An old form of transport came face to face with the latest technology in a Hampshire village - steam trains on the heritage Watercress line puffed past local people trying out e-bikes up a hill in Medstead, and they weren't getting out of puff at all. The scene was CPRE Hampshire's 2011 trial of e-bikes, which attracted people who hadn't ridden a bike in thirty years.
Although popular in other countries like Germany and China, e-bikes haven’t really taken off here yet. To try to tackle this, CPRE Hampshire set up the trial, which allowed people in a village in the hilliest part of their county to borrow one for free for a week. In return they were asked to record their experiences in a travel diary. The trial was launched with a well publicised event in the village centre where anyone could turn up and ride up a private road nearby.
The e-bikes were provided for free by a local cycle shop, which also provided servicing. Equipment such as lights and panniers were provided with the e-bikes and participants were required to keep a diary of their experiences. Over thirty people took part including people who hadn’t ridden a bike for thirty years. While very popular, some people felt that they could not justify the cost of a new e-bike for themselves and a pool of e-bikes is now being considered. Another concern raised by participants was the speed of other traffic and lack of safe routes to cycle on.
The experiences of the pilot were very useful in helping set up a pool of e-bikes in the neighbouring South Downs National Park. Since April 2012, these have been available for visitors as well as local people to ride. Through a partnership with local businesses, such as tea shops and cafes, people can charge up their e-bikes while stopping for refreshment. Not only does this sort of tourism protect the character of the countryside, it also supports local business.
CPRE Hampshire - report of the pilot scheme including an analysis of participants’ experiences