The UK’s Sheffield City Council is looking to buy a fleet of electrical bikes to allow local GPs to offer them on prescription as a form of exercise in what is known as Social Prescribing.
In a £150,000 tender notice, the council said: "The bikes will be provided to individuals following referral from a GP. As such they need to be suitable for individuals who may be suffering from a variety of conditions including but not limited to asthma, diabetes, chronic pain and mental health issues."
Given that a working conventional 100 per cent human-powered bicycle can be bought second hand for under £100, The Register is at a loss to understand why e-bikes – which retail for £1,000 or more and have a motor to help you pedal – are uniquely qualified to mitigate the chronic conditions of Sheffield's less well.
But geography may offer clues. Sheffield is home to Blake Street, which at an inclination of 16.6˚ away from the horizontal, is one of the UK's steepest streets. It would certainly put the most hardened cyclist off attempting to scale it without the aid of electric propulsion.
Earlier information about the Social Prescribing scheme said it "aims to link transport and health agendas together by exploring ways of making e bikes more accessible with less barriers to use and maintain and affordable to loan as opposed to paying a hire rate. In addition, the provider will explore options to make e-bikes affordable to purchase to the people who really need them at the end of their loan period."
Social Prescribing is not unheard of in the UK. Since at least 2001, aerobics, weight training, yoga, and swimming have been available either free or at cut-price rates for up to 10 weeks at a time under the GP prescribing schemes aimed at tackling chronic conditions. But this is the first we have seen where motorised vehicles are prescribed for health.
Not all the e-bikes in the tender will be a tonic for the wheezing patients of Sheffield's GPs though. A second lot within the tender will be used by both Police community support officers and civil enforcement officers. "These bikes will be of a suitable trekking style appropriate for their envisaged operations," the notice said.
One can only imagine what operations the council envisages. Perhaps the council thinks intrepid bobbies will be speeding to break up nefarious lockdown-encroaching raves.
As far as the health benefits of e-bikes go, maybe Sheffield City Council would accrue better value for money by prescribing the afflicted with circular cycle routes in which they travel only downhill.
The council has not responded to The Register's request for comment. ®