Norman Knight: To e-bike or not to e-bike

It’s weird. Ever since Becky and I came home from our Idaho bicycle adventure, my attention has been hijacked by the idea of e-bikes.

What I mean is, I am constantly focusing on images and messages in print media and websites that relate in some way to electric bicycles, commonly known as e-bikes. Recently I pulled the latest issue of Rails To Trails magazine from our mailbox and the cover story, “The evolution of e-bikes in America,” made me start to wonder — is the universe trying to tell me something?

Before our Idaho adventure I must admit that, personally, I was not sold on the appropriateness of an e-bike as a vehicle to two-wheeled enlightenment. I believed that, to seek The Way of the Bike, one must first of all pedal under human power. I have always seen the best bicycle riding as a way to enjoy the beauty and quiet of nature all the while getting good exercise. Riding helped make the world seem right.

Bikes have always been a part of my life. From the day my dad ran alongside me for support as he helped me learn to balance on my own; to the days I rode the two blocks between my house and Greenwood Elementary under my own power; to the beautiful red Schwinn Typhoon I got to help with my paper route; to the light blue Fuji on which my buddies and I discovered the backroads and byways of Johnson County and beyond my life has been intertwined with bicycles.

Years later, as I began hearing about e-bikes, I was skeptical. Battery power? Pfft. I can do this on my own. I am strong. I don’t need help. Would Lance Armstrong use battery power? (Well, I now know he might have if he could have gotten away with it.) I maybe should admit a bit of ego was involved in my scorn of e-bikes.

But in August Becky and I went on the Idaho Bike Trip, and I had a revelation. I think it was the second day after several serious climbs when I understood that maybe I couldn’t Lance Armstrong my way up some of these high hills. And more importantly, the satisfaction and elation I used to feel at conquering such a challenge wasn’t as interesting to me as it once was. Maybe I was less interested in the healthy satisfaction of knowing why my legs were sore at the end of the day, and more interested in taking in the scenery as I rode a slower, more leisurely pace. After all, slower would still get me exercise, just at a less intense rate.

But I persisted and rode the hard bicycle days of Idaho for five days of the six-day trip. Then on the last day, things changed. Two members of our group who had been riding e-bikes had an early flight and would have to leave us. Their bikes were now open for anyone who cared to ride one. I told myself this was a good chance to finally try out one of these contraptions. I admit I also was looking forward to riding with perhaps not so much effort. After a brief tutorial, I was off.

What can I say? Apparently, somehow my old legs had been replaced by my twenty-something’s limbs. The riding was easier, the hills doable, while at the same time, I was pumping the pedals and clearly working out. At one point Becky — who stayed with her regular bike — and I rode along a river trail as we watched two eagles flying in the same direction. It seemed as if they were flying with us. It was marvelous; the Way of the Bike. The rest of the ride was like that.

This latest issue of Rails to Trails has lots of basic information about e-bikes which will give me directions going forward. Perhaps the universe also is giving me a push forward. Either way, it looks like an e-bike might be in my future.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to [email protected].