by Stan Purdum
I just spent nine February days in the warmth of Florida cycling 45-65 miles per day with 13 other riders and a sag driver and helper from a group called Bike Hope Love (BHL). (They were formerly known as the Pedaling Parsons, and I’ve written previously in RBR about participating in the group’s winter ride.) The ride is a fundraiser for missions, with this year’s money going to Sojourner House in Ohio’s Mahoning County, which helps kids and families displaced from their homes due to violence or drugs.
Nine of the riders rode standard bikes, with lots of carbon fiber in evidence. Three of us, including yours truly, were riding conventional bikes we’d converted to ebikes. I was on my converted Trek 520, my friend Mike was on a Surly Cross Check, and our friends Dave and Marilyn were on a Santana Noventa tandem. All three bikes were chromoly steel with 750-watt Bafang mid-drive motors added on.
I own a couple of standard bikes — one of them a pretty nice road bike — but for me, there was never any question about which bike I would take to the BHL event. I joined the ranks of ebike riders a little over a year ago, and at the time, I told myself I would still ride my regular road bike sometimes. And I have, occasionally. But the reasons I converted my touring bike to an ebike still apply — aging, wanting to keep up with my friends (part of my social life involves cycling), and a now-chronic leg problem which is less aggravated when riding with e-assist than without it. The other ebike riders at this ride have similar reasons.
BHL has no restriction on what sort of bike participants use at its events, so none of us on ebikes felt out of place. And since e-assist helps us to pedal at a good pace, we never struggled to keep up. As with most group bike events, the participants became stretched out over the routes, but Mike and I were typically in about the middle of the pack, while Dave and Marilyn rode sweep by choice.
The main difference for us who used ebikes at this event was our need to recharge our bike batteries after each ride. By prior arrangement, the group slept each night in a church near the end point of that day’s ride, and in those churches, electric outlets were not always in convenient locations. Nonetheless, all of us ebikers had come prepared with an extension cord, so that in most places, we were able to charge our batteries without even removing them from the bikes.
The presence of more than one ebike on the ride provided an opportunity for some learning about our equipment. Though all three ebike had the same motor, we all had different size batteries and riding styles. Mike is 15 years younger than I am and rides more often with his e-assist turned off than I do, and the tandem, of course, had two sets of feet propelling it, so apples-to-apples comparisons were not possible. But I observed that in general, my bike was using up the available voltage more quickly than either of the other two ebikes. I never ran out, but on the 65-mile days, I had to slow down and drop to a lower assist level for the last few miles to avoid running out of assist power before running out of road. In discussing this with the other e-riders, I came up with a few things to check out on my bike before another trip.
On day 6, another rider joined us for that day only. He was riding a Specialized Turbo Creo road ebike, one that had the battery so well concealed in the down tube that you had to look twice to realize that it was in fact an electric-assist bike. The frame was aluminum and was equipped with a motor made by Brose. The route that day was 58 miles, and the rider, Chuck, using the second of his three assist settings, completed the route using 61% of his available power.
Tandem captain Dave was both the route master and the journalist for the ride. His journal can be found here.
Ebikes are here to stay. More and more bike events are accommodating them, and more to the point, aside from a place to recharge their batteries, there isn’t much accommodation needed for ebikes to mix in with standard bikes.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.