As the pandemic shutdown starts to ease, electric bicycles are enjoying a surge in interest as people look for a viable, self-distanced alternative to cars or public transport. Manufacturers and shops say demand has rocketed. Halfords, the UK’s biggest bike retailer, told the Guardian that e-bikes now account for 11% of sales.

You can ride an electric bike if you’re 14 or over. Provided the motor only assists you to ride to a maximum speed of 15.5 mph (25km/h), you don’t need a licence to ride one nor does the bike need to be registered, taxed or insured. Batteries can be recharged from a mains outlet, which can take two to six hours, depending on size and type of battery.

So how different is an e-bike from a normal push-bike, what’s it really like for getting around a hilly town like Lewes and where’s the best place to buy one? We invited people across Lewes to share their experiences. Huge thanks to everyone who contributed:

Dougal Fleming – ‘Travel with the smile factor’
Electric bikes aren’t just the future of short-distance travel, they can also beckon a new age of “exercising without realising it” as a form of transport. One can attach a trailer for children or panniers for heavy goods. You can move large distances without getting as sweaty as before. The enjoyment and smile factor means you want to spend longer on the bike.

After a long day of work instead of going for a short ride on your bike and being limited by a route, more is possible. Someone living in Malling can easily cycle to Black Cap, Kingston and back to Malling. Seven miles from Lewes to Brighton is achievable within 20mins, via the A27, or the Woodingdean or Ditchling Ridges. They also allow older people to not just stay active but swift, and able to keep pace with grandchildren. There are many models and makes. My advice is to buy a high quality one so it doesn’t break, with good suspension to deal with the increased weight. Also important are: comfortable seat, bright lights connected to the battery, helmet, gloves, repair kit, and a high-quality chain.

Once you’re all set, the running costs are minimal. In terms of recommending bikes. I always recommend Mr Cycles in Seaford who retro-fit bikes with electric capabilities. Rod is a thoroughly good man. Lewes Cycle Shack is also a good place to go.

Jill Goulder – ‘Flattens the hills’
I tried one in a place that is similarly hilly as Lewes last year and was impressed – it felt like riding an ordinary bike but with a lovely flattening out of the hills. Main issue would be where to keep it safely – it’s an expensive piece of kit.

Janet Anthony – ‘Great on hills – heavy to manoeuvre’
I have a Volt (bought at shop no longer in Uckfield), good middle range bike, great on Lewes hills, starting on a hill takes a bit of getting used to, downside – heavy to manoeuvre and you cannot transport on a regular bike rack because of the weight. Mine is the folding Metro version. The Volt Knightsbridge is another non-folding, lovely-looking bike.

Louise Lucas – ‘Wheel release helps with portability’
My mum is absolutely thrilled with her e-bike from Giant shop. She lives in Northumberland and it copes with the big hills all around hers without a problem. It’s the same as Janet’s in that it’s heavy and can’t be put on a normal bike rack but if you get the shop to change the wheel attachment to a quick release at the front it is possible to put in large cars.

Jon Gunson - e-bike

Jon Gunson and his electric mountain bike

Jon Gunson – ‘Great in summer – let’s see about winter’
I tried a folding commuter’s bike, and a mountain bike. I chose the latter because its big wheels give a more comfortable ride on our bumpy local cycle tracks. Petrol for the car costs me about £50 a month; using the bike instead would cut that by around 99%, though I haven’t worked out how to carry bags of firewood or compost, let alone passengers. Sooner or later, of course, one has to spend a few hundred pounds on a new battery – but then, no road tax and minimal insurance. Cycling home through the fields from work on a June evening is an enjoyable experience. I suspect it might be less so in winter’s wind and rain. We shall see.

Eleanor Austin – ‘A RadRhino for my brother’
My brother bought an e-bike this year. He used to run Dr Bike in Lewes and said: “I bought a RadRhino from RadPowerBikes.eu which is in Utrecht in the Netherlands. I initially looked at much more expensive and sophisticated bikes from other manufacturers but the RadPower products are considerably cheaper and offer extremely good value for money in my opinion. At the time of purchasing, the bike was on offer and included delivery to Crete, Greece, where I live. It’s not a next-day service but the bike arrived well packed and undamaged. It took a short while to complete the final assembly with the tools supplied.

“The bike comes standard with fat tyres which offer a very comfortable ride regardless of terrain. There are seven gears and a 750-watt rear hub motor. The battery is mounted on the frame and provides plenty of power to take me up mountain roads or tracks on trips over 50km. There is a sturdy integral rear rack with mounting for a further rack at the front. Lights and mudguards are standard and there are a number of official accessories from the company website. It is also possible to customise and upgrade the bike with third-party accessories.I use the bike daily as I have no car. It’s possible to carry a week’s shopping with ease as the bike has a 150kg payload and the motor is capable of powering the bike up to 40km/h if you unlock it.

I would definitely recommend a look at the website as there are several different bikes in their lineup.”

Sue Fleming e-bike

Sue Fleming – enough pedal power for the grandchildren

Sue Fleming – ‘Can keep up with my athletic family’
I was very lucky to get a little used secondhand Matra from France. I love it. Going up hills is a total smile maker. Today, not only could I keep up with my adult children who are seriously athletic cyclists, but I could cruise up the steep hills alongside and fly downhill. The Bosch battery seems excellent, good gears as well as clear assistance levels from the battery, a very bright light in front and behind gives much better illumination than an ordinary bike. The weight took a bit of getting used to and one day I just had to let it drop which dislodged the battery, so I always carry the battery key now so I can push it back into place. I also carry a thick heavy chain & padlock in my basket or rucksack. Lets get electric bikes cheap enough for everyone to rent/ own/ share. Then we can put pressure on for more cycle lanes and safe lock-up places in towns.

Cressida Jane Murray – ‘Prices need to come down’
The Cycleshack kindly let me try out an electric bike and I managed to zoom up School Hill. It was relatively easy to get used to, great fun and I would love to buy one . However, because of the price and weight, I opted for a lightweight Dutch-style bike and hope to get fitter so I can get up those hills. I would definitely consider getting a ‘family’ one in the future if the cost comes down a bit. I would then be able to do more shopping and make longer trips instead of using the car.

Sheri Donno – ‘Models are getting better’
I have used a few different electric bikes, all from Lewes Cycleshack. Over the last few years the bikes have changed. The range (distance) has improved and the motors are getting smaller. I would recommend Bosch or Schimano motors as they have great service and back up.

John Smith – ‘Steep inclines are a breeze’
I have recently purchased two Orbea electric mountain bikes from Cycle Shack, £3000.00 each. Unfortunately my wife’s one hasn’t arrived yet. But I have been having immense fun on mine. Cycling up steep inclines is a breeze, including School Hill, Station Street, Chapel Hill, Swanbrough escarpment, and Mill Hill to the golf course. At age 56, these would have defeated me on a clockwork/analogue bike. Highly recommended to anyone who finds cycling a challenge, but would like to reap the benefits.

Tim Rabjohns - e-bike

Tim Rabjohns and his VanMoof s2

Tim Rabjohns – ‘Tracker app for peace of mind’
I have a VanMoof s2 – I bought it to replace a second car – it has a great app and a bike hunter service that will track down your bike if it’s stolen – which put my mind at ease from a security point of view.

Dom Ramos – ‘Uphill no longer daunting’
I bought a ‘Sun City One’ (I know, it sounds like an apartheid-era embargo-breaker) made in France with really good engineering (Shimano gears), at Gerry’s vintage car garage in Ham Lane, which is the sole dealer in the UK for Sun City ebikes. It cost £1,200, which is very good value compared to some sold in Lewes. The great advantage is that it is foldable, so in this COVID era I can travel on a train to London but not have to use the Tube.

In Lewes, it has transformed how I feel about the town. Areas that I had often mentally closed off a bit for being too far to walk to suddenly become accessible again and the thought of going uphill (ever a factor in a town literally named after ‘hills’) no longer daunting when energy is low.

A criticism of e-bikes is sometimes that you don’t get exercise on them. You do in fact find yourself cycling (especially if you run the battery down on purpose to make it last better between charges) as Olympic cyclist Victoria Pennington has said.

Chris Smith – ‘Fifth time lucky’
E-bike 1:
Heinzman conversion kit. Turned a much-loved lightweight into an unbalanced overweight clunker.

E-bike 2: Giant LaFree. First serious electric bike produced. Wonderful bike for its time. Designed for older Dutch people to ride on the flat but I rode it over the downs and wrecked it. Giant decided not to provide parts anymore so that was the end of it

E-bike 3: Conversion kit by a small one-person business that had gone out of business by the time it needed repair.

E-bike 4: Made by Momentum. Great design but with a variety of practical problems. Only place to repair it is in Paris.

E-bike 5:  Conversion from Mr Cycles in Seaford. Very happy so far.

Moral of story- be careful what you buy and read my article on Travel Log Lewes