Why eBikes?

For the 35th anniversary of Backroads, we decided it was about time to get me out talking to the press, something I hadn't done in ages.

Everyone wanted to talk about eBikes, electric-assist bikes. All the editors and writers I met challenged my decision to offer them on trip. One writer's adverse reaction to eBikes was so strong it was shocking. She walked into the neighborhood shawarma shop where we'd decided to meet. Before she even took her seat she said, "So tell me about these eBikes. I'm not going to like them." Her face was hard and she seemed almost angry.

Why? I wanted to ask her. I've wanted to ask everyone who's fought me on this. What are you afraid of? Instead, I said...

"We know there are people out there, couples, for example, who can't ride together, and we want them to be able to ride together."

I don't remember what else I said, but this was enough.

I'll never forget the look on her face when she understood. Her change was amazing. In that moment of comprehension, her change was almost as shocking as her initial disapproval.

eBike on Backroads Italy Trip in Tuscany

It turns out she was an avid cyclist, and her long-time boyfriend had been an avid cyclist too. But he'd recently had a hip replacement and they'd been unable to ride together comfortably since. She asked whether I really thought they could ride together again. "Yes," I told her. "I know you can." (The couple is now booked on our upcoming Mallorca Cycling Trip in Spain.)

Writing this in my office in Berkeley now, looking out at our courtyard and the bikes hanging by the front gate and all the coming and going, I can't remember whether I told that writer in New York City about my trip with my son, William, earlier this year out to Alpine Dam. We'd gone together to put eBike to the test. I'm a serious enough cyclist. I even have a bike desk, so I can ride hard for hours - while working - when I don't have hours to ride.

William was twelve. The Alpine Dam loop is 34.2 miles with a 3202 foot elevation gain. When we went out together, I rode hard. William did, too, and with the extra boost of the eBike, he kept up. We'd never been able to ride hard together before, and certainly not with that distance or elevation gain.  I ride with my kids, but not full out. That day was different. We still talk about it. It was wild for us to share that.

I'm not sure what it will take for the angst around eBikes to dissipate. Once the cycling community comes around to the realization that more people on bikes means more bike lanes and more awareness of cyclists on the road, I think attitudes will change. By and large our guests are thrilled with eBikes--those who have tried them--but a handful still adamantly disapprove of my decision to offer them. And until I sat across that shawarma shop table from that writer in New York City, she disapproved, too. Why? This question still baffles me. But I think people will come around. In time.

17 Responses

  1. Martha Altreuter

    Question: I’m signed up for another (my 8th) Backroads trip this fall, and am wondering about the e-bikes. I’m athletic and energetic. Most of the time I wouldn’t want the e-assist, but I’m intrigued about how it might get me to do more of the long options, or just keep up a little better when the terrain’s really hilly. But with the battery almost doubling the weight of the bike, my concern is that it would really reduce the performance of the bike when you’re not calling for the e-boost. Anyone want to comment?

  2. Hi Martha–It’s fantastic you’re going on your 8th Backroads trip! You’re right, eBikes weigh 16 extra pounds and will noticeably add to your effort when you’re not using the electric assist. Since you’re an experienced cyclist and have been on seven of our trips, you’ll most likely be happier on a standard bike. You best bet is to hop in the shuttle for a boost over long uphills or past the hillier sections of longer route options. If you do choose to ride an eBike, you must ride it the entire trip as we won’t have a standard bike available to swap out.

  3. Kimberly Defanti Hoernig Kimberly Defanti

    If you’ve never rode an eBike, I suggest renting one for a day near your home. Lots of bike shops (especially in larger cities) offer daily rentals–it could be worth a try! Just make sure you can try it out on some big hills since that’s what you would want to use it for.

  4. Larry Pilcher

    eBikes are great for the elderly. Many of whom want to go on distance rides but the fear of not being able to get back keeps them close to home.

  5. Rob Williams

    The addition of E bikes will increase riding options for Backroad guests. I ride weekly with a group of die hard cyclists in the California foothills. One of our cyclist rides an E bike and he simply cannot ride hills without assistance. It is great that bike technology can help riders of all ages and abilities. I have contemplated starting an E bike Travel Company in California foothills. I know having E bike option will increase traveler satisfaction. How smart to include E bikes as a option on BackRoads trips.

    • Rob–You’re right! E-bikes allow less experienced riders to keep up with a faster group and are an excellent boost for cyclists who want to cover more ground but need a little assistance.

      Good luck with your endeavors!

  6. Penny

    I wanted to keep up with my husband on the Road to the Sun in Montana/Canadian mountains and the Ebike allowed me to do it. I referred to it as Obie One and it assisted me when I needed it, but allowed me to chose the level of support needed and when I needed it.
    Excellent option for couples with differing levels and/or choosing not to ride in the van.

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hi Penny, I’m glad to hear that. Our trips are designed so that all guests can make the activity as easy or as difficult as suits them–without impacting other guests’ experiences. While this is group travel, we genuinely believe that each guest has the right to make the trip their own. And we’re your enablers!
      Cheers,
      Tom

  7. Brian Kennedy

    Question: My wife and I are signed up for a trip this summer. We did a Backroads trip some 12 years ago in Europe. As we are a bit older now (67/65) (although in good health), we were wondering if the e-bike option would be the way to go. Our concern is the weight of the bike as we pedal “on our own”, taking the challenge away, although we recognize the assist will be appreciated on the hills.
    Any thoughts?

    • Hi Brian,
      Thanks for your inquiry. We are thrilled to have you and your wife join us this summer! The motor and battery on the eBikes adds approximately 7-8 lbs to the weight of our regular Ti bikes, so it is noticeable, but they’re a great option for hillier routes. If you find that you’re not using the eBike’s power, your Trip Leaders can remove the battery, taking off about half the extra weight (they can’t remove the motor). The feedback on the eBikes has been overwhelmingly positive for guests that choose them—check out this video to see them in action. Feel free to call our friendly Trip Consultants anytime at 800-462-2848 for more information. See you on trip soon!

  8. shafi goldwasser

    Hi, I am going on your 1-3 trip in the rockies soon. I bike some although not much, but enjoy it tremendously when its flat, much less so when its hilly. I am 57. I am thinking of the e-bike option. I just read your answer to the previous query saying that the leader can take out the battery reducing the weight by half — to 4 or so pounds extra if I understand correctly. Since the first day of the trip seems to not be so hilly (level 1), would it be ok to ask them to start out this way and then to add
    it the next day?

    • Hi Shafi. We’re so excited to see you in the Rockies! Our e-bikes have been very popular, and while it is rare that riders request to have the battery removed and replaced depending on the day’s routes, we are happy to accommodate the change. Please do note, however, that the battery and motor are 7-8 lbs each, so even with the battery removed the bike will be noticeably heavier than our standard bikes. We’d love to chat with you more about bike options to make sure you have the best experience on your upcoming trip – give us a call at 800-462-2848!

  9. […] become problematic, so while my husband upgrades to a Specialized S-Works Roubaix, I opt for an electric-assist bike, which Backroads offers at no extra charge. I still get a great workout but am able to ride all […]

  10. […] we got from a few purists when we introduced these bikes, wow, what a hit eBikes have been. Read my blog for those early anecdotes. eBikes continue to gain popularity as they level the playing field and […]

  11. Janelle Sanda

    I just returned from the Loire Valley trip where I used the e-bike for the first time. I was initially hesitant, given the extra weight, since the majority of the routes were fairly easy and I thought that might make it more difficult. When our group leader oriented me to use of the bike, his comment was always to have it on power level 1 ( of 4) on easier stretches, which essentially compensates for the extra weight. That seemed to work very well and I really appreciated the extra assist on the steeper grades. He also said to shift gears as frequently as you would on a regular bike. Even with the extra power, I was still breathing hard on some of the uphills, but I didn’t need to stop and walk! It also conserved my energy so I could do the longer options each day. I wouldn’t hesitate to use an e-bike on the next Backroads trip!

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hi Janelle,

      That’s exactly the point of eBikes! They let you use the amount of energy appropriate to you and enable you to bike for as long as you want. I’m so glad you were better able to experience the Loire Valley on one. You certainly want to take in ALL the sights there!

      Tom

  12. […] “Conquering the never-ending hills on the last day of the trip in Bavaria,” said my husband, Andy Yemma, proud to be 67 and the oldest in the group not riding an eBike. […]

  13. Ebike Dude

    My mom is 72 years old and she loves her electric bike . It allows her to go bike riding with me and the grand children.

  14. Ben Martinez

    I’m glad to hear that you’ve decided that e-Bikes are worth a look for some of us. I’m seventy and was never interested in Spandex, Lycra or fast movement. After years of happily wandering around on an old Raleigh with a three speed Sturmey Archer hub switch, I’m having a wonderful time on an e bike, and can again accompany my 60 year old girlfriend. She’s hard core, with only one speed, which I call crazy fast.

    Thing is, are e bikers now going to get cross eyed glances when we show up on a tour wearing jeans or cargo pants and an old shirt? Will that cause pearl-clutching among the go fast guys and gals? If so, no thanks. E bIke’s are used by the millions in Asia and there are many thousands of them in places like Holland and France, where extensive infrastructure supports and encourages biking of all kinds. They’re about to each a tipping point in the US, and I’m not interested in justifying or asking for anyone to excuse me. I’m having too much fun.

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hi Ben,
      I plan on being out on my bike (or e-bike) when I’m 70, wearing whatever the heck I want! Backroads trips attract so many types of people, and everyone is not only welcome–but expected–to participate in the trip in the exact way that suits them best. So if for you that means cargo
      pants and an old shirt, at your own pace, congratulations and have a blast.
      – Tom

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