The first time on an e-bike

My kids told me that I gave the guy at the bike rental desk my stock stern face when he asked me if I would like to consider an electric bike. He had just fitted my teenage boys up for the latest hip hybrids (the standard hire bike fusing mountain and road bike features) and just as I was revving up for my own velo vogue moment , I heard the words: ‘Would mum like to consider an electric bike?',  my boys guffawing in the background as they sped around nearby paths trying out their mean machines. This bike rental guy was well trained, however, in pre-empting people who might, naively, feel vaguely insulted by what may have come across as an insinuation that one is just not up to it anymore. And soon, I was a convert.

A real cycle

I was planning to cycle along a converted railway line in Ireland, and my bike provider told me quickly how he had cycled the line and back just the day before, made it to the nearby island for lunch, and back to base for an evening pint before the clouds opened. And he still felt like he had had a workout. As he chatted, he was wheeling out an impressive, shiny German Kalkhoff model. I was relieved that it looked pretty much like any hybrid bike, and that I was actually going to get to pedal, having been naively worried that I might just have to sit on it and be shimmied, sloth-like, behind my kids. Next stop: Zimmer frame. In fact, the opposite is the case; the more you pedal, the more speed you generate from the battery’s power supply, so you can give it as much welly as you can muster, and trick those you overtake into thinking you’re breezing it on your own ‘someone’s had their Weetabix’ stamina. There is even an eco setting to make sure you don’t use up too much of the battery.

The E Factor

The electric bike passed the toughest test when, within minutes or me pedalling away up the cycle trail, my children had switched from mocking to coveting the Kalkhoff. But oh, how revenge is sweet. This was all mine and, as the nice man had rightly predicted, I was loving it. I still felt like I was on a proper cycling outing, pushing myself up some hills but giving myself a break on others, and I took great pleasure in pedalling past the pesky ones at speed. On a hill.

So, just as years ago, if you suggested an ‘eco’ vacation to someone they would have assumed you meant a woodland campsite, with vegan food and a long drop loo, I had my e-bike epiphany. These are fun, exciting, allow you to be outdoors without having to make it too much hard work, great value and get you to places you might not otherwise reach in a few hours on foot. Plus, and I would never admit this to my kids, cycling does knacker my knees these days. The E Factor for me was that I could cover good distance in a stunning landscape, and still feel like I had done my body good, and the environment too for that matter. And the knees were almost begging for more at the end of the day.

So, what is an electric bike?

Sometimes called an e-bike, others may call it a pedelec, they are sturdy bikes that are fitted with a lightweight battery and an electric motor. They do not burn any fuel and are therefore emission free. They are very different from a moped or scooter, and definitely feel and move much more like a traditional bicycle. You have to pedal, and indeed you can pedal pretty hard, and you can also use gears, while choosing when and how much power you want to give it – if any at all.

On the move

When you are tapping into the electric power they can reach a speed of nearly 25kph and, depending on the battery capacity, you can travel as much as 80km before needing to recharge them. First designed by the Japanese, with a cooler name of the Zike, it is now the fastest growing sector of the cycling industry. Although try telling that to Wiggo wannabee with a wardrobe full of Lycra. But it is true. In Holland or Germany they are now the norm, and even France, with their tendency towards velo vanity, is welcoming them onto their famously beautiful cycle routes. And if you have ever cycled around those villages in Provence, you will be glad to hear it.

The technical bits

As with all bikes, electric bikes vary in weight, as do their lithium ion batteries, although this is improving all the time. The heaviest bikes suitable for touring weigh around 25kg although for really sassy saddles you are looking at around 12kg. Sometimes you may want to carry an extra battery, which will add weight. But do check these details with your vacation company. Given that most cycling vacations provide a luggage transfer service from one accommodation to another, all you have to do is check in and charge up. This takes about four to six hours, while you bliss out at a bar, beach or in a hot bath. Or all three. If you are traveling a long distance, your tour operator can advise you of charging points along the route.

Vacations with an electric bike

Most cycling tour operators offer options for electric bikes vacations nowadays in a range of destinations, there is usually a small surcharge to do so. The majority are still in Europe, including routes as diverse as Italy, Devon, Cyprus and Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula. But if you find a cycling vacation that you like, always ask if there is an option to go electric. They won’t mock. I promise.

Our top Electric bikes Vacation

Sri Lanka cycling vacation

Sri Lanka cycling vacation

Ride the cool highlands, jungle parks and ancient Buddhist cities

From US $2679 to US $3379 14 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2023: 22 Jul, 5 Aug, 16 Sep, 14 Oct, 4 Nov, 18 Nov, 9 Dec, 16 Dec, 30 Dec
2024: 6 Jan, 13 Jan, 20 Jan, 10 Feb, 17 Feb, 24 Feb, 9 Mar, 23 Mar, 30 Mar, 6 Apr, 20 Jul, 3 Aug, 14 Sep, 12 Oct, 2 Nov, 9 Nov, 16 Nov, 30 Nov, 7 Dec, 14 Dec, 28 Dec
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Electric bikes or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Starting at home

Electric bikes in Brighton

A few thoughts from Lyn Hill, Responsible Travel’s office and finance manager, who recently swapped her daily commute by train for an electric bike. It all started with a train strike… and ended with a shiny silver lining:
What made you decide to get an electric bike?
"My commute to work was either a train journey or bike, but the Southern Rail strike was leaving me frustrated and the wind on the cycle path (which goes directly alongside the beach in Brighton) was often fearsome even in the summer!! So an electric bike made sense to get me off the reliance on the trains, save me money and add fitness."
Did you have doubts about getting one?
"Yes! Initially I didn’t contemplate one as I thought it would not keep me fit and I saw the bike to work as part of me keeping fit, but an electric bike is an assistive bike so you still have to work at it; the more you put in the faster you go. It means I can now cycle in any weather and more times each week, thus improving my fitness. On my ordinary bike it would take longer and I wouldn’t even think about cycling in poor weather, let alone windy conditions. The electric bike wipes out the wind issues wonderfully!"
How do other people respond to your electric bike? Do people tease you or are they green (bad pun) with envy?
"I have had some great interaction with some cyclists, especially in the wind when they tuck in behind to get the benefit of drafting. But I have had a few cases of verbal abuse too – usually when I overtake a struggling cyclist battling against the wind; they are just jealous! Most people think it’s a great way to commute and beat the trains and not to be too knackered before a day’s graft at the office before cycling home again."
So it has been woth it?
"For me it has been worth the investment and definitely had a good effect on my health... I cycle at an average 16 mph for 1.5 hrs a day... that's got to have some good effect on your system and seems to have helped my stamina a bit, as recently tested out on Haytor Hill on Dartmoor… on a normal bike!!!"
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: toxawww] [Top box: Bad Kleinkirchheim] [What is an electric bike: Michael Button] [Vacations with an e-bike: k.steudel] [Starting at home: Lyn Hill]