Just the other day I was faced with a difficult decision. Standing deep in the bowels of our parking garage, I had to choose between an Audi RS 4 Avant and a Porsche 911 Carrera. The Audi was more powerful but the Porsche sounded like a bona fide Le Mans racing car. It was a bit like being asked to pick between Mila Kunis and Kate Upton — troublesome yet inconsequential.
After what seemed like hours of deliberation, I left with neither. I snubbed these two German supermodels in favour of a bicycle. Now before you call for my public crucifixion and demand my resignation from the motoring department, hear me out for a second. The A2B Metro is no ordinary bike. It comes with a lithium-ion battery plus an electric motor cleverly built into the rear hub. This means you can effectively ignore those two pedals and scoot around the suburbs without ever breaking sweat. Well, according to the PR rhetoric, that is.
I have ridden an electric bicycle before and it was a pretty rubbish experience. It had been engineered by escapees from a lunatic asylum. While the frame geometry had been set up for somebody with the proportions of a chimpanzee, the electronics made even the crudest of izinyokas look like a master electrician. It was embarrassingly slow and prone to overheating whenever crossing anything other than paper-flat tarmac. Think of the toy you’d find inside a very large lucky packet and you’ve got the picture.
So I should have ignored this two-wheeled imposter and gone home in the million-horsepower Audi. Except I didn’t, because there was something about it that got my inner techno nerd all warm and fuzzy.
Somebody at A2B spent a considerable amount of time designing the Metro. The frame, for example, is hewn out of gravity-cheating aluminium while the brakes are sourced from Magura — a German company that supplies stopping power for everything from your new mountain bike to Dakar-conquering motorcycles.
Evidence of further intelligence can also be found in extras like the built-in kickstand, lighting system and mud-stopping wheel arches. Even the many cables responsible for transferring current are hidden out of sight within the tubing. Never mind rival bike manufacturers, there’s a level of build quality here that will put the products of most Chinese car-makers to shame. This A2B was also considerably better to pilot.
Key the ignition, twist that right-hand throttle-grip and the Metro takes off like it’s being pulled by an invisible elastic band. In a few silent seconds, I was cruising through the streets of Rosebank at a whisker short of 30km/h. It was brilliant. With the combination of that upright riding position and comfortable saddle, it felt like I was riding a slightly less powerful Vespa.
But unlike the Vespa, which has become all too passé around these parts, the A2B whipped up a storm of attention. While builders huddled on the back of bakkies whistled and shouted things that I couldn’t quite make out, motorists slowed to a crawl to take a closer look at this seemingly phantom-powered contraption. In fact, the only person who didn’t give us a second glance was a conventional cyclist in absurdly tight Lycra. “Don’t be lazy,” he snorted, huffing and puffing in the opposite direction.
Poor fool. If only he knew how great it felt hustling up hills under full electric power. Even in the suburban Tibet that is Melville, the Metro soldiered on unfussed. The speedometer might have dipped down to about 17km/h, but with a bit of light pedalling I was soon back in the low 20s. Though this doesn’t sound particularly fast, it was quick enough to blitz the office-home commute in 15 minutes. That’s just five minutes slower than in a car. Which makes a pretty good case for this bike in terms of everyday transport.
It’s fun, easy to ride and can travel up to 30km on a single four-hour charge. Double that distance if you fit the optional second battery that gets shoehorned neatly into the down tube.
Downside? Well, you don’t want to run out of power. The A2B Metro weighs 37kg, so pedalling a flat one is like pushing a stubborn elephant up a long flight of stairs. Secondly, there’s a slight image problem. For every person out there who appreciates the electric bicycle, there are five who don’t. So don’t be surprised if, like me, you get compared to that awkward, moped-riding man in the recent spate of Chicken Licken TV commercials.
The final gripe is the price. Yes, the Metro is exquisitely made and works amazingly well. But R23950 is a bit heavy. Especially considering that you can buy a cheap scooter and a year’s worth of fuel for less. If A2B could somehow shave a few rands off, I would be sorely tempted. And the noses of some future test cars would be seriously out of joint.
The Porsche and Mila Kunis would win hands down in my book (and the electric bicycle would remain safely stored in the garage!)
My name is Mark Person and I am a graduate researcher at Portland State University. We are actively conducting research on electric bikes. Because there has been very little research in the area of e-bikes, we have a developed e-bike user and experience survey. We are trying to reach as many US e-bike users as we can. If you could help get the word out using your network, social media, blog, etc., we would greatly appreciate it. As you know we in an exciting new moment in electric mobility and your help with our research will go a long way.
Here is the survey link: http://tinyurl.com/e-bike-survey