Edinburgh mulls electric bike hire scheme

Neil Macmartin with his Freeflow Bike. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

Neil Macmartin with his Freeflow Bike. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

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A city-wide hire scheme for electric bicycles – similar to the “Boris Bikes” phenomenon in London – is being considered at City Chambers as part of an ambitious vision by a young Scots entrepreneur.

Under the radical plan, up to 5000 motorised bikes would flood into the Capital, with charge points along the tram route, key transport hubs and tourist havens.

The aim is to boost cycling in the city by introducing motor-driven bicycles that require less human toil and can reach speeds of up to 15.5 mph.

A motor in the bikes, developed by expert Neil McMartin, kicks in as soon as the rear wheels exceed 3mph and the rider is expending the same energy used in a brisk walk.

Mr McMartin, 28, presented a prototype at a summit with city chiefs yesterday – including cycling spokesman Councillor Jim Orr – before pitching his cycle hire blueprint.

He said: “There are other cities like San Francisco, which has installed these kinds of electric bikes. In a city like Edinburgh, built on seven hills, that is not an ideal market to put a traditional bike scheme in, which is why this electric bike plan is preferable.

“Edinburgh is aligned with Scotland’s vision for 10 per cent of all commuting journeys being taken by bike, currently its 2.4 per cent.”

The proposal would see riders sign up to an annual subscription of £40 to £50.

Once subscribed, the bike’s smart technology records a swathe of data, including total distance travelled, calories burned, maximum speed and the carbon offset by the pedal-powered trip.

It would also possess a GPS system to plot journeys through cycle-safe zones and to track stolen bikes.

Minutes after test driving the electro-bike, Green councillor Gavin Corbett said it could “widen the appeal of and access to cycling”.

He said: “Edinburgh needs to think bigger on transport. That means reducing traffic volumes by at least 20 to 30 per cent for cleaner, safer and less congested streets. It is hard to see that happening without a massive increase in lighter-touch transport, like bicycles and, given the challenging topography of the city, electric bikes can be part of the picture.

“I’ve been cycling in the city for 20 years and, personally, I’ll continue to do so. As part of a fleet of both traditional and electric bikes it could raise the bar in thinking about street and junction design that would make it easier for all kinds of cyclists.”

Ian Maxwell, spokesman for cycling campaign group Spokes, welcomed the proposal, but said a traditional hire scheme with push bikes would be a more cost-effective option for the city.

He said: “The disadvantage of electric bikes is that they need to be recharged so you have the added expense of docking points.

“Failing that, you would have to have a central location to administer them rather than have various locations dotted throughout the city.”