I’m one of those with ‘legs’ who poo-pooed e bikes, but I’ve so changed my mind.
I’ve just completed a three-week tour of the Netherlands. Magical and such an uncomplicated and enjoyable trip. I cycled from my house to DFDS ferry in North Shields, fully loaded and prepared with a tent, cooking gear, food, sleeping bag, mobile phone external battery and bravado. Had a great dinner on board, nice sleep, woke up in Ijumdien and cycled off for the first leg on the North Sea cycle route.
People invariably laugh at the idea of cycling in the Netherlands – it’s so FLAT they say. Seems like a bit of a sissy cycling holiday. But on the first day, with the Dutch mountains rising hard ahead (the wind in face) and with a full load, it’s not so easy, or at least it wasn’t for me on my super slick bike with road tyres and light frame. I was in first gear pushing hard and aching with it.
Just before I left I was at the Fish Quay and I met a lovely ex-Whitley Bay woman who was hiring a touring ‘e bike’ from Craig and she had plans to zip around the north of England. She was so nice I suggested she come with me for a bit. Annette and I ended up spending two weeks discovering the wonder of the well-routed ‘green’ cycle paths through villages and forests, stopping off at art galleries and camping in ‘mini-camps’, farm stays and ‘nature parks’. She met me on the second day of the trip. She had a Scott e-touring bike, also fully loaded with tent and gear. Her bike was much heavier than mine because of the battery, but with all the camping equipment we were not different at all weight-wise but oh my were we cycling under different conditions.
In the Dutch mountains, Annette was whistling a happy tune in ‘eco-mode’ and enjoying the scenery. I wasn’t.
When we set off together, I was not sure it would work. I’ve cycled with others before who weren’t the pushy ‘I’m going to wipe myself out’ types. I push myself, I don’t enjoy going slow. I’d told Annette that this was the case and that if it didn’t work we could go our own way and she was fine about it. But it did work; and over the course of the following few weeks we heard many similar stories from others – the lovers who cycled together with blokey bloke busting his gut and non-cycle fanatic partner tootling along with him (and the other way around); the older couple off on a trip with their young enthusiastic chatty teenage grandson; the retired gent who just came along with me for a bit because he had time (and an e bike). The thing I realised is that e-bikes make cycling with others enjoyable and fun – whatever the fitness and strength and Hutz-pa level. But there was more to it than that.
About one-third of the Netherlands is below sea-level, keeping the flood water out and creating ‘new land’ through reclamation has resulted in a complex and fascinating system of dykes, sand-dunes and water management systems unparalleled anywhere in the world. One of our first-week encounters was the Afsluitdijk (dyke), built in the 1930’s to contain the North Sea. With the wind in your face, it’s a very long 30km (particularly after an already long day in the saddle, and frustratingly knowing that the best campsite is at the other end).
Despite my ‘legs’ wanting to work, I’m nowhere near tour de France experience and it proved challenging – until Annette cycled off ahead and provided a slip-stream that made the dyke a whole lot easier to cross. On several long days, she rescued me when I was flailing.
This ‘commensal’ experience is one of the key benefits of electric bikes for me. I’ve ridden a lot with different people over the years but often end up riding with people who cycle at the same cadence and speed. Electric bikes make cycling with others so much more enjoyable. And the Netherlands is so well set up for a cycling holiday – traffic free cities and tracks, camping or bike huts, e-bikes or not. And I can’t not mention the stroopwaffles and apple cake.
The other benefit, of course, is when you don’t have the legs you once did. Lots of comments on my facebook posts about the trip whereof this ilk. ‘I’ll get one when I get older’, ‘my mother has one and she loves it’, ‘fred had to give up cycling but he could do it again with an e-bike’. As we were touring we met lots of older people on e-bikes. There were news stories about the increase in cycling accidents when people who hadn’t ridden bikes for a while found themselves racing along at 25km an hour and couldn’t quite handle the speed. Good caution for doing some training before heading out. But there is something else to consider here for me.
I live 12 miles from work. I do cycle to work, but not every day. It’s just too much time and effort. If its rainy or windy, it’s really not the most pleasurable experience. If I had an e bike I wouldn’t need to worry. With four modes available (eco, tour, sport and turbo) I can choose what level of effort I want, how fast I want to get there, and it’s quicker than metro door to door. Riding to Newcastle from the coast is a bit long for a regular commute for me on my current bike. So I pay for transport, I have a car. I’ve calculated the cost savings – it makes sense to ditch the car for an e-bike and with the savings, I could have a cycling holiday in the Netherlands every year.