The arrival of the electric assist bike (ebike) has eliminated that worry about physical ability and in the process changed the travel equation. In the last year two friends (independently) bought ebikes for their wives and I’ve seen a 180 degree change in our travel discussions. Their partner is now the one asking to join in on local rides and the one suggesting biking trips that they should take.
Ebike technology marries a battery powered motor with the traditional pedal-only powered bike to provide the extra oomph to let even the weakest rider stay with a group. It is not an electric scooter. If you don’t pedal, you don’t get a boost. With the addition of a variable power setting you can add just as much assist as you need. And you can’t cheat as increasing road speed automatically scales back the amount of the assist until it cuts out at 20 miles an hour.
Ebikes are a bit heavier than a regular hybrid bike, but on a flat road they can be ridden with the power off, or with a minimal assist setting to compensate for the extra weight. If you are behind on your daily exercise quota, just turn off the power. And if you need a break, there is no reason to stop. Just add a little extra battery boost and catch your breath.
The ebike let’s you consider a biking vacation without worries about embarrassing yourself or being left behind. In addition it eliminates the need to embark on a time consuming, and often daunting, pre trip training program. The rider still needs basic bike skills and should be a regular cyclist with the stamina to ride 25 miles three or four times a week. But at that level of fitness, they could sign on to a week long bike tour of 40 to 50 miles a day without a worry about holding up the group or having to give up and ride in the van.
Ebike technology has arrived just as the active vacation market is taking off. A surge in baby boomer retirements is well underway and with their more active lifestyles the number signing up for active vacations is increasing by the month. This group is more adventurous than their parents and eager to discover new destinations and try out new and exciting adventure vacations. And as they build new friendships with similarly minded people, the demand is only going to increase. Couples who have not previously done much biking can join in as well, and this new found capability opens up new ways to see the countryside, small towns, and incredible vistas.
Active vacations are the logical next step as this group incorporates the daily walk or their time at the gym into their vacations and time away from home. Rather than car touring, taking a cruise, or getting on-off a bus, they want a more hands-on experience that includes trekking, walking or biking. Travel brochures are reflecting this change with an increase in the number of tours offering the combination of adventure, cultural immersion, and physical challenge.
The rapid growth in bicycling in older age groups is another aspect of this change. Midlife runners are transitioning to biking as their body becomes less resilient and nagging high impact injuries become more common. Between 1995 and 2009 the rise in biking among those aged 60-79 accounted for 37 percent of the total nationwide increase in bike trips.
As the barrier to considering themselves as cyclists decreases, it’s not unexpected to find biking incorporated into more active vacations. Now with the electric assist bicycle arriving on the scene, that shift is accelerating.
Ebike rental options are being added to almost all cycling tours. The additional cost is minimal given the experience that awaits. Pick your country, pick your season, find a few recreational cyclist friends and you have all the ingredients to try it for yourself. A new approach for an active vacation to get you get close to the people and culture of any country you choose to visit. The world will look different from two wheels. Enjoy.