Reviews Inex

Sakura Electric Chopper: Stylish, but why do it?

April 5, 2006 By James Daley

A friend proudly announced recently that he was going to buy an electric bicycle. I couldn't help but give him a hard time.

Given that he wanted it to make a modest eight-kilometre commute from his house in Dulwich, south London, to work in Canary Wharf, east London, it appeared to me to be the height of all laziness.

As someone who commutes twice that distance to work on a pushbike each day there seemed no justification. I struggled to understand why anyone would consider buying an electric bike at all.

Their legal top speed is only 25km/h and the battery only lasts for an hour so surely any lazy commuter unable to face the physical exertion of a genuine bicycle should rather buy a scooter?

Not only can you go for many more miles before having to worry about running out of juice but there's a safety argument as well.

A little acceleration can help to get you out of trouble when you're weaving through a busy metropolis. Acceleration, alas, is not something that electric bikes do very well at all.

Electric bikes are also very heavy - and when they run out of battery mid-journey (as will inevitably happen to every proud owner one day) it can often be next to impossible to pedal them up any sort of incline.

But the main reason electric bikes have never won a place in my heart is that they are normally extremely ugly. Hiding an enormous battery pack on the sleek frame of a bike is a serious challenge for designers - one that most do not meet without sacrificing aesthetics.

Having said all this, my opinion of electric bikes has improved over the past week after testing Sakura Battery's new Mustang Chopper. It comes with all the same operational flaws as every other electric bike I have ever come across but it does have one important difference - it looks cool.

It's modelled on the Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a relatively low (and fairly comfortable) saddle and Harley's trademark handlebars that still manage to make any two-wheeled vehicle look trendy almost 100 years after they were invented.

Furthermore, the battery is contained neatly in a box under the saddle with no compromise in design to accommodate it.

Like all electric bikes, however, its 2.2m frame is extremely heavy - 40kg - and was a big effort to pedal without the help of the engine, even on the flat. And, while its handlebars may be stylish, they make taking a tight corners a trifle tricky.

Sakura conceded that the Mustang was designed for fun, not for commuting. However, a spokesman pointed out that other models were extremely popular for making the trip to work.

Not fit enough

They sell for around