent At end: 100 per cent

Average speed: 12.03mph

Time to complete course: 23 min 21 sec

I was wary about the cheap price. Not the sleekest of models and it was also the noisiest. But the motor was powerful and the battery remained on full charge until the end. It isn’t the best on hills. I could feel my leg muscles burning. The design, which looks like a folding bike, means you end up uncomfortably scrunched up over the handlebars.

3/5

 Elops 920

Price: £1,399.99 Weight: 25.2kg

Range: 31 to 56 miles

Charging time: Six hours

Battery at start: 98 per cent

At end: 84 per cent

Average speed: 13.94 mph

Time to complete course: 20 min 39 sec

A very comfortable and elegant bike — and its motor is almost entirely silent. It is also very well designed, with seven gears and an easy-to-read screen displaying speed and battery life. This Elops, an in-house brand of Decathlon, recorded the highest average speed of the bikes tested. One flaw, however: it’s extremely heavy. At more than 25kg, many people would struggle to lift it up steps.

4/5

Carrera Vengeance E Men’s Electric Mountain Bike

Price: £1,099

Weight: 23.3kg

Range: up to 40miles

Charging time: Six hours

Battery at start: 5 bars (out of 5) At end: 4 bars

Average speed: 12.96 mph

Time to complete course: 22 min

The only mountain bike I tested, it coped extremely well on rough terrain. Its big, wide wheels also made it a comfortable ride. In sum, a powerful bike for not too much money. When I had to do a hill-start on a steep incline, I hardly had to use any muscle power. It is very heavy and not pretty, with the battery on the frame. But with eight gears and a smooth ride, a decent e-mountain bike.

3.5/5

Brompton E-bike H2L

Price: £2,595

Weight: 16.6kg

Range: 20 to 45 miles

Charging time: Four hours

Battery at start: 5 bars (out of 5)

At end: 4 bars

Average speed: 13.71mph

Time to complete course: 20 min 49 sec

This may be a folding bike but it contains an unbelievably strapping motor. On full power you only have to touch the pedals gently and the bike flies. It completed the course the quickest — and coped with rough gravel paths surprisingly well. Due to its small wheels, you have to give it some welly to get up hills. It also has a small saddle and narrow handlebars — and it’s very expensive. But a great e-Brompton all the same.

4/5

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