Increasingly, tourists are choosing to see a destination on two wheels, thanks to city-wide bicycle lending programs in places like Paris, Washington DC and Mexico City. But a new development in London could make cycling a less sweaty way to see the sights.
On 6 June, Hertz became the first major rental car company to offer
e-bikes, stocking a dozen at its Marble Arch location. Hertz's e-bikes come in
two slick-looking models, powered by lithium ion batteries and nearly silent
motors. The A2B Hybrid 24 model expects you to pedal, increasing in speed the
harder you work. The other model, the Fast4ward Edge, doesn't require you to
pedal at all. Like a moped, it uses a throttle.
“If the launch is successful, then more bikes will potentially be added
to London, and the scheme expanded to other cities,” said Neil Cunningham,
general manager of Hertz UK and European Strategic Projects.
Rental bikes aren't new to London. The city introduced Barclays Cycle
Hire in July 2010, and now the rental program has peak usage of about 24,000 users a day. Barclays has made about 5,000 traditional bicycles available at hundreds
of docking stations throughout the city, which makes it a more convenient
option than Hertz's mere dozen e-bikes at a single location. But e-bikes
are more welcoming for travellers with varied levels of physical fitness
—especially in a spread out city like London — and Hertz's
program could spread the appeal of cycling to a broader set of travellers.
Hertz rents e-bikes by the day for £19, which is cheaper than the city
program at £51. For shorter jaunts, the Barclays’ bikes can be rented for
varying durations, from as little as £1 for a non-consecutive 30 minute window.
Earlier this month, I took one of Hertz's electric bikes for a test spin, booking
it online the night before. The pick-up process was similar to renting a
car, including the need to flash a driver's license. A Hertz agent taught me how
to turn on the motor with the tap of a fob, and then he handed me a helmet, a
lock and a free printed map of the city. Without a second glance, I was set
free. I hopped on my eco-Harley and was off.
My A2B Hybrid 24 looked cool, despite the lithium battery pack hanging
above its rear wheel. I picked this model over the one that runs only on a
throttle because I was told its battery could last nearly twice as long and
because it looked less like a folding bike and more like a traditional two-wheeler.
The A2B had a low step-over frame and was easy to handle on the road. I picked
the fastest of the four motor settings once I found a clear path to ride in
Hyde Park. The quiet, no-exhaust motor engaged after I started to pedal.
Once out in traffic, I appreciated how the electric motor assistance gave me the
necessary speed to keep up with the red double-decker buses. I could reach a
speed of nearly 15 mph without becoming exhausted and covered nearly five roundtrip. It was like an angel had
swept up behind me to push me along.
I never felt like the bike was out of control, though I often had the sensation
that I was riding downhill and had to allow for wider-than-normal turns. The
brakes worked well, and the gear settings operated just like on a standard
bike. The battery charge lasted for a full day of riding. (Multiday renters can
recharge the battery using a standard power plug.)
Despite getting caught in a downpour during my test (with the e-bike working
fine in the rain), I was impressed by the experience and plan to rent an e-bike
from Hertz again soon. Even though it's less convenient (given its single
rental location), the whoosh of an electric bike is something every visitor to
London should experience at least once.
Sean O'Neill is the tech
travel columnist for BBC Travel.