With so much emphasis being placed on climate, as well as the recent fuel crisis, and not to mention the immoral cost of insurance for young motorists, the post-graduate workforce is collectively turning its back on the combustion engine. But as the Just Eat generation finally get ready for office life, the big question is, how will they get there?
Naturally, one would assume that public transport would be the alternative mode-of-favour but, in the post-pandemic world, sharing a bus or train with scores of sniffling twitchers doesn’t offer the appeal it used to. This probably explains why, during the 12 months between April 2020 and the end of March 2021, the British public are estimated to have spent a whopping £420m on folding bicycles alone. Compare that to 2010 when the UK folding bicycle market accounted for just 4% of overall bike sales – that’s just £60m of an industry that was worth £1.5bn annually. It is a staggering 500% increase in popularity, especially given that these contraptions were only ever ridden by geography teachers and narrowboat owners.
During the same period, electric car sales witnessed an unprecedented jump too. In 2019, there were just 38,000 pure electric cars on the road. Fast forward 12 months and sales in 2020 jumped 186%, resulting in 108,000 newly registered electric cars draining the grid. Whereas the UK driving public appeared quite sceptical about adapting electric cars pre-2020, faster charging stations, longer range, various tax incentives, and better battery life meant that electrically powered motoring took on a charge of its own. The problem, however, is that they are still seen as being relatively expensive compared to a traditionally fuelled vehicle. As ever, the company car leasing market took control of the situation and now the Tesla Model 3 has become one of the most commonly spotted cars on Britain’s roads. All this despite having the aesthetic appeal of a Mazda MX7.
So back to our quandary. How will your new intern make their way to the office?
It would have probably made more sense to compare an electric bike with an electric car. I needed to ensure I was able to make part of my journey via train. Living 40 miles away from our London office, a folding pushbike made a lot more sense as it would be easier to hop on-and-off the train and, according to recent sales figures, they are fast becoming the preferred mode for UK commuters.
To ensure the test was as realistic as possible we researched both industries to find both an electric car and a folding bike that offered the best value.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the car. Volkswagen have become a front-runner in the affordable electric car market, culminating this year in the second generation of their delightfully Lancastrian named “e-up!”. The new “e-up!” is available for £16,000. For that you get an impressive 135 mile range, and rapid charging, which can deliver up-to an 80% charge in just one hour. Volkswagen have avoided going crazy with the styling – imagine a VW Polo designed by the creators of ‘80s movie ‘Tron’, and you’re on the right track.
Choosing the folding bicycle proved far more difficult. There are now so many different brands offering folding commuter bikes, that even highstreet retailers such as Argos, Decathlon and Halfords have got in on the act. There’s the obvious British folding bike marque, Brompton, however at £900 for a non-electric bike, the Brompton is almost Telsa-level pricing in comparison to the rest of the folding bikes available. As a result, we settled for a lesser-known British folding bike brand, Ecosmo. They’re based in Birmingham and seem to offer a folding version of every conceivable style of bicycle. From minuscule 16inch wheel micro-bikes to folding tandem bikes! After much thought, the team and I settled on their most popular commuter model – the lightweight alloy framed, 20” wheel folding bike.
To pit the two against one-another, I spent two days commuting to work – one day in the “e-up!” and one day on the Ecosmo.
Day 1: The Electric Car Commute
I needed to be comfortable that the “e-up!” would comfortably manage the 80-mile round trip, so the evening before the test, I took it down to my nearest charging station which was 4 miles from my home. Having enjoyed a hot beverage and read the newspaper, my little Volkswagen was fully charged and ready to go. I headed home for the night, eager to see how the “e-up!” would perform the following day. At 7am, I headed out of the door and into the e-up!. The model I had was Teal Blue and had the immensely comfortable ‘Fusion’ cloth seats with black trim. Without a sound, and 94% battery, I glided off toward the A24 and the first part of my commute to central London.
Living near Horsham, the first part of my journey is mostly country roads, as I make my way through the stunning Surrey Hills. The little e-up! didn’t seem too phased by the constantly undulating terrain, and the well-balanced suspension, characteristic of most small VWs, gave a very enjoyable ride indeed. We hugged a few corners and even managed to get the power down through certain sections, but I must admit, I was never completely comfortable exploring the performance of the e-up! knowing that I needed my battery to last the return journey as well. Having crossed the M25 and moved on toward Mitcham, I was becoming painfully aware that my battery level was diminishing far quicker than I had hoped. Having covered just over 20 miles, the battery was already approaching 75% – at this rate, I was going to arriving home completely empty. Even worse, I expected the next phase of my commute to be the most power-sapping of all, as the e-up! and I started to encounter serious traffic.
The e-up was in its element in dense traffic. I was able to slice through slow moving lanes with relative ease, and the power delivery from standing meant the e-up! was incredibly nippy and useful for diving into gaps. Still, the battery level hung over me like a scythe and with every burst of acceleration, I felt like I was reducing my chances of making it home at all. At 8:45am, I arrived at the car park near our office, and quickly hunted the bays for an available charging point. My battery was at 48% – not enough to make the return journey. It seems I wasn’t the only one doing the electric gamble that morning, and every one of the NCP’s charging points were accompanied by every colour and model of Tesla imaginable. I parked the e-up! in a normal parking bay and decided to try my luck again later. At lunchtime, I hopped back to the multi-storey, and, with a swift bit of manoeuvring, I managed to dive into an available charging bay before the next wood flooring Regional Sales Director arrived. At 4pm, I left the office and headed back to the car park. The car was now fully charged once more. Phew. Panic over. I would make it home.
With a hint of tyre-squeak, the e-up! shot into the later afternoon traffic. The journey home was certainly less fraught than the drive in, as I was no longer concerned about conserving battery for the return leg. We made our way through fairly heavy traffic and header back to the Surrey Hills, where I could finally test the e-up!’s handling without worrying if I’d actually be seeing my kids that night. It must be said, for such a small car, the e-up! is incredibly well-balanced. As the battery cells are in the floor, the low centre of gravity makes the e-up! great fun to drive. The cornering and availability of power make the e-up! comparable with any small hot hatch from the 1980s. For all the years I’d lost worrying about the battery level on the way into work, the e-up! duly replaced them by making me feel like a teenager in my first car again.
Day 2: The Ecosmo Folding Bike Commute
The following morning was a little overcast, but thankfully there wasn’t any rain forecast. With my new black and green helmet (provided by Ecosmo) I set off as the sun started to rise 2 miles away above Horsham, and the train station where I’d be joining throngs of other commuters in their morning drudgery. It must be pointed out at this point that I am not a regular cyclist. Nor am I particularly fit. As a writer in my mid-forties, it would be fair to say that I’ve probably indulged a little too much on food and drink that I probably shouldn’t have. That said, I consider myself no slouch either.
The early morning roads entering Horsham were quiet and I was able to enjoy the sensation of just getting somewhere. It probably sounds like an odd thing to say, but when navigating a car through dense traffic, you seldom take on board what and who you are passing. When riding a bike, your mind is able to wander a little more, and I even found myself waving and shouting “Morning!” to a few people I barely know. I’d expected my little bike ride to be filled with huffing and puffing, but the grip shift shimano gears of the Ecosmo folding bike made the journey and unexpected pleasure. In less than 15 minutes I found myself standing on the platform waiting for the train-leg of my journey.
As the 7:50am Southern train to Clapham Junction arrived, I was so enamoured by my morning’s ride, that I’d completely forgotten to fold the Ecosmo down. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to fold-up the bike on the train, I got into a flap of panic, as the train edged into the station. There are two hinge clips that need to be released to get the bike into its folded position. The first is on the handlebar stem. This popped off with ease once I’d removed the safety clip, and the handlebars folded down beside the front wheel. The train was pulling to a standstill. The second clip is on the crossbar, allowing the whole bike to fold in two. Again, releasing the safety catch, the hinge clip was released with ease. I lifted the bike at the hinge in the crossbar and it elegantly collapsed into its folded position, as the train doors opened. As I boarded the carriage, I felt mildly chuffed with myself at how easily I’d mastered folding the bike down. Although, in hindsight, I think real credit belongs to whichever genius designed the locking clips, as they were so easy to use that a middle-aged fog-brained numpty like me was able to use them without any effort at all. The bike’s folded size was so compact, I loaded the bike into a luggage rack and got comfortable at a nearby table. Fifty five minutes of blissful rest later, I disembarked the train at Clapham Junction, feeling the most refreshed I think I’ve ever felt upon arrival in London. The Ecosmo’s cleverly designed hinge clips did their work once more, locking into place automatically. All I had to do was unfold the frame and handlebar stem, and we were on our way once more. My office is just a short ride away from the train station and, at 8:45am, the streets bustled with people trying not to be late, at the expense of common courtesy. I’d always feared having to share the roads with van and lorry drivers, but I soon found to my displeasure that it was pedestrians that presented the greatest danger to city cyclists. With no regard for their safety or mine, buffoons seemed to thrust themselves into my cycle lane from all directions. Having successfully navigated and avoided every one of these coffee-carrying lemmings during my brief ride to the office, I hopped off my folding bike feeling overly chuffed with myself. Before entering the building, I unclipped the hinges once more and prepared the bike for its first journey in the office lift.
Taking up less room than a medium sized suitcase, I was able to stow the bike away underneath my desk for the duration of my day. And there is sat, patiently waiting for me to return. During my day, I genuinely felt more productive, having had a little exercise and some much-needed fresh air. Which was more than could be said for the previous day’s experience, endlessly worrying about whether I’d make it home.
Leaving work, I turned toward the station and was able to make it to my platform without anyone throwing themselves into my path. With two lots of ‘clip and fold’, the bike was at my side in its compact form, waiting to be lifted onto the train for the 57-minute journey to Horsham.
Almost every direction out of Horsham feels as though its uphill. With two miles to go, I set off on a route that I would offer the least resistance. Fortunately, and largely due to the excellent gearing of the Ecosmo folding bike, the journey home was as pleasant and uneventful as the ride into Horsham the same morning. I smelt the freshly cut grass those of pensionable age had prepared that day, as I sauntered along at a very manageable pace. The leisurely 2 mile journey took approximately 15 minutes, and with each turn of the crank, I felt myself warming to the Ecosmo. So much so, that when I got home, I decided that I needed to have one, and duly set about writing to the company to see if I could buy the one, they’d sent me to test! Never in all my years, have I ever returned from a road test and felt so compelled to make the subject a part of my life for good.
I get it. I totally and utterly get it. I understand why the folding bicycle is becoming the method of choice for commuters in present times. The e-up! is a good little car. Its name only belongs on the lips of Compo from “Last of the Summer Wine”, but it is a good little electric car. And for £16,000 on the road, it is a bargain. My commute left me with the terrible realisation that we are still some way off having the infrastructure to properly support electric cars. The battery level indicator left me paranoid – like I was being lied to by metal mickey.
At present, just 7% of the cars on Britain’s roads are electric. 7%. Finding a charging point in Horsham was tricky. Finding one available in a multi-storey car-park in central London required cunning and two visits. Imagine what that is going to be like when 25% of the UK’s cars are pure electric. So, if you are going to choose an e-up! then opt for the hybrid version, which will return a mind-blowing 258mpg.
As for the Ecosmo. This folding bike is mine. And you’re not having it.