ACTIVE OUTDOORS: Live events and charities reporter Imogen James took to the streets of the Highland capital on one of the city’s new e-bikes
If you’ve been into Inverness recently, you might have noticed the new e-bike stations dotted around and wondered what they were all about.
Well, I wanted to know if they were any good for getting out and about when in the city, so I headed down town to find out.
On a sunny but chilly day I went along to the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Inverness Campus to try them out.
I met Vikki Trelfer, active travel officer for Hitrans, the regional transport partnership that brought the bikes to the city.
The bikes are activated through an app. There are a variety of memberships to choose from, from monthly passes to a pay-per-ride pass. I chose the £6 for three hours option.
I was quite surprised to see £25 taken out of my account each time I got a bike out. This “holding fee” is a kind of deposit in case you damage a bike, but perhaps not great for those on a budget.
After taking the bike out, I used the adjustable seat function to get comfortable and practised using the bell, which definitely came in handy.
We took off, and the big bike was surprisingly fast and easy to manoeuvre. The ease of cycling with the electric assist is a huge advantage to those less able, as the bike acts as a helping hand, taking much of the strain off.
Not only was it easier, but it was fun too!
The electric assist kicked in immediately, and was a very welcome addition for some of the bigger hills we tackled.
What was immediately apparent, however, is the lack of appropriate cycling infrastructure throughout Inverness.
As Vikki pointed out, painted lines are not a substitute for proper cycle safety.
There were many tight squeezes with pedestrians on shared paths, and waiting on crossings at side roads.
I was also quite unaware before this cycle as to how effective the suspension in my car is. It may take a while for my back to recover…
One area that would have been a great part of the cycle was along Millburn Road. Despite a wide cycle lane being placed there last year, it has now been removed. The green paint remains, but the pavement is the preferred option over the uncertainty.
Despite these setbacks, moving from the campus to Falcon Square took a mere 10 minutes – and very little effort.
The docking station here – one of a series around the city where bikes can be picked up or dropped off – seems to be the most popular, as the railway attendant told us people are frequently abandoning the bikes there when there is no space available.
Cycling down the High Street, the electric assist cut out, which – while feeling slightly inconvenient for us – is a great feature to make sure pedestrians are considered without us whizzing by on full power.
The third docking station at Great Glen House above Charleston provided amazing views and a well-earned rest.
The cycle back to base at UHI from here took around 40 minutes, all on the path. While the pavement felt much safer for me, I did feel I was compromising the happiness of kids, dog walkers and runners as we did our best to avoid them.
The three main docking stations have been chosen well. They cover each end of the city, and are a welcome sight to see. It encourages locals to get more active, and more eco-friendly.
There are three more planned to go in next year to bring the bikes to even more people and offer more options for riders.
In turn, Hitrans hopes it will help businesses out in the city by bringing more people in.
The e-bikes are definitely handy for a short trip. With a short 30-minute hire, and the issue of finding decent parking in Inverness, why not commute from the campus to the city centre?
They are proving to be very popular, with nearly 700 rides since their opening at the beginning of October.
However, clearly more infrastructure is needed to help keep bikers safe, and separate from pedestrians and motorists.
Local groups like Kidical Mass continue to campaign for better cycle lanes – perhaps one day they will come.
In a report by Bike Live in Inverness in 2019, 81 per cent of respondents said they thought bike lanes would encourage them to cycle more.
Until that happens, you’ll have to make do with the shared-use paths and painted cycle lanes. Either way, it’s a great option – and a fun one – to help reduce the amount of traffic in the city centre as well as get some exercise.
For more information about the bike hire scheme, visit www.hi-bike.co.uk
Have you tried them? What do you think? Could the scheme be rolled out in Ross-shire? Email firstname.lastname@example.org