Jackie Harrigan

While numbers of electric bikes are accelerating on roads and cycles tracks all over the country, they have seen much slower adoption on New Zealand farms.

Whether it’s the worry about terrain, the mucky conditions or wearing the neighbour’s good-natured ribbing, there are a few farmers jumping right in.

For Manawatu dairy farmer Andrew Hoggard, it wasn’t the plan to help stop climate change in its tracks, helping to save the planet from more carbon emissions, although he laughs that we might write that up as his virtual signalling reason.

The reason for the shift is much closer to Andrew’s heart – in his wallet.

“Basically it’s just me being a tight-arse, saving the planet is a co-benefit.

“The electric bikes fit our needs onfarm, the cost savings are much better.”

The national vice-president of Federated Farmers has farmed his family conversion farm at Kiwitea, north of Feilding for the past 20 years, converting a 210-hectare former beef and racehorse farm and milking 550 cows, including through the winter for 150 of them.

The farm runs over several river terraces of free-draining Kiwitea silt loam dropping down to the Oroua River and Andrew targets 230,000kg milksolids (MS), which can be weather-dependent on a summer that’s not too dry following a kind winter and spring period.

Andrew had been watching e-bike sales on his happy place – TradeMe – and thinking for a while that they could possibly replace the old and fairly worn-out Mud Bug two-wheelers his three staff had been thrashing around on for many years.

“Really they just need the bikes to get from A to B, any big jobs are handled by the tractor – even the calfeteria is marginal for the side-by-side to pull,” he says.

The two-wheelers were really expensive to replace and also to maintain and Andrew had a list of reasons why they didn’t really work on the farm.

“They fall over, break things, get bent out of shape and the team forget to fill them up or forget the oil and some staff members struggled to start them – they didn’t feel comfortable riding them – whereas everyone can ride a bike!”

So when two barely used Cherokee Chiefs came up for sale on TradeMe Andrew dived in and took the plunge and is pleased with the way they are panning out.

While he tends to pedal and use the e-assist function, he suspects the staff just use the fully electric function and throttle – so that is not adding much to their well-being.

“They can do either, but mainly I don’t think they like pedalling.”

The bike’s maximum speed is 30km/h and that ties in well with the farm speed limit, he says.

“Everyone can learn to change a tyre or chain and if they forget to plug the e-battery overnight it’s easy enough to pedal.

“And there will be no more phone calls from the back of the farm when someone forgot to fill the bike with petrol.”

Andrew has invested in clip-on panniers and a wee trailer to carry extra tools and farm supplies.

The cows have adapted really well to the silent bikes, he says.

“It always frustrated me that cows actually move slower when someone’s sitting on a motorbike behind them – it’s much easier to toddle along and slap the cow on the rump on the e-bike – the motorbikes always made the cows walk too slow or too damn fast.”

Tech support from Smart Power bikes in Nelson has been great, he says, adding that most bits and pieces on the bikes are standard but he wonders how well the rear wheel hub unit will last through winter with the corrosive effect of mud and cow manure.

“If that bit lasts a year or two that will be okay, and it looks like it would be relatively simple to swap out for a new one.”

While the fat tyres add a little more comfort and stability on gravel and rutted tracks, suspension on the back wheel would be a welcome addition to prevent lower-back jarring. Bigger mudguards at the front is a modification Andrew is planning to lessen the splatter from wet patches.

While he had to put up with some ribbing from the Twitter crowd, he says the 72 likes, four retweets and 17 comments he received from his Tweet signal a level of interest, not just poking the borax.

Plugging in the vehicle each night is easy with the transformer box and plug to hook into 240V power and that way the battery is always full, Andrew says.

He’s having so much fun he says he is even thinking of trading in his own side-by-side for an e-bike.

“Or maybe I should just actually ride my mountain bike!”