Low-carbon birding — going electric

by Lucy Neville

I can’t drive for medical reasons. I’m not looking for sympathy, merely setting the scene. Not driving means I rely on public transport (less than reliable around me), asking other people for help (not my strong point), or my own body (often weak) to get outside and go birding. Friends and family kept telling me to get an electric bike. Stubborn as I am, I disagreed. What about poor battery life and being stranded? What about it being too heavy? Where would I store it in this high crime neighbourhood? Would it really make a difference to how hard my legs find propelling me? What about the price? Don’t tell anyone but I was wrong and they were right—the electric bike changed my life.

When I finally caved and purchased one, I named him Dylan—after all, it felt controversial going electric. He is beautiful. Folding means I can store him in the flat, and I’m not so terrified of the battery running out if I’m within reach of a taxi! The battery life is much more than I expected allowing me to easily plan routes without fear of running low. Most modern e-bikes can go between 40-70miles between charges depending on the level of assist used. Heavy yes but in reality – how often are we really lifting our bikes? I’ll just need to get better at asking for help. They are also much lighter once you’ve eaten all the snacks in the paniers and got the binoculars round your neck. The price—after one year of using it I’ve already saved over half its value in the buses I would have paid to use on my commute, let alone any fun adventures. And then there’s the assisted peddling. Hills are no longer beyond my capabilities, I can leave the house even on a poor health day and not be afraid of whether my legs will manage to get me home. I’ve regained my freedom.

The commute is convenient but one of the greatest things it’s given me is my ability to go sea swimming again, no longer reliant on friends who can drive. I can decide last minute on a dip, fill my paniers and go. And believe me when I say there is nothing quite like birdwatching from in the sea. Diving gannets, screaming oyster catchers, murmurations of knots, skeins of geese, bobbing eiders and even the occasional puffling, if you’re lucky. From within the waves you’re part of their world. And if you pack enough chitterybites watching the horizon through binoculars whilst wrapped up in a, worringly now fashionable, dry robe can bring huge rewards. I have even been fortunate enough to see the blows from a humpback. Not a bird, sure, but often spotted by following the gulls. I never would have been at the shore that day had it not been for my e-bike.

They’re not for everyone and some of the concerns are valid but e-bikes really do put adventure back on the table for a lot of people. Whilst it would be great for us all to have the physical fitness to use a regular bike to access nature it’s not the case for a large proportion of the population, even more so post covid. So if you’re feeling trapped, missing the wind through your hair (under a helmet of course) and reminiscing for the days when your body could power adventure—give an e-bike a go. You too could shock the world by going electric.

3 Replies to “Low-carbon birding — going electric”

  1. What an inspiring story Lucy, really interesting and to have created greater independence which removes obstacles and creates freedom to do as you choose. Never considered birdwatching while swimming but I can relate to that from a kayak.
    One aspect of e-bikes I think is understated is safety, it’s is much easier to move in traffic and at junctions with electric power. Great read. Thank you.

  2. Having been a keen cyclist all my life I missed it when I had M.E. for nearly 10 years. I eventually got an electric bike, which gave me back my sense of freedom and well being, and was I believe a key factor in me eventually getting better. Last year I did over 1000 miles velobirding on my non-electric bike (https://www.birdguides.com/articles/patch-birding/localbigyear-cycling-in-sussex/) but will not hesitate to go back to electric when my health or age requires it. Well done Lucy.

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