13 July 2022

E-bike library expanding so more Canberrans can try some easy riding and cut fuel bills

| Ian Bushnell
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Three women with E-bikes

SEE-change executive officer Brook Clinton, left, and project officers Zuleka Chan and Eleanor Lawless at the Downer Community Centre. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

Alarmed every time you fill up the car, but an EV remains out of reach and you’re not really a Lycra person? An E-bike could be the no-sweat answer.

You won’t be on your own if the demand at not-for-profit SEE-change’s E-bike library is any guide.

For the past couple of years, it’s been lending E-bikes out of its premises at the Downer Community Centre so Canberrans can road-test them before shelling out for one.

Now SEE-change has won a new contract for the ACT Government-funded program that will allow it to expand its fleet and staff to cater to that growing demand and conduct events to promote awareness of E-bikes.

It also means the range of E-bikes on offer will become more diverse, including family-friendly versions that enable riders to carry children and/or pets.

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SEE-change executive officer Brook Clinton says the library kicked off in 2020 with two-week loans, and despite little promotion, it attracted long waiting lists. To give more people chance to try the bikes, later year they reduced the loan period to eight days.

But now it will return to the optimum two weeks.

“We’re still hoping to give as many people as possible the opportunity to try the bikes,” Brook says.

SEE-change manages the program, arranges bookings and maintains the bikes in partnership with Canberra business Switched On Cycles, which has been selling E-bikes for 15 years.

The fleet will grow to 17 bikes. About one-third are standard models and the rest are “cargo bikes” or various configurations with carriers on the front.

“There’s a huge range these days with child seats,” Brook says. “We’re trying to showcase a whole bunch of different options for carrying kids anywhere from six months upwards.”

One bike can carry four toddlers in the front. Theoretically, Brook stresses.

“Theoretically, it can fit four toddlers if you get an additional seat fitted,” Brook says, “but we’ve got it set up just with two seat belts.”

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Most of the bikes are Chinese-made, although one of the new models is an exciting tilting cargo bike from a small Australian company.

Brook says the borrowers range from people with disabilities to those recovering from injury or with fitness worries to families and commuters.

“For instance, we’ve got a model that is quite good for people who have certain ailments. Some of the bikes are a really nice way to get back into cycling if you haven’t been on a bike for quite a while,” she says.

“And then, of course, there are families looking to replace a second car, and then there’s just your standard commuter who wants to get to work maybe a little bit faster and a little bit less sweaty.”

David Witte from Ngunnawal checks out a family E-bike

David Witte from Ngunnawal checks out a family E-bike at SEE-change at the Downer Community Centre.

David Witte of Ngunnawal has two children and a dog and would like to reduce his car use as much as possible.

David used to cycle regularly, but daycare demands have limited him to the car so an E-cargo bike could be the easiest way to get back on the saddle.

“If the kids can fit in the front, we can go for rides and to daycare and everything,” he says.

The trip to daycare is only about 10 minutes, but then he could continue to work.

“It’s still the same amount of time to get there because of the way the roads are. But if I can go on a bike, I have all these bike paths near my house that are perfect for it, so why not?”

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Project officer Zuleka Chan says charging is a simple matter of plugging into a normal socket, with most bikes taking about five fours for a range of 40 to 70 kilometres.

The ones with bigger batteries will take about six to seven hours and provide up to 100 km of riding.

“It is easiest to just plug it in overnight,” Zuleka says. “They will have limiters and then they’re not going to overcharge or anything.”

But E-bikes aren’t mopeds, says Brook, who rides one herself around the inner north.

“A lot of people are unaware that you still have to pedal,” she says. “The motors will only kick in once you start pedalling. And that addresses a concern that some people have in terms of like, oh, what if they get away from me?

“It’s very much like riding a normal bike. It just feels like you have an incredibly good tailwind, or you’re all of a sudden a lot more fit.”

The new contract will allow SEE-change to organise weekend promotional events, and not just in Downer.

“You’ll see us around town. We’re hoping to get to different parts of Canberra, take the bikes down to Tuggeranong and up to Gungahlin, that kind of thing,” Brook says.

Ideally, there would be more E-bike libraries in other locations across the city.

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SEE-change is also gathering data on E-bike use, such as distances travelled and destinations because, as Brook explains, “the main aim of this program is to demonstrate that you can replace a lot of different types of car trips with these kinds of bikes”.

“That’s why we do have the models that are really good for carrying either children or goods. Some people might think they are just for commuting or just for recreation, but they’re definitely for all different trips and errands that fit into your daily life.”

To try an E-bike, visit the Downer Community Centre at 6 Frencham Pl, Downer, or the SEE-change website.

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