You’d think assessing bicycles would be a lot easier than assessing researchers, but I’m not so sure.
Though I spend quite a bit of time as chair of the DORA steering committee pondering how best to evaluate research and researchers, this weekend I’m mainly preoccupied with rethinking my commuting options. When in 2004 we moved to our current house, a 25 min walk from the station, I used to cycle for that leg of my journey to and from work. I lasted six months. The problem was the house is high above the station. That hill was an easy descent on the way in but a killer of a climb, even with a relatively light bike and 21 gears, on the way home.
I am now wiser, but also older. And heavier. And less fit. So I am wondering if an e-bike might allow me to get a bit more exercise without risking total collapse on that slow climb home from the station. I’m also trying to convince myself that if I got a folding bike, I could get even more exercise by cycling the last leg of my commute from Victoria Station to the Imperial College campus at South Kensington.
To that end I started looking at eBike options and soon became bewildered. There are so many! I’m not even sure what to look for. Is portability more important than rideability? How much battery power do I need? How many gears?
Hive mind: got any recommendations for a folding E-bike that isn’t a Brompton?
— Stephen Curry (@Stephen_Curry) July 29, 2022
To cut through the morass of different options I took to Twitter to ask for advice and got a wealth of suggestions from friends and colleagues. The advantage of this approach is that the information comes from trusted sources, most of whom have first-hand experience of the bicycles they recommended.
Even so, there’s a lot of information to process. I put together a spreadsheet of ‘indicators‘ to get a better grip on the key quantitative differences between models.
That helped to sort out some of the decision-making: on price, for example (I can’t yet justify £3k for a Brompton, whatever the legendary design); on gears (I’m looking for more rather than fewer); and on weight (lighter, obviously).
But the choice is still not obvious. As Brompton-owner Andrew McKinley pointed out, ‘I think folding bikes fall into the “you want three things? Pick two” trap. Cheap, easy to fold, sturdy? Pick two…’. He’s not wrong.
And then there are all the qualitative questions to be answered. How portable is the folded bike? How smoothly does the electric power kick in? Do I want a front or rear wheel motor? Is the battery removable – and is that an important feature?
I think what I might be looking for is a narrative CV for eBikes, in which owners can describe there experience of these features. Of course, such judgments are subjective – and tensioned against the numbers. But that is the nature of evaluation of complex systems, research and researchers included. It’s about trying to gather the most relevant information as efficiently as you can and living with the fact that the process can never be perfect.
In the meantime, thanks to everyone who responded to my query on Twitter. I’ll be glad to hear any additional eBike assessments.