E-road bikes are one of the newest bike genres on the block.
Electric road bikes have the geometry of your race or endurance road bikes, they’re light enough to match up well to at least a heavier standard road bike and have power boosts that can be as heavy or as light as you want.
On the strongest setting, you can fly up a hill like Marco Pantani in his pomp. On the lightest setting, you still put out the work that you do on your road bike, it’s just that you’re now up front chatting with your friends and in fine spirits, not out at the back, spluttering expletives under your breath.
Recently, Cycling Plus magazine put out a call to hear our readers’ experiences of using e-road bikes.
Several told us their stories of how the new electric bikes have renewed motivation to ride in later years, kept crucial riding friendships alive, fought back against the tide of ill health and, ultimately, restored the fun that should be at the heart of riding a bike once age has begun to take its toll.
Mike Baczkowski – Florida
Mike Baczkowski has ridden bikes seriously, and ridden serious bikes, since his late 20s. Now 80, he recalls over the phone from his winter home in Florida of his penchant for fixing up old and abandoned bikes.
Forgotten treasures, such as a 1986 Raleigh Touring 14 bike that he rescued from the garbage, restored and took over to Italy to ride the original L’Eroica vintage bike event in Tuscany.
There’s also a 1980 Colnago Super that he’d put in the miles around his home in Hamburg, New York, close to Niagara Falls and the Canadian border; and the steel Bianchi that he was on in 2005 when he got wiped out by a motorist at an intersection on, ironically, Cycle to Work day, an incident that left him with a broken neck vertebra and a long convalescence.
He later become a belated, but ultimately enthusiastic, adopter of carbon, buying a 2014 Guerciotti Eureka in the bright orange stylings of the CCC pro team at the time.
“My friends kept insisting I get a carbon bike,” he says. “They were faster up the hills on their carbon racers – that was partly a weight thing, but also an age thing, they’re all at least 10 years younger than me.
“The Guerciotti I loved. It looked great in the orange and black, it had [Shimano] Di2 gearing, the whole bit… Now I could keep up, for a few years at least. Then age started taking its toll.
“It’s not that I couldn’t make it up the hills, I just couldn’t make it up at their speed. Of course, they’re good friends so they’d patiently wait at the top, which only annoyed me even more. You see them ahead, drinking out of their bottles, munching on energy bars…”
Much like the way his friends had persuaded him to go carbon in 2014, those same friends were now talking him into buying an ebike.
Not the cumbersome, tank-like ebikes that are only viable with the power turned on, but the new-fangled, svelte race bike-shaped creations that were making an impression on an increasing number of people buying a bike.
Before Mike eventually bought a carbon Specialized Creo, he rented the aluminium version from his local dealer for a couple of days for rides with friends.
He reacted in a way that surprised even himself, having been around the block many times when it comes to bikes.
“You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face with a power sander!”
Brian Frith – Jersey
The benefits of riding an electric bike also rang true in our chat with Brian Frith, a South Yorkshire-born Jersey resident of 74 whose passion for cycling, in particular for cycling with his tight group of riding friends, has been dented somewhat following a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation (AF). It’s a heart condition that causes an irregular and abnormally fast heart rate.
While he still rides his non-powered Parlee road bike for solo rides when he can ride at his own speed, his 2020 purchase of the carbon Specialized Creo SL Expert e-road bike has been his saviour for the continuation of his cherished group rides.
“We have got such a lovely group of cyclists,” says Brian.
“Only a few of them have been in a club before, and most have started cycling somewhat later in life, just as I did. The guy who leads our rides, he’s the slowest in the group but he’s got the most extraordinary knowledge of Jersey lanes. We have 700 miles of road here in Jersey and we seem to find new ones on every ride.
“While the clubs here will stick to the bigger roads, we wander around the countryside, but always on the hills. And it was the hills where I was getting into bother with the AF, which is why I got the ebike.”
Though the bike hasn’t fixed his health problem (he says an operation called an ablation could do that), the bike can dig him out of a hole when his AF flares up.
“It kicks in without warning,” he says. “I can have rides where it’s absolutely fine and the AF starts and I suddenly lose all power. It manifests, usually, with the first hill I come to.
“Everyone else disappears into the distance, but I lose all power. I feel lethargic, without energy. It’s startling, the loss of power in my legs. The top valve and bottom valve of the heart are out of rhythm and it can send my heart rate as low as 39 or as high as 200; when at rest it’s 60.”
Brian is looking forward to a solution to his AF, at which point he’ll see even more benefit from the Creo.
“I live on the east of the island. We can ride for 20 miles to La Corbière on the west, stop and have coffee before we head into the hills and I’ll be sitting there thinking, ‘Ooh, this [AF] feels dodgy.’ I have an Apple Watch and in the last 18 months it’s had the capability to measure AF.”
“It can tell me I’m positive, though I can usually feel it if I am. So instead of going with the group into the hills, I can instead use the power on the bike to get home without overstressing things.”
“Were I on the Parlee, I’ve got an hour’s ride home that’s going to be quite tough, but with the bike’s motor it means I don’t make the problem worse.”
Kevin Roberts – Northumberland
While health has also played a part, it wasn’t keeping up with friends that motivated former firefighter Kevin Roberts, 65, of Rothbury, to buy a Ribble SL e Endurance Enthusiast, but rather to carry on enjoying the magnificent scenery of the Northumberland hills all by himself.
Having supplemental power dulls none of the sensory experience that comes with riding a bike, he believes.
“Cycling is not just about fitness,” says Kevin. “Nothing beats riding around the countryside. To use that word, ‘mindfulness’. It’s exhilarating, it’s calming, it’s serene…
“I’m very much a solo rider. Group rides become a competition and that no longer interests me. I might now have assistance on the climbs but there’s competition on the descents too, as I’m a scaredy-cat descender!”
Kevin admits to a “stubbornness” in accepting the bike was necessary, but his health has meant the bike became essential if he wanted to continue to ride the hills he loves.
“In my case, [buying it] is almost an admission that I’m not really fit. I’ve played football all my life and have always been a fit person, but the Parkinson’s [he was diagnosed with the disease in 2012] has progressed and age has crept on.”
Parkinson’s leads to muscle wastage, which Kevin experienced, and hard efforts would bring on a tremble in his arms. The thought of hard efforts put him off going out and it wasn’t until last year, with the enjoyment thoroughly drained from his cycling experience, that he decided to buy the bike.
“That stubbornness has had to give way to realism,” he says. “The body just can’t do what the brain wants it to do.”
Derek Biddle – Crete
For Derek Biddle, 73, a Brit living on the island of Crete for the past 20 years, his purchase of Ribble’s CGR AL electric gravel bike was motivated partly, like Mike and Brian, by a desire to keep up with faster friends in his White Mountain club, but also by the bike simply offering another kind of riding experience.
He’s now got the full cadre of bikes – road, mountain, gravel and ebike – to suit all of his whims.
“My Bianchi road bike is beautiful to ride but I’m looking to the future,” says Derek. “I live in the foothills of the White Mountains and the ebike has opened doors to places that would before be out of reach. It has a battery extender, which gives me a range of 120km, providing I run the power on the lowest of the three levels.”
How does he know the limit? Because he’s run out of juice. While that might be an unthinkable disaster on a traditional behemoth of an ebike, this new breed is just about light enough to run without the battery switched on. Derek’s Ribble, without the extender is 13.5kg – lighter than his mountain bike.
Weight, however, shouldn’t be at the top of your agenda as running out of battery won’t be a common event. With Mike’s Creo, he can programme its software to ration the power over his chosen distance.
“I was speaking to my dealer about maybe putting some carbon rims on it, and he was like, ‘Why bother, Mike?! You have a motor on your bike! You don’t need to concern yourself with weight.’ So I’ve stuck with what I’ve got.”
The electric bike motors on both the Ribble and Specialized bikes described in this article work in similar ways, albeit coming from different parts of the bike (the rear wheel hub for Ribble; for Specialized, the bottom bracket). They work by replicating the power you put in so there’s no free ride here.
“The Creo adds power to your power,” says Brian. “When you stop, it stops. Specialized sells it to you as, ‘It’s you, only faster’ – though I’m not looking for additional, excessive speed, I’m just looking for help.
“But there’s no doubt you can push it if you want. [On level 3] it’ll take out all of the serious pressure on a steep hill. In a group you can’t go mad on the hills. You could fly up and upset everyone but I’ll put the power onto one bar and amble up mid-pack – I get a workout without winding anyone up!”
The only way is up
All four of our case studies – Mike, Brian, Kevin and Derek – had nothing but positive things to say about their power-assisted bikes.
“The tech is just extraordinary,” says Brian, “in that it [the Creo] allows you to ride exactly how you would your road bike, but with the feeling of someone having a hand on your back.”
“Honestly, I can’t think of a downside,” adds Kevin. “Once you come to accept your frailties as you get older and are happy to accept the [power] assist, I can’t think of one.”
“It’s an expensive bike,” says Brian, “but then I thought that with the first bike I bought, and then I think of the tens of thousands of miles I’ve ridden it. The amount of punishment it takes and the pleasure per pound is incomparable to anything else.”
Mike says the test ride of his Creo was crucial to buying one. He recommends that anyone thinking of purchasing should do exactly the same.
“I resisted and resisted – ‘I don’t need an ebike…’ I’d say. In the middle of this whole period I got prostate cancer and I’m on hormone treatment. I know that weakened me. I’m still not back to 100 per cent and in the end it was a question of, ‘Do I want to ride at 16kph on flat roads, or do I want to have some fun in the hills?’.
“I’m not in favour of those ebikes that just give you power with a twist of the throttle like one of those scooters. You need to keep your body working and that’s the best thing about these power-assist bikes.
“They help you, but they don’t take over. You’re working as hard as you ever were, you’re just going faster. What’s not to like about that?”