You don’t have to be a super-fit athlete to ride the Icefields Parkway. It helps to be in reasonably good physical shape, but if cycling the Parkway is something you really want to do, a can-do attitude can go a long way toward accomplishing your goal. Mountain Madness Tours offers full support for riding the Icefields Parkway so you don’t have to carry a lot of gear on your bike. For most people, that’s all the help that’s needed to experience this ride of a lifetime.
But if you’re still not quite sure you can physically handle the tour, why not try an e-bike? An e-bike, sometimes called an electric bike or electric pedal assist bike, is a bike with a small re-chargeable electric motor. You pedal it like a regular bike, but when you need a little push to get up a hill or you want to get up to speed quickly from a stopped position, you can activate the quiet electric motor for an extra supply of energy.
We sat down with Meghan Dear to discuss her experience with riding part of the route between Jasper and Banff on an E-bike with Mountain Madness Tours.
Meghan Dear, founder and CEO of Localize, a data management software firm working for greater transparency in the food supply chain, doesn’t consider herself a cyclist but rides in the mountains with her uber-fit cycling partner, Ben, owner/operator of Mountain Madness Tours. “It’s no fun cycling with him when I can’t keep up,” she says. The e-bike helps to balance the abilities of the two riders, allowing Dear and her partner to enjoy their time together on bikes. “When I get on the e-bike, it’s cruising time. It’s the fun machine!”
Power on Demand – A Little or a Lot
Dear likes that she can easily control the amount of help she gets from the bike’s motor during a ride. “I can add just a little assistance to my own pedal power or crank it to the max.” Dear simply flicks a switch on the bike’s handle bars to switch between the various assistance levels. “There’s an initial boost of power when you switch it on,” she says, adding that the motor’s instant response takes a little getting used to at first, but once out on the open road it handles very smoothly.
Is it a Bike? or a Motorcycle?
No stranger to motor bikes, Dear says the e-bike is like the perfect mid-point between a motorcycle and a regular pedal bike. Like a motor bike, the e-bike’s throttle (if you don’t want to pedal at all) is on the handle bar, but it’s controlled by the rider’s thumb. The operation of the motor is automatic however and is simply activated or disengaged by pedalling. However, there’s nothing like the throaty rumble of a motorcycle engine with the e-bike. Like a regular pedal bike, the e-bike is almost silent. Dear describes the e-bike’s motor as a “soft whirring” sound.
More Stability Equals More Confidence
Another similarity between the e-bike and a motor bike is the sturdy feel they both have. Compared to a lightweight aluminum or carbon fibre road bike, Dear says, “The e-bike feels heavier.” For Dear this is a positive feature, making the bike feel safer and more stable, especially on steep descents. “You have more control on a very stable bike,” she says. Although Dear’s not a big fan of speedy downhill stretches, the e-bike gives her confidence at higher speeds. “It takes the scariness out of steep hills.”
Experience the Rockies at the Perfect Speed
For Dear, the e-bike offers opportunities to experience the mountains on a bicycle even if you’re not a Tour de France rider. “There’s something about cycling in the mountains that’s just beautiful. You don’t know what you’re missing when you drive,” she says. Dear is eager to share this special experience with others. “I’d love to bring my parents to the mountains with a couple of e-bikes. Their inhibitions would be dissolved.”
Perhaps that is the most significant benefit of e-bikes – being able to ride with other cyclists. Having the e-bike allows riders like Dear the freedom to go where she wants and share the moment with like-minded people. “I’m not equipped to cycle 100 kilometres,” she says, “but the e-bike lets me ride through the mountains and hang out with people I want to enjoy them with.”
Have Fun Climbing Hills? You Can with an E-Bike
If you haven’t ridden a bike in the Rockies because you’re afraid of hill-climbing, try an e-bike. Work as hard as you like or let the e-bike do the work for you. Hill-climbing can’t spoil the fun of cycling in the mountains when you have an e-bike. Dear doesn’t let hill-climbing worry her anymore and even looks forward to riding hilly terrain.
In fact, Dear has found that riding the e-bike with other cyclists even has its humorous moments. While riding around Canmore with her partner, Dear was amused by the bewildered looks on the faces of people passing in vehicles. “Ben was in full road cycling gear, just powering up the mountains,” she explains. “And there I was, a little woman, casually cycling up beside him.”
There’s no question in Dear’s mind about the advantages an e-bike has to offer for those who’d like to ride the Rockies. “Whatever vehicle we use, we’re doing it,” she says. “We’re going out to be with friends, to relax and enjoy it. The e-bike makes it possible and unlocks those doors for those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to ride the Rockies.”