As an aging baby boomer who’s always been passionate about cycling but who’s put on significant pounds over time, about twelve years ago I hung up my road bike in favor of an electric-assist bicycle. For the last several years on my road bike I’d found I was limiting all my longer weekend rides to gentle grades, usually river valleys and mild rolling hills.
The fact is I’ve never loved steep hill climbing, period…even in my younger days. And so as time and gravity took their toll on my body (I’m now nursing a bum knee that appears to be a chronic condition) I searched for a solution that would keep me cranking the pedals without going cardiac, and quickly discovered e-assist cycling.
What makes e-bikes so attractive for this kind of riding? Lots. Here’s a partial list.
1) The ability to cover relatively long distances quickly—and without exhaustion. I usually average close to 23 mph over the first hour or so of the ride, when the batteries are fresh and the legs willing. On a typical longer weekend ride that average almost always comes down to 21 mph on the second half of the ride, which is still plenty quick, and enables 40-mile rides in just two hours of saddle time. I’ve even beaten the Google map estimated driving time on one of my favorite rides, which still makes me giddy to contemplate.
One of my favorite weekend rides is up to Kent, CT, (home of Henry Kissinger and old Brit rocker Ian Hunter), where I’ve discovered a luncheon place with the best BLTs on the planet; then a return route through the backwoods along the Housatonic River on a dirt road with near vertical tall granite formations, complete with miniature waterfalls. These are the same rides that used to take me half
a day and all my energy on my road bike. Instead of coming home sweaty and exhausted, I find that on the e-bike I usually feel both invigorated and elated
2) Controlling the workout on hills. This was one of my biggest problems with pedal bikes, i.e. the inability to control my breathing and heart rate on steep climbs, and the reason I eventually converted to assist riding. Given the choice between going cardiac, giving up biking completely, or finding an e-powered solution, the decision to go electric was a no brainer. Which leads to my next point.
3) Ride route versatility. Once you’re not afraid of hills (and actually seek them out for a decent workout), the world of ride route options opens like a window on the natural world. No more feeling limited to the two or three old valley rides you’ve done a hundred times on your road bike, now you can confidently go on almost any hill ride with a grin instead of a grimace. And I’ve found many routes north of me over country roads so quiet I often see only a few cars over the course of two hours. I’ve even discovered a wonderful two-hour 3- state ride in the NW corner of Connecticut that winds through two adjacent state parks (Bash Bish Falls in Massachusetts, Taconic State Park in NY) and a whole lot of beautiful backcountry.
4) Riding with medical/health handicaps. Mine are the bad knee, as well as the extra weight I’ve put on over the years. Other e-bikers I know cite many other problems that have taken them off their pedal-only bikes. Most are either seniors or those approaching ARP membership rapidly. E-bikes provide an easy way to stay active and physically positive, usually in a beautiful outdoor environment, which has to be beneficial to emotional health as well. Personally I know I get depressed if I don’t ride regularly.
5) E-bike touring can be a great social activity. My wife is hardly a biking enthusiast, but put her on an e-assist bike and she lights right up. We’ve done some very challenging hill rides together, and the experience has always been a bonding one, even if we don’t get out as often as we’d like together. And just a few weeks ago I put a local friend in the saddle of my spare e-bike for a 40-minute hill ride; he loved it! The joy factor alone makes e-biking a sport it takes very little to get hooked on. In summary, there are too many positives about e-biking to list them all here, and fast day touring can quickly become addictive. Imagine being able to sprint up long, multi-mile hills at more than twice the speed of a pedal bike—and with just a fraction of the sweat and tears. Hills that used to be exhausting (and usually avoided) instead become exhilarating and sought out. Mountainous routes you’d never consider on a pedal bike become
among your favorite rides, and 40-mile tours can be comfortably enjoyed in just a couple hours. Finally, your friends are both jealous and envious of you—until you put them on your spare E-bike and go out for a ride together.
Written and submitted by ElectricBike.com story editor Larry Hayes