If you happen to be visiting Waddesdon Manor and arrive at Aylesbury Vale Parkway station, then there’s a local electric bike hire scheme to get you the rest of the way. So I tried it out.
I had initially thought to bring my own folding bike, as while there’s now a nice Greenway paved route between station and mansion house, it’s still an hour’s walk each way. Then I noticed the e-bikes hire, which arrived earlier this year outside the railway station.
I will admit to having a bit of a prejudice against electric bikes, as for me personally cycling around London is partially saving time on a journey I would probably have walked anyway, but mainly a way of burning some calories and using muscles that aren’t used when walking.
So to me, an e-bike felt slightly like cheating, and candidly, my waistline needs the extra effort. But here, the e-bike was the only option, and why not give it a try.
The short review is – actually rather enjoyable.
Called B-Bike powered by Moovbikes, it’s a pretty small service having docking stations at just two locations, the railway station and Waddesdon Manor car park.
Just like the London cycle hire, there’s a daily hire charge, and then here you get up to 60 minutes of free cycling per use before being charged extra. As the majority of use is likely to get between the station and manor, that’s ample as the journey takes barely 15 minutes.
I found the website instructions a tad confusing, but it turned out to be very easy to use in the end. That may be because I paid for the daily hire fee online before I left and avoided the hassle of doing that at the bike hire station.
The website password is also the pin-code, which is a bit weak, but candidly a lot easier to type in when using a mobile phone to enter details.
When you register you get an eight-digit account number, and you set a 4-digit PIN. To hire the bike, just tap in the account number, then your PIN, and a moment later the bike slides out of the docking station automatically.
The bikes themselves are supplied by Smoove, and apart from the keypad/screen by the handlebar they otherwise look exactly what you would expect a bike to look like. A nice touch though is that the front basket is a plastic wallet with a see-through screen so you can use a smartphone as a route finder and see the screen while you’re cycling. OK, not much use if all you’re doing is following the Greenway path, but with an hour of free cycling time in the price, you could venture elsewhere (as I did).
The key difference is that these are e-bikes, which top-up your cycling with battery-powered motors.
And that takes a bit of getting used to but in a rather enjoyable way.
The most noticeable change is when you start peddling, as the motor kicks in to give you a boost when starting. Anyone who has ever had to hit the brakes on a bike while in high gear knows how much effort is needed to start cycling again, so the battery boost is truly wonderful to experience.
If like me though, when getting on a conventional bike, if you push down on a peddle and then get comfortably seated, the sudden acceleration is a bit of a surprise.
The other difference is that the battery assist speeds up how fast you’re cycling. And this can be a bit of an issue if approaching curves and junctions as I very quickly realised that I needed to leave a lot more time to slow down. But also, not so much that I had slowed too much to get through a junction as a slight push on the pedal activates the battery and you suddenly surge forwards.
It took just a few minutes to get used to the quirks of the bike though.
I deviated from the Greenway to visit something else locally, and the main difference noticed compared to normal cycling was the way the battery assist helped with going up hills. You’re still peddling, but there seemed to be a lot less strain to get up and over bridges, for example.
In general, yes, the e-bike was a surprisingly pleasing way of getting around, and not being quite so out of breath at the end of the journey.
That the route along the Greenway is probably the nicest cycle lane you will ever ride along certainly helped.
The Waddesdon Greenway
Getting from Aylesbury Vale Parkway station to Waddesdon Manor used to involve walking/cycling along a fairly busy road, but in September 2018 a dedicated greenway opened.
It’s a wide tarmac footpath that for about a third of the route follows, very roughly, a long lost Roman road, Akeman Street and in a few places a piece of stone from the road have been placed as markers along the route. More noticeable at the corten steel markers and in places benches to sit and rest on if needed.
From the railway station, it dips under the railway line, weaves around the edge of the fields, passes along a bit of rough sealed off-road, and then the rest of the route is through the middle of the fields, and certainly if cycling is a delightful path to take.
It crosses a couple of roads, but there are gates to navigate through so you’re never going to cycle onto the road without noticing it.
Having only opened a few years back, the Greenway will see a major change shortly, as it happens to sit right over the path of the HS2 railway, which here will cut through the farmland and the Greenway.
An earthen bank will slowly rise up to a new bridge that will take the Greenway over the HS2 railway, although there is a local campaign to have the bridge moved slightly to what they say would be a better location for the Greenway to stick with the Roman road alignment. Barring any complication, shifting the bridge slightly as is being campaigned for would mean that a modern railway is respecting the Roman heritage.
It sounds like a nice thing to do if the HS2 bosses can make the change.
London’s cycle hire
Next year, London’s cycle hire scheme is also getting 500 e-bikes.
Can I see myself replacing a standard pedal bike with an e-bike next year when they are available? For most trips probably not, as for me, cycling is as much about personal fitness as it is about the speed of the journey.
However, if I were to want to cycle for a distance further than I could get normally in the 30-minute window we get with the London cycle hire, and assuming no other factors such as costs, then yes, I probably would switch to using them.
My main concern, based on not currently knowing how the London e-bikes will work when deployed though is the speed. If the London bikes do achieve faster speeds in normal use, then I can see that being a problem especially in shared spaces such as canal footpaths, as the braking time will be longer than cyclists are used to.
But that burst of acceleration when the traffic lights turn green and the battery kicks in for a bit — that is going to give people a lot of smiles.