Try Something New: Bikes of the Future – Electric Dreams

This article was published in 2019, in Magazine 143.

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Geoff Williams was converted to the potential of e-bikes on a cycling holiday in Spain

Last year my wife and I booked places on a cycling tour of northern Spain. When asked to nominate our preferred choice of bike we both opted for conventional hybrid models. However, shortly before the start date our tour company asked if we would like to reconsider our decision, given that the majority of other participants had opted for electric-assisted cycles (e-bikes). My wife decided to make the switch but I chose to stick with my original decision.

This was based on two main considerations. Firstly, being reasonably fit at 68 years of age, I thought that I would be capable of completing the five-day, 260-kilometre ride comfortably. Accordingly, using an e-bike seemed like cheating – why go on a cycling holiday if you weren’t really doing genuine pedalling and getting the benefit of healthy exercise? Secondly, I was sure that an e-bike would be noisy and detract from the pleasure of cruising along quiet country lanes.

E-bikes will make it feasible for those who don’t consider themselves fit or able enough to ride conventional bikes to enjoy everyday cycling

It transpired that eight out of the eleven participants had selected e-bikes. Apart from myself, the other two ‘conventional’ riders were a fairly trim woman from Tennessee (who had been a competitive cyclist when younger) and her very fit teenage daughter.

Geoff Williams and his wife outside the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
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The first day involved a fairly flat stage. My wife and I were able to ride comfortably and companionably side-by-side at an easy pace. However, somewhat worryingly, my wife on her e-bike glided effortlessly ahead on the few inclines that we encountered. The next days became progressively harder with increasingly steeper and longer climbs. By the final morning the ‘conventional’ trio had been well and truly ‘dropped’ by the e-bike peloton on climbs that went on for several kilometres. I struggled hopelessly in the distant rear. Fortunately, the lunch break brought salvation. One of the e-bikers decided to ride in the support van for the final 20 kilometres and I was able to commandeer her bike.

The electric-assisted afternoon ride was pure bliss! The e-bike in basic mode still required a fair degree of pedalling because of its heavy weight, thus confounding my view that it wouldn’t provide proper exercise. Switching into higher assist modes made all the climbs comfortable and easily achievable for somebody of my age and clearly dubious fitness. I switched into Turbo – the highest assist level – on one climb and was amazed by the boost involved, suggesting that an e-bike would make easy work of even the steepest gradient that most recreational cyclists would normally attempt. In addition, the e-bike made only the gentlest of whirring noises in all modes and so my fears of noise pollution were also totally unfounded.

Am I converted to e-bikes? Definitely! Electric-assist will allow senior citizens to extend their cycling capabilities much deeper into old age and will make it far easier for recreational bikers to appreciate and enjoy longer or more challenging routes. E-bikes will also make it feasible for those who currently do not consider themselves fit or able enough to ride conventional bikes to become involved in everyday cycling.