" The first motorised vehicle I ever owned was a 1986 Vespa T5 ‘Pole Position’. It was red and black. It had a little fairing on the bars. The one with the rectangular headlight and the ‘moon disc’ style wheels. A little "
Bikes in The City: Stirling Eco: a new gold standard in urban electric?
Legislation is going to change everything about the nature and aesthetic of urban transport. Stirling Eco have one solution.
On October 25, 2021 the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is expanding out to the North and South Circular Roads. This — and other recently announced emissions legislation, amounts to an atomic explosion in urban transport. If you like to ride or drive motorised vehicles — you can’t ignore the issue. Robert Grace, owner of Stirling Eco, has a solution to the problem as he explains to John M. Drake.
TELL US ABOUT STIRLING ECO.
We are an innovation-led, creative company – and I come from the creative industry – so that informs everything we do. I was asked to decorate one of these bikes – I was a craftsman, specialising in mosaic domes – so I had been working in palaces and those sorts of properties all over the world. A German company asked me to work on one of these electric bikes. I had never seen anything like it.
I rode it, found that it was great fun and completely made sense. There was nothing in the market at the time even approaching what it was doing. Two years later we designed our own bike in the Electro Ride. It’s made in a modular technique in joint venture with a Chinese manufacturer. We assemble them here.
SO LOCKDOWN HAS BEEN A GESTATION PERIOD?
The idea had been bubbling until lockdown, when I spent three months locked away in Dorset writing, thinking about what the world would be like in 12 months’ time. Lockdown is actually great if you are creative. Normally a business would be projected over three to five years, but with Covid-19 and the pandemic, you weren’t able to do that. One thing that is clear is that the world of electricity is going to really develop.
I wanted to push a particular idea. I am only a small fish, because everything is self-financed, so competing with the big boys would mean that I would be savaged. So I had to find something unique, something that no one else was doing. So our bikes are different. They are coming from a creative, innovation-based approach. No one else in electric bikes are doing that. I don’t want the people who ride these bikes looking like delivery drivers. There are products that are perfect for that market – but we didn’t want Stirling Eco bikes to be that. These bikes really stand out as something other than that – and that’s just what we wanted.
IT’S A TOUGH THING TO DESIGN, MANUFACTURE AND MARKET A BRAND NEW PRODUCT ISN’T IT?
The technology is actually really simple, and that’s where the beauty lies. It’s basically a battery to controller to a motor that sits on the back wheel. The battery sits in the footwell, the controller is inside the ’tank’. This controls the amount of power that is transferred to a 2000 watt motor – and that’s obviously done through the traditional twist grip on the right-hand handlebar. In essence, these are the three elements you need to build around. As long as they are built to European safety standards, which these of course are, you can pretty much design anything around that.
SO ARE THESE THE SEXIEST ELECTRIC BIKES OUT THERE?
The design says it all. When we’re out riding with these bikes, we’re stopped all the time, people winding their windows down in traffic lights, asking about the bikes. You almost feel a bit of a celebrity! We hand out cards and talk to people about the project and what it’s all about. Just being out there with these bikes is the best marketing we can do. The proof is in the pudding. You pull up in Brick Lane to get a bagel and you come back and the bikes are surrounded. Everyone wants to know how to have a new solution to clean transport around a city like London – and people can see that you don’t have to look like a delivery driver to drive around town on an electric bike. These bikes are head turning.
THERE HAS TO BE A CHANGE OF AESTHETICS COMING DOESN’T THERE?
We’ve had Harley enthusiasts come to us and say that they know the change is coming, and they are looking at these bikes as second options. These bikes are specifically designed for urban riding. Most urban commutes or shopping rides are about eight or 10 miles – and the basic range of these at the moment is 30 miles on one charge so that’s plenty. But even right now we have an option that would give you 139 miles. You can have three batteries loaded in these panniers.
So, you can certainly take it from the centre of the city to the outskirts and into the deep suburbs if you have a slightly longer commute. The technology on these is so fluid – the batteries are going to develop and keep developing so the range extends and extends further. The battery can be charged indoors at home on a domestic feed too, so you don’t have to rely on ‘petrol station’ style charging stations.
AFFORDABILITY IS A KEY ISSUE IS IT NOT?
The affordability factor is huge. Most people can’t afford even one electric car at the moment, and most households these days tend to be two-car households. These bikes start at £2,400 – which is less than some commuters pay for their push bikes. Soon families, because of the ULEZ legislation, are going to be forced to get rid of at least one of their fuel-burning cars. So if they can afford to buy one electric car, these sorts of options are going to be perfect for them.
There is a two-year warranty and service and maintenance package that comes with bike – and what’s also unique is that we have a roster of close to 100 artists who you can commission to create a unique finish to your bike, to your exact specifications.The thing is with these that there are so few moving parts, that maintenance wise you’re only talking brake pads and tyres – and the motor itself is virtually indestructible. We’re very close to being able to qualify for the OLEV grant, which means the government would pay £1,200 toward the cost of the bike, which helps the affordability of these machines enormously.
Qualifying for that is very difficult. The criteria keeps changing, but we have to comply with all sorts of regulation that takes the unknown or ‘anxiety’ factor out of electric motoring – things like aftercare servicing etc, which is really important when people are making a decision to go electric.
TELL US ABOUT THE RIDING EXPERIENCE.
The riding experience is a lot of fun and very relaxed. The torque is instant. The driving position is feet first, and the bike is very light – just 82KG. So even for a non-bike rider the machine is easy to manoeuvre and instinctive to ride. When people come in for a test ride, they all pick the technique up really easily. It’s just twist and go after all, and there are no pedals to worry about. An important safety feature is that you can’t turn the throttle and pull the brake at the same time, or if you do the motor is disengaged.
WHAT IS THE GOAL FOR STIRLING ECO?
We’re a business of course and we need to make money. And if we can make a living by contributing to creating a cleaner, more liveable city and making it possible to create fun, attractive and innovative products then I think we will all be very satisfied. It’s a long road ahead but we’re in it for the long haul. Change is coming. The question remains: are you with us?
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