Press a button on the bicycle handlebar. Whee…, you soar full speed ahead. It’s like magic, a thrilling sensation.
The power of electric bicycles. I was excited. Husband Bicycle Bob (BB), a hardcore macho cyclist, less so. Yet, we enjoyed our recent all-day excursion on these fun bicycles in the Luberon hills of France’s Provence.
Electric bicycling seems to be surging in popularity. Baby boomers getting too old and out-of-shape for demanding pedaling? More folks wanting a bicycle excursion without stress and sweat? Serious cyclists who want to cover many miles, including some steep ascents where a power boost would be welcome?
Whatever the reasons, electric bicycles offer an enjoyable and easy alternative to conventional pedaling. We rented these sturdy monsters for a day in the Provence town of Gordes with the company Sun-E-Bike which just started renting the bikes, valued at 1,300 euros each, at Easter.
Florian Machayekhi, who spoke English, gave us a briefing. You must pedal for the motor to be in operation, he explained. There are three settings for different levels of motor power. For steep hills, for example, you may wish to select the highest. When going downhill, or in the flats, you can press a button to switch off the motor and pedal as with a regular bike. Sun-E-Bikes have seven speeds.
We have done a lot of bicycling and did not intend to pedal with auxiliary power all the time. However, these bikes are heavy, 25 kilos, therefore not quite like your bike back home. I always shut the power off for downhills, and, lest being a real wimp, tried to keep it off in the flats. But, as this is Provence where the winds often blow, I was happy to press the power button to offset those nasty gusts produced by the Mistral. And, I was no martyr in the hills, loving the easy and effortless climbs. BB, of course, had to do it the hard way most of the time. For the first time on cycle trips, I beat him to the top. So, I cheated…it was still fun being first.
Florian had given us a map with a 40-kilometer itinerary through some Provence highlights: Fontaine de Vaucluse, Saumane de Vaucluse, Isle sur la Sorgue… He suggested we have lunch at the latter where we could exchange the batteries. The bike battery will last for 35 kilometers. When we arrived at Les Terrasses du Bassin, the restaurant/battery exchange point, our batteries still registered full – all four battery lights still glowing.
We enjoyed lunch on the restaurant terrace where the river forms a large pool of crystal water popular with hungry ducks, but did not bother to get a new battery. Almost a mistake. Several hours later when we neared Gordes, the quintessential perched village and our destination, my bike was down to one battery light. And, the last part was five kilometers all up hill. I kept the motor setting on the lowest, thus using less power, and said a prayer that it would get me all the way back to the rental station. I did not want to pedal that weighty bike up this killer ascent. Luck was with me. I made it back under battery power.
We cycled on May 8, a holiday in France, so the walkway through the forest to the scenic source of the Sorgue River at Fontaine de Vaucluse was crowded with strollers. Riding became too risky, so we pushed the bikes up the path along the raging river. Not easy, but the sounds and sights of the water below charging over rocks and boulders detracted from the effort.
Isle sur la Sorgue, known as the Venice of Provence, is a pleasant spot for a lunch break. The Sorgue River splits into numerous streams flowing through the town not unlike Venetian canals. Pedestrian bridges decorated with flower boxes and mossy waterwheels add to the picturesque ambience.
Pascal Hernoult welcomed us and the bikes back in Gordes. The new electric bike venture is “encouraging,” he said. “People return with big smiles. They say it’s ‘formidable.’ They are not tired.”
Count me among those happy electric bicyclists. Even BB admitted he was glad for the battery power to get back up that last long hill.
Watch the slideshow below for more photos. Enjoy a tasty treat of the season: Hsin’s Strawberry Cake. See recipe in column at right. Next blog post to focus on French health care — a first person account based on my upcoming knee replacement surgery. Don’t miss it. Click on “Email Subscription” at top of right column.
Sun-E-Bike has 200 electric bicycles for rent at three different sites in Provence: Gordes, Bonnieux and Lauris. Cost for rental per day is 35 euros which includes a helmet and yellow safety vest. Half-day rental (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m): 22 euros. Insurance: 2 euros per day. A deposit of 200 euros or an ID card such as passport or driver’s license is required. Maps with suggested itineraries and battery exchange points are provided. Baby seats, baby trailers and panniers can be rented for an extra charge.
SuneE-Bike also offers bike rental for longer periods with hotel overnights and luggage transfer provided. See the web site for details: www.sun-e-bike.com