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Inspiration, Stories / June 4, 2012

The reluctant cyclist’s e-bike adventure

By former marketing director Natalie Cook

As our list of tours offering electric bikes (or e-bikes) has quickly grown, we’ve also seen a steady increase of clients asking to rent them – particularly first-time bike tourists. So as BikeTours.com director of marketing, I’d been reading a lot about these bikes and talking to operators, clients, and salespeople about why they’re so great. But it was BikeTours.com president Jim Johnson who finally convinced/forced me to go try an e-bike for myself.

(Brief disclaimer – I don’t love physical exertion. My favorite workout is carrying bags through the mall. I do exercise and am in reasonably good shape, but I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed sweating. I even cycle sometimes, doing one- or two-hour leisure rides a few times a month – not really a long-haul kind of rider. And I hate – I mean really loathe – hills. My family feels about the same.)

Now back to the adventure story…
Despite my hesitations about a several-hour bike outing, and amid the vague grumblings of my husband and 14-year-old step-daughter, I packed up the family last Saturday and headed down to a great little specialty shop – Chattanooga Electric Bikes. They sell e-bikes and have several available for hourly rentals for touring around downtown Chattanooga.

Their helpful staff gave us a quick briefing on operating the e-bikes, pointers on conserving the battery power, some safety tips, and a caution to not ring the handlebar bell incessantly (apparently pedestrians really don’t like that) before sending us on our way for a 3-hour joyride.

E-bike touring
Always pulling up the rear…

And let me tell you — It. Was. AWESOME! We had SO much fun! All the reviews we’ve been hearing from our operator partners and clients were so true.

Chattanooga is a rather hilly town, and I’d been dreading the steep inclines of the city’s streets. But the hills just seemed to melt away underneath my e-bike’s wheels. Sure, I was still pedaling, even a little harder than on the flat stretches, but there was nary a huff or puff or leg cramp!

It was a delight to tour our own city in a way we never have by foot or car. We hit the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, riding through dormitory courtyards and along campus greenways, then explored a historic neighborhood from the unusual angle of its rear alleyways.

After stopping for a quick sandwich, we pointed our e-bikes toward the Riverwalk, an 8-mile paved trail running parallel to the Tennessee River. It’s mostly flat, so it was my test for cycling a longer distance than I’m accustomed to. The increased speed from our little batteries helped us cover quite a lot of ground! We e-biked the trail through park and picnic areas, a swampy marsh, woods, and beautiful river vistas. We thoroughly enjoyed being able to sit back and enjoy the scenery rather than being preoccupied with tired legs or a looming incline.

There was, of course, still physical effort. The pedal assist-style e-bike (what you’ll find in most touring fleets) requires that you pedal to get the benefit out of the battery-powered boost – you can’t ride it like a moped (trust me, I tried toward the end of the ride). When we turned the e-bikes in after three hours, my legs were tired. Not hurting, mind you – just reminding me that they’d been in constant use for a few hours!

I could definitely understand how these e-bikes are a good option for people with, say, a bad knee or heart problems. You’re still having to work, but there’s a lot more payoff for the effort — and less stress on your body!

We mapped our route when we got home – we covered almost 15 miles in 3 hours! (Including a short lunch break.) And we didn’t kill ourselves doing it. We so enjoyed exploring our surroundings that I know I forgot I was riding a bike a few times!

The bottom line? I think I sold myself an e-bike tour. As much as I love traveling and exploring, and especially how much I enjoy seeing clients find their dream tours on our site, I’d not felt sure I wanted to commit my vacation time to, you know, exercise. I could totally do this with an e-bike, though. The dear husband and step-daughter said the same. I didn’t expect three e-bike converts, but I think that’s what we got – with the girl saying “I’m ready to ride again!” as we left the rental shop.

Learn more about e-bikes for bike tours >

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