Back in February Markus had one of those big birthdays and his sisters had the bright idea of clubbing together to help him buy an e bike. He’s been talking about getting one for ages, but they are pretty pricey, so the sisterly initiative is great for getting things moving on the bike front.
Markus is no slouch on an ordinary bike but you need to be really motivated to cycle in our area without a bit of assistance. The roads and lanes are beautiful and virtually traffic free but the gradients are brutal. Added to which, I personally have always fancied the option of being able to put on a spurt and escape the attentions of the farm dogs which tend to leap out with murderous intent as you are passing their property.
So the first step was obviously to hire e bikes from St Félicien, capital of all things cycling in these parts. http://en.ardeche-guide.com/search/node/ardechoise. They have a range of around 100km depending on the terrain and temperature and the battery takes three to four hours to recharge. Their top speed (with assistance) is limited to 25 km per hour. In France, if the battery power allows the machine to exceed this speed the bike is classed as a moped and requires a license plate and insurance. In addition they are not allowed to use bicycle lanes.
We took advantage of a lovely sunny afternoon (unfortunately all too rare this Spring) to take them for a spin and we had a wonderful time. In 2 ½ hours we covered 32 km and effortlessly climbed up to the Col de Fontfreyde, nearly 2000ft above our starting point (it sounds more spectacular in feet than a mere 600 metres). The countryside was looking gorgeous and it was fantastic to cover so much ground, compared with walking, but out in the midst of it all and not shut up in a car.
We were interested to realise that these machines operate more like normal bikes and less like motorised ones than we had expected. In French they are known as vélos à assistance éléctrique which perfectly describes the experience. You are the master of your bike. If you do not pedal nothing much happens except for a spurt to get you started. After that, the more you pedal the more assistance you get. It takes a little getting used to because the bikes themselves are fairly heavy and there is always a certain amount of resistance from the dynamo, which means that free-wheeling requires a pretty steep gradient. But the super plus is that if, as I did, you cross a little bridge at the bottom of a valley and don’t notice that the lane has suddenly become as steep as the side of a house … you stall and get off… but … put your bike into third gear and max assistance, stand on the pedal you’re off again like a bird on the wing!
Altogether a great experience and something that we shall certainly be suggesting to Walksweekers who might want to get a different perspective on the varied and spectacular routes criss-crossing our corner of the Ardèche.