I have become a biker. Not a motorcyclist, not a dirt-biker but an e-biker. I still pedal my bicycle, and sometimes I have to stand to pedal up a hill in first gear but a battery gives my pedals a boost. As a result, I can bike farther and up steeper terrain than was ever within my reach.
For years I lacked both the stamina and strength to keep up with my husband on his regular seven-speed bike. So while he toodled off on lone 19-kilometre-long excursions in nearby Fish Creek Provincial Park, I biked 15 minutes to the gym and back on my heavy cruiser.
I’ve never been much of a cyclist. I grew up on a farm with a muddy, gravelly, rut-filled yard, with the front and back lanes about the same, not to mention the frequent heavy machine traffic. My two childhood bikes came from the Regina police sale, and neither fit me quite right. Plus there was no one to bike with. Some kids roam our current Calgary neighbourhood in gangs, hooting at each other and chasing around like a pack of coyotes, nimbly using their bikes as an extension of their own legs. They are natural bikers. Me, not so much.
In March, 2020, I bought my e-bike. In retrospect I look like a smartypants, beating the pandemic shopping frenzy. In truth, my timing was simple luck. I’d been working up to this purchase for a couple of years.
From the moment I brought it home until I stored my bike for the winter, I cycled 3,000 kilometres. As bike purists point out, I’m not putting the same effort into pedalling as they do. True. But I’m biking a whole heck of a lot more than I would otherwise. I can bike with my husband for 60 km, sometimes just noodling around our neighbourhood. I can tackle hills. Of course, single-file biking is about as social as skiing, but we’re still sharing an experience.
I also bike for a multisensory adventure – the chattering birds, the rushing water, the mind-expanding forest smells near the west end of the park! And amidst COVID-19 isolation, I’ve felt genuine community with other folks enjoying the great outdoors. Passels of people flock outside to picnic, bike, stroll, board, fish, walk the dog, boat, float or just stand in the Bow River on a scalding summer day or, really, any old day. Lots of families. Many, many older cyclists. I smile and toss out greetings. Hello! Hello!
Some passersby have remarked, “That’s cheating!” or “You’re too young for that!” Cheating how? Friends, this is not a competition!
I guess many of us, all the time, quietly judge other people’s taste in clothes, music and coffee, how they spend their money and how they spend each day. Other folks judge others’ activity style or exertion. You can find all sorts of online comments from regular cyclists who heap scorn on e-bikers. Sure, anyone who moves around on their own steam deserves kudos for impressive fitness and discipline. But who gets to measure the amount of exercise I need? Who gets to claim the trails? Who gets to limit others’ access to the big, wide world?
Consider the various devices that help us participate and have fun: three-wheeled motorcycles, water wings or flippers in the pool, a chairlift in the mountains. Even a regular bicycle – 100-per-cent self-propelled – offers a mechanical advantage that gives our legs a lift.
And we all glide downhill the same.
Here’s another quirk of human nature: No one likes to be passed and no one likes to be held up by a slowpoke, both on the road and in life. On the nearby trail, speedsters zip past, rarely dinging their bell or pausing to pass safely and politely. Good luck to the solitary pedestrian navigating the path with a white cane. These cyclists could reach exciting velocities – unencumbered by the rest of us – on a highway, but no, they opt to weave in and out of families enjoying the park. Some wear stretchy Tour de France outfits, while others are just regular dudes in their regular clothes, breaking the speed limit. Helmets: optional. Hands on the handlebars: same. These speedsters never seem to be e-bikers.
Spring has sprung, and here I am, back in my mostly impervious happiness bubble, balancing on two slim wheels, beaming at kids, marvelling at nature, trying to use proper trail etiquette. (My e-bike actually bars me from exceeding the speed limit.) When a naysayer lobs a judgy remark my way, I call out, “Try one of these things! You’ll love it!”
And a miracle has occurred: I have lived beside one of our spectacular urban parks for 26 years but I had never possessed the confidence or motivation to venture there by myself. Now I bike there lots with my husband, and I have also popped in for a 50-km jaunt all by myself. Just for fun.
A friend used to bike to work occasionally, but the uphill ride home at the end of a taxing day deterred him from making this a daily practice. So he drove his car. Perhaps if he’d had an e-bike …
Sheila Bean lives in Calgary.
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