Julia Widdup from Hackett going for a ride on her electric bicycle. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
SPURRED on by technology, a new generation of cyclists is taking over Canberra's streets, and it's not the Lycra brigade leading the charge. Baby boomers are the driving force behind skyrocketing sales of electric bicycles.
Running on lithium-ion batteries with a small electric motor designed to assist rather than replace pedalling, e-bikes have sold in their millions in Asia and are starting to take off in Australia, the United States and Europe.
Five years ago Fyshwick bike store Pushys did not sell any battery-operated bikes. Now co-owner of the warehouse Shane Wolki says electric bikes make up 10 per cent of all sales.
The store stocks 50 different electric bikes from three major suppliers and from Monday a fourth line will be available.
''We sold one a few months ago to an 84-year-old guy. He said it would keep him on a bike for another 10 years - he'd ridden all his life but his knees were giving out,'' Mr Wolki said.
The bikes are also popular with commuters, ''for people who want to get to work without being all sweaty. [But] baby boomers are the largest part of sales and a lot of them are joy riders - they are retired.''
Mr Wolki attributed the increasing popularity of electric bikes to improved batteries and an ageing population.
''Now they are all lithium-ion batteries so they are lighter, you get a longer life per charge and a lot more charges per life cycle.''
Julia Widdup has ridden more than 3000 kilometres on her e-bike since buying it for about $2500 last year.
The Hackett woman and her husband tour Australia on bikes and Mrs Widdup was having trouble keeping up. ''I'm not so good on hills because I'm getting older and slower. I kept getting left behind and it got to the stage where it's not very enjoyable. I got the electric assist - you have to pedal and it allows me to get up hills, or if there is a headwind I can keep up. It allows me to go on the big trips.''
One of these ''big trips'' was a 1500km three-week tour following the course of the Murray River. ''It's been fantastic. Now in a headwind everyone gets behind me. It's like a peloton.''
A dial on the handlebars allows the 69-year-old to select power and monitor reserves. ''It depends if I'm going up hills. If we are on steep hills for a long time I get about 56km, but on the Murray ride I got 93km one day. But I'm still pedalling and the dial allows me to put it on full-power or half-power. I usually have it at half-power.''