S-pedelec: Getting to Work at 45 kmh

Getting to work without traffic jams – the s-pedelec could be the solution. Our author carried out the self-experiment and switched from the car to an electrically driven e-bike of the fast-paced type.

With the s-pedelec, I can combine sport with my way to work. Photo: Hans-Dieter Seufert

With the s-pedelec, I can combine sports with my way to work. Photo: Hans-Dieter Seufert

Miles long traffic jams on the way to work are poison for motivation. Sadly, this is the case on a daily basis for the morning commute from Tübingen to Stuttgart. And, sadly, this route became my way to work as of late. The 30 kilometers can last up to an hour. So I need an alternative to the car, and fortunately I find a solution quickly in the garage: the bicycle. But a single attempt demonstrates that 30 kilometers, including 500 meter altitude, are too strenuous for me to pedal every work day.

Good advice is expensive – in my case literally. I enjoy cycling a lot, but time for it is often limited. Combining the two, namely the physical exercise with the way to work, seems ideal to me. And if the way to work is too long and difficult for normal bicycles, an electric assistance will just have to do. There’s a reason why the e-bike business is thriving to an unparalleled extent. Only that the assistance must end at 25 kmh doesn’t suit my concept of a rapid commute. Thankfully, s-pedelecs have been providing electrical tailwind up to 45 kmh for several years now. So that’s what it’s going to be. The rush of speed in bicycle-form can, however, not be had at a savings rate; you should be expecting more than 3,000 euros.

In the morning, I attach the charged battery to the holder. Photo: Hans-Dieter Seufert

In the morning, I attach the charged battery to the holder. Photo: Hans-Dieter Seufert

S-pedelec prohibited on cycle paths

Route planning presents more challenges. s-pedelecs count as mopeds and need a liability insurance. I not only notice this because of the license plate and rear-view mirrors, but especially because of the fact that I’m not allowed to use cycle paths. In the beginning, this is no problem, a road runs uphill from my front door all the way to Tübingen’s Waldhäuser Ost. The electric motor’s power delights me from the first few meters on, the slope is overcome in a flash. The road continues downhill towards Bebenhausen. The beautiful view of the time-honored monastery wakes me up, if the cold air hasn’t already accomplished this. Arriving at the bottom, a busy country road awaits, parallel to which runs a cycle path.

With the s-pedelec, a gradient is climbed fast and effortlessly. Photo: Hans-Dieter Seufert

With the s-pedelec, a gradient is climbed fast and effortlessly. Photo: Hans-Dieter Seufert

My first obstacle: I’m not allowed to drive here with the s-pedelec. Despite 45 kmh, I quickly become a traffic hazard on the road, with cars rushing past me at nearly 100 kmh. I don’t really feel good this way, but luckily there’s an escape through the forest. Just before Stuttgart at the latest, the two-wheeled locomotion becomes great fun. In the car, I idle more than I’m driving from this point on, the last kilometers from Leinfelden to Vaihingen are frustratingly slow. Not so with the s-pedelec: I ride relaxed over well-developed country lanes up to the office building, where a warm shower fortunately awaits me. In the end, I’m at my desk five minutes later than driving by car, but my good mood balances that out.

The high speed poses high demands on the battery. I charge it in the garage over night, but that’s only enough for one way. So I also have to charge it at the office, the heavy charger is always in my backpack. Two full charging cycles per day aren’t good for battery capacity in the long run. Some manufacturers give a warranty of 700 charging cycles or two years, which amounts to the same at my usage. After that, a replacement might become necessary, which costs between 500 and 1,000 euros, depending on the bicycle.

Overnight, I charge the battery at the socket of the garage. Photo: Hans-Dieter Seufert

Overnight, I charge the battery at the socket of the garage. Photo: Hans-Dieter Seufert

Until then, new regulations for the use of cycle paths will hopefully be in place. At least outside of built-up areas, s-pedelecs should be allowed to drive on them. That would be good for safety and might get more commuters to hop on their bikes, at least on sunny days. Because the bike is able to keep pace: five minutes more driving time and a quarter of an hour for showering and changing are more pleasant for me than sitting that same time in traffic jams.

Conclusion: only for good weather

En route with the s-pedelec: During rain, snow or storm, a change of clothes is inevitable, so office clothing must fit in a backpack. In good weather, however, an s-pedelec is a great alternative to the car and able to compete in terms of driving time, at least in my case. Only time will tell how long the battery survives the strain of being charged daily.

The display on the handlebars of the s-pedelec shows the speed as well as the mileage and battery status. Photo: Hans-Dieter Seufert

The display on the handlebars of the s-pedelec shows the speed as well as the mileage and battery status. Photo: Hans-Dieter Seufert

Boom e-bike

E-bikes are becoming more and more popular. According to Bosch’s current e-bike market study in Germany, nearly five percent of the approximately 73 million bicycles are e-bikes, with upward tendency. Compared with the numbers of the previous year, this shows an increase of approximately twelve percent.

The e-bike was long ago discovered as a daily companion in traffic. Every second German travels less than ten kilometers to work. The e-bike has proven itself as a great alternative to the car over such distances. This supports Bosch’s results: it’s important for every third working person to use the e-bike on their commute.

Politics also encourage bicycle traffic. The goal, according to the Federal Ministry of Transport (BMVI):  increasing the ratio of bicycle traffic from currently 12 to 15 percent by 2020.

What still prevents many from switching to the e-bike, are traffic conditions. According to the Federal Ministry of Transport (BMVI), almost half of the people interviewed stated they didn’t feel safe riding their bikes on the roads.

More safety for e-bikes

To increase the road safety of e-bikers, Bosch developed an anti-lock braking system (ABS) for e-bikes. In addition, Jochen Hof, bicycle expert from the expert organization DEKRA, advises to start getting used to handling an e-bike, to be safe while on the road. Additionally, DEKRA urgently recommends wearing a helmet. Bright, noticeable clothing and activated light also help to be seen more easily during twilight. But the other traffic participants must also go through a fundamental rethink, because e-bikes are faster and must be assessed differently than conventional bicycles. Special vigilance is needed at intersections, as well as when turning corners and accelerating.

Legal aspects

What are the differences between an ordinary pedelec and an s-pedelec?
While legally a normal pedelec is supposed to support the pedal force of a bicyclist only up to 25 kmh, an s-pedelec provides electrical tailwind up to 45 kmh.

What are the rules for fast s-pedelecs?
S-pedelecs are classified as mopeds and must be covered with liability insurance. Additionally, they need to be equipped with license plates and rearview mirrors.

Are there special driving rules?
First of all, only people with a moped driving license are allowed to drive an s-pedelec. Besides, you have to wear an appropriate safety helmet, however, without specification of ‘appropriate’ according to the legal guidelines. But that’s not all: The fast e-bikes are taboo on cycle paths. If there is no additional label which allows mopeds, the two-wheelers have to drive on regular roads.

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