II’ve ridden more than a few miles over the years on bikes: road bikes, mountain bikes and my real passion is gravel. I’m not fast but I can go the distance. The rough terrain doesn’t bother me. I love a long climb and a heartbreaking descent. And most of all, I love to explore, especially the back roads of Oregon, even better if I find other people who share my passion.
But I have to admit I squirmed and winced at the idea of an electric bike. I totally agreed when my mate Chuck used one: it was great having it next to me through Skyline Forest when I normally had to wait. But I didn’t need an electric bike.
Then my husband and I agreed to vacation with friends of ours who are much faster than me. Chris is a Category 2 bike racer, he can also do bunny hop and stop hockey with the best of them. Kelly is the fastest runner I know, plus she’s a lot younger than me. So I agreed to take the electric bike with me on our vacation in Joseph, Oregon.
My first test took place before my friends arrived. I took the Snake River e-bike to the Hell’s Canyon lookout. The first 2 miles were 15% incline. It wasn’t the brightest of all ideas.
I tested the bike on a flat road for a mile and then we started to climb the steep hill. I turned on the lowest power setting, honestly terrified the bike was going to take off. I worked like a dog, the power making the climb more reasonable. The slope was still technically difficult to climb and when I stopped it was difficult to start again. But I caught up with the glorious overhang.
Then my friends arrived and we went for a great ride to visit the Zumwalt prairie: 56 miles and 4000 feet of gain with a mix of paved and gravel roads.
The route began with a 2,000 foot drop to the roadway. The electric bike was not much different from my normal gravel bike. Because the power is cut off above 20 mph, the only benefit was the extra 10 pounds of carrying the battery.
Then we took a steep gravel road that crossed the reserve. I started with the lowest power setting, then quickly realized I needed more power. For a change, I wasn’t taking off from the back of being dropped on a 10-15% climb, but instead I could be right with my friends. Sometimes I would take the plane to take a picture. No one waited for me and I really enjoyed the 11 miles through the reserve.
When we reached the top of the rolling meadows, I was able to adjust my efforts accordingly. As long as I was pedaling, the electric bike helped me. Sometimes I even stopped to look for wild animals. Then I could easily catch up.
At the end of the trip, after four hours and 20 minutes, I only had a little power left on the battery. I was glad I didn’t run out of juice!
As for the group, we all had to adjust to my newfound power. I learned to communicate more when I decided to overtake and not explode by the group on a steep climb (frustrating for other runners). We all agreed that having me on the electric bike made the day a lot more fun.
My two cents: If you ride with people who have variable speeds, I recommend you give it a try. Most bicycle shops sell electric bicycles and several shops specialize in these. But before you get on an electric gravel bike, know that you still need great bike riding skills.
Overall, e-bikes are all about letting go of the ego; if it helps you enjoy the great outdoors more, take advantage!
As for where to ride an electric bike, Dirty Freehub (dirtyfreehub.org) offers over 8,000 miles of gravel bike trails, including roads that allow electric bikes.