Category Archives: Trip Talk

The Truth about Electric Bikes: Why Everyone Should Love an E-bike

bicycle-adventures-e-bikes

We recently published an article about e-bikes vs road and mountain bikes, and it caused quite a stir amongst some of you. So, as owner and president of Bicycle Adventures, I thought I’d throw my 2 cents into the debate…

First of all, an e-bike is not a motorcycle disguised as a bike. It does not have an engine to start – or a throttle – and you do still have to actually pedal it. Or at least you do if it’s a good one.

 

Here is why an e-bike is so great…

I have been around bikes most of my life – for recreation, fitness, travel, commuting, athletics and as a profession – first as a bike racing coach, then owning a bicycle touring company. And in many ways I would consider myself a purist when it comes to bicycling.

To me, ‘purist’ means someone who loves to ride their bike for the sake of riding a bike. You won’t find me worrying about the latest technology or debating the merits of road biking vs. mountain biking. Just give me a bike to ride. That is the bottom line: be it fast or slow, short or long, riding a bike is just…fun.

But why is it fun?

Most people would say, “Because I know HOW to ride a bike.” Just about everyone knows how to ride a bike.

So let’s think about that a bit. When I was coaching bike racing back in the 80s and 90s, people would say, “You coach bicycling? What does that even mean? Doesn’t everyone know how to ride a bike?”

 

So what does it mean to know how to ride a bike?

love-e-bikes

The truth is, there’s a lot to know in order to really enjoy riding a bike – and to me, enjoying riding a bike is to not have to think about it.

I have mastered the skill. I have gone through the 4 stages of mastery.

I often use the analogy of a hockey player: hockey players are not thinking about skating; they are thinking about the game. They just happen to be skating.

  • Stage One: Unconscious Incompetence. You do not know what you do not know.
    Developing skill starts with not knowing what to do, or what’s to come. We’re unconsciously incompetent, ignorant of what lies ahead. Moving from stage one into stage two only requires that we read a book on the subject or talk to someone with experience. In the case of learning to ride a bike it’s incredibly simple: moving into stage two usually involves someone showing and telling us what we need to do.
  • I probably don’t need to say that riding a bike is all about balance. To ride a bike you need to be going fast enough, keep the wheel straight and distribute weight evenly.

    But most of you are beyond this stage.

  • Stage Two: Conscious Incompetence. You actually know what you do not know.
    By gathering information and watching others ride a bike you now know what you don’t know – you have been enlightened by the opportunity to ride a bike. This might not seem like much but it is progress.

    Getting to stage three is where the real work begins. This is the one thing that is required to be successful in any endeavor, whether it is riding a bike or managing your career. You must take action and you must practice. A lot. I’ve tried to get better at cycling by just watching the Tour de France but it doesn’t work.

  • Stage Three: Conscious competence. You can do it, but you need to think about it.
    Being consciously competent at something means you’re able to perform the act, but you still need to think about what you’re doing. This is where things become more interesting. You’re now able to ride a bike.
  • This can be incredibly satisfying, and this is where many – if not most – people stop.

    When I was learning, I remember when I was finally able to ride a bike for a few minutes without stopping. I had to concentrate extremely hard. I would think about keeping the wheel straight, not leaning too much to one side and making sure that I didn’t go too slowly – all at the same time. I could ride the bike, but I was far from an expert.

     

    From competency to mastering the skill.

    every-loves-e-bike

    So how do we get from consciously competent cyclist to the next stage? That’s easy. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

    Not everyone wants to be an expert, and that is OK. Most of us have ridden bikes enough that we have reached that magical point where keeping the bike upright, balanced and moving does not require a lot of concentration as long as we are on a safe flat bike path. However, as our environment changes (steep hills, other riders, traffic, stop signs, shifting) we no longer feel quite so competent.

    This is the point where an e-bike comes in.

    An e-bike levels the playing field and allows you to leap ahead in your competence because it takes away the need to worry about several things -like your pedal cadence, which gear you’re in, and how to pedal up or down that hill.

    Let’s face it. Maybe you’re a runner or tennis player who is coming to cycling later in life. You may not have the time or desire to become an expert, but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice the joy of riding a bike that you loved when you first learned how. Or that you should have to forego a cycling vacation with the wind in your hair, the fresh air, exercise and the perspective you gain from the seat of a bike – the perspective that you can’t ever get from sitting in a car or bus.

  • Stage Four: Unconscious Competence. Complete mastery. You can do it without thinking about it.
    In cycling, reaching this stage means you can ride a bike without having to think about stopping, starting, shifting, standing, sitting, signaling in traffic, looking over your shoulder, listening for cars, riding next to another rider, or questions like, ‘Am I pacing myself? Do I have the fitness to get up this hill?’
  • Mastery on a bike is not just the skill of riding a bike but knowing how to ride in traffic, how to ride with other riders, how to ride up a hill, down a hill, descend, ride in various sorts of terrain, how to ride at various speeds, how to pace yourself, when to shift and when not to (without thinking, “Should I shift now?”). Shifting has become as automatic as it is in your automatic car.

    An e-bike will make up for a lot of things when it comes to mastering riding a bike, but more importantly it will help you master a bike tour – because you’re doing those things on multiple days.

     

    Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!

    I had someone show up to a scheduled bike ride the other day who was a very fit individual. He was excited about the tour; he wanted to get some exercise, and he was too proud of his fitness to need an e-bike. I know this gentleman fairly well. I said, “Don, you are very fit and strong, especially for your age, but you don’t know how to ride a bike.”

    He said, “What do you mean I don’t know how to ride a bike?”

    “Well, you don’t understand how to pace yourself on a hill, or pedal in the right gear, or how to start and stop safely. Or how to anticipate unconsciously what to do next. You are having to think about all these things instead of simply enjoying the ride. So I recommend using an e-bike. Although it doesn’t get you past all the skill training, it gets you past most of the things that prevent people from enjoying a bike ride the way I do. Just give it a try.”

    He agreed to give it a shot, just for the day. I spent a few moments showing him how to use the e-bike. Then off we went with about a dozen other riders.

    Being as fit as he is, Don wasn’t about to give up on a workout. So he spent the first couple of miles experimenting with the amount of electric-assist. None. A little. A lot. Full power. Back to none. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “You can actually get a great workout on this!”

    He spent the second third of the ride sneaking up behind his cycling buddies in the group, then upping the e-assist to full power and blasting past them, gleefully announcing, “On your left!”

    By the last third of the ride, he was cruising joyfully ahead of everyone as he led the charge to the finish line. And by the time we caught up with him in the parking lot, he was already working on where to purchase a couple.

    everyone-love-e-bike

    Don with his e-bike!

    And that’s what I mean by being a purist, by the hockey player not thinking about skating. Don had gotten back to the fun. The point where riding a bike had nothing to do with traffic, or hills, or shifting. It was just plain…fun.

    What’s not to love?

     

    Still on the fence?

    Here are the four things an e-bike will do for you to speed up or eliminate the learning curve – which, coincidentally, are the four “fears” we hear the most about riding a bike.

    • Hills. Do I stand up? Can I stand up? What gear should I be in? Can I pedal slowly without tipping over? The biggest challenge with hills is not having the technique – it’s not always comfortable standing up, or maybe you haven’t quite got the fitness. An e-bike picks up where you left off.
    • Shifting. Unlike your car, bikes aren’t automatic. They don’t know when to go to a harder gear with fewer RPMs, or an easier gear with more RPMs. Those are challenging decisions for someone who may not be comfortable spinning with a high cadence or powering through with a low cadence. An e-bike makes those decisions for you – the motor kicks in when you get into a situation where you need a bit of an assist.
    • Keeping up. A lot of people’s biggest fear about going on a bike tour is of not being able to keep up, of holding others back, of getting stuck riding alone and being the last person to arrive. An e-bike fixes all of those fears. It gives you the flexibility to decide how hard you’d like to work without missing out on the fun.
    • Safety. With an e-bike, a longer ride will be more stable because your legs won’t get to the point of fatigue. You can self-regulate, manage your fitness so you’re not in over your head. This allows you to continue on and ride more miles – farther than you might usually – without the worry of over-exerting.
    e-bike-love-everyone

    Don’t just take our word for it: This is Jan M., at the top of Logan Pass, also known as Going to the Sun Road, an iconic climb in Glacier National Park. Her husband is a strong cyclist and talked her into doing the Glacier-Banff-Jasper trip for her first bike trip ever(!) The e-bike made all the difference, and they have now taken 3 trips with us as a couple – and are looking at a fourth.

     

    So why not give it a shot…

    So, as you can see e-bikes and purists can get along just fine. The 3 things to remember are that riding a bike is great for the environment, great for your health and overall it’s just a better way to see the world.
    But what it boils down to in the end is that it should be fun.

    We have plenty of tours where an e-bike is an option. So whether you’ve been turning your nose up at e-bikes because you see yourself as an expert, or you aren’t confident in your cycling abilities but were afraid to put your trust in the equipment, get in touch today and hopefully you’ll be e-riding off into the sunset very soon.


    Todd Starnes, Owner & President, Bicycle Adventures

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    Guided Bike Tours vs. Independent Travel: Pros and Cons

    group bike tour

    When it comes to exploring a new destination by bicycle, you have the option of doing it on your own, or you can participate in a group cycling tour. While there isn’t a wrong choice, there are obviously pros and cons to both. You might find one option fits your personal preferences more than the other. Here are a few pros and cons for guided tours vs. self-guided tours.

    Guided Tours

    Pros:

    If you’re heading to a new destination for the first time, your best option might be to reserve a spot with a guided tour.

    • With a guided tour, your days will be set around a structured schedule and pre-planned route—which means that you’ll be able to see and do a great deal in a short time frame.
    • Since you’ll be riding with a guide, your chances of getting lost are slim to nil. On a guided tour, your luggage and equipment are typically hauled for you in a support van so you won’t have to worry about toting additional weight and supplies.
    • Many guided tours include a bicycle in the trip fee, so you won’t even have to worry about shipping your bike. If you do bring your own bike along, some tour companies actually offer repairs, or at the very least a set of tools.
    • Guides are often extremely knowledgeable, offering a wealth of information about local culture and history. Guided tours often feature side activities—like wine tastings or hikes—so you can really experience the best of an area.
    • Since guided tours are usually structured around groups, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to chat and socialize with other participants and locals too.

    Cons:

    • If you’re on a tight budget, you may find a guided tour too expensive for your tastes—although there are plenty that are priced affordably.
    • A bike tour relies heavily on a guide, and a guide who isn’t experienced or professional is a big disappointment. (Seeking out a vetted and popular tour company can prevent this.)
    • Lastly, with a group tour, your days and activities are structured. You may not have as much of an opportunity to head out on your own, and flexibility concerning what you do and who you associate with can be minimal.

    Solitary Travel or Self-Guided Tours

    Pros:

    • Bicycle touring on your own is relatively inexpensive.
    • Solitary travel is extremely flexible; you can ride as much or as little as you wish.
    • Since you don’t have much of a schedule, you can take as many detours as you like, which can lead to plenty of spontaneous—and likely memorable—experiences.
    • And traveling alone in a new area is a great way to meet new people and make new friends.

    Cons:

    • A solitary bike tour can be risky—and expensive. While the initial costs are minimal, paying for bike repairs and hotels can add up quickly.
    • Hauling all your gear and tools with you can be a pain.
    • Also, if you’re in a new country, you may get lost easily, and wandering around on your own in a new place can be dangerous.
    • Even if you’re able to navigate successfully, it can be easy to miss the must-see destinations and sights in a new area simply because you’ve never been there before.

    All in all, there are pros and cons to both guided and self-guided tours. It’s a good idea assess the pros and cons to find the option that fits best with your personal preferences.

    For more information on our guided tours at Bicycle Adventures, check out our Tour Finder.

    Cycling in New Zealand

    From its rugged mountains to its gorgeous coastline, New Zealand is a breathtakingly beautiful country that’s best explored on a bike. If you’re interested in checking out New Zealand—and remember, there’s a reason why Peter Jackson decided to film his Lord of the Rings films in his native homeland—consider signing up for one of our bicycle tours. Here’s a brief breakdown on some of the things you can expect to see during the ten-day bike trip through New Zealand.

    Starting just outside Christchurch, you’ll ride through a lush and verdant valley over towards the small town of Rangiora. The area, rich in farmland, has an abundance of flora, so make sure to take pictures. Watch for herds of sheep crossing the road – they’re the most common kind of traffic jam here. As you’re riding, you’ll pass through Canterbury, home to a number of fascinating Maori historical and religious sites. You’ll also have an incredible view of some of the nearby snow-capped mountain ranges. After stopping off at the Heritage Hotel in Hammer Springs, bicycle on to Reefton up near the Lewis Pass. Reefton, a bustling small town, was originally a gold-rush settlement during the late 1800s. If you’d like, you can sign up for a tour of some of the old gold mines that surround the town. You can even try your hand at panning for gold!

    Pancake Rocks Punakaiki

    From Reefton, pedal along the coast to Paparoa National Park to check out the park’s stellar rainforest and beaches. This area is famous for the Pancake Rocks – odd sandstone formations – as well as its caves and limestone karsts. Heading further south, visit Westland National Park, home to Lake Mapourika as well as several stunning snowcapped mountain ranges. Up for an adventure? Don a pair of hiking boots and hike up Fox Glacier. If ice and snow aren’t your thing, there’s tropical rainforest practically across the street at the Okarito Lagoon, home to an incredible number of rare birds. Spend a half day paddling the lagoon, watching for birds and wildlife and soaking up sunshine and tropical flora and fauna. Interested in exploring New Zealand’s pristine beaches? Ride out to Jackson’s Bay, a remote stretch of coastline famous for its quaint fishing villages and austere beauty.

    Your bicycle trip finishes with a couple of nights on the shores of Lake Wanaka. If you’re planning on doing this trip with your spouse or partner, you might consider taking a little more to explore the famous Wanaka and Central Otago wine regions. Both areas offer excellent fully guided half-day and full-day winery tours, and the Otago region was actually used for filming Middle Earth landscape scenes for The Lord of the Rings films. Stop by the pub that posed as the Prancing Pony in the film series – it hasn’t changed much since they ran off the orcs.

    Lake Wanaka and Mt Aspiring

    Another possibility for extending your time on the South Island is to shuttle south to Queenstown, which is especially popular with outdoor enthusiasts. You can do just about every outdoor activity here, from rafting to winery tours to ziplining to bungy-jumping. It’s also the perfect start point for heading farther south to stunning Milford Sound and the fiordlands – a stunningly beautiful and remote region well worth a few additional days if time allows. Several well-regarded tour operators offer tours of the fiordlands, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, with pick-up and drop-off in Queenstown.

    New Zealand is famous for its natural beauty, and if you decide to take a biking tour of this magnificent country, we know you’ll have a fantastic time. Ready to pedal through New Zealand for the trip of a lifetime? Book today!

    Cycling in Hawaii

    There’s nothing quite like the Big Island of Hawaii—it’s a true tropical paradise. One of the best ways to check out the Big Island is with an adventurous Hawaiian bike tour. While it’s easy to check out the majority of the island by car in a single day or two, there’s no better way to explore Hawaii than by hopping on a bike and riding along its beautiful, scenic highways. Here’s a quick breakdown on some of the things that you can check out while cruising around the island on a bike.

    Biking Kauai Hawaii

    When visiting Hawaii, most people fly into the Kona International Airport. If you decide to take the Bicycle Adventures tour, you’ll start off in beautiful Kona, which is home to gorgeous coffee plantations, astounding lava fields and ancient Hawaiian historical sites. In fact, during the final years of his life, the legendary King Kamehameha lived in the area around Kona. When riding around Kona, you can head on over to the Waimea ranchland to get a good idea of what the ranching lifestyle is like in a tropical locale like Hawaii.

    Nearby Hilo is located on the tropical side of Hawaii’s Big Island. Since that side gets a little more of that warm Hawaiian rain, it’s crammed with lush gardens and an astonishing variety of flora and fauna. Some of the biggest green sea turtles in the islands spend their days sunning and swimming off Hilo’s shores. Hilo is also considered the official gateway to the volcanic Kohala Coast, and there are some wonderful coastal roads to cycle. Be sure to check out some of the town’s stellar shops and eateries, like Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory, Hilo Hattie or the Hilo Farmers’ Market, where you’ll find an amazing variety of just-picked tropical fruits, mouthwatering regional foods and handmade local crafts unavailable anywhere else.

    Canyon on Hawaii     After checking out Hilo, head south and into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for a couple of nights. The terrain here is very different, due to the drier southern exposure, the elevation (3,000+ feet above sea level) and the active volcano. For an up-close-and-personal experience, hike across the moonscape of Kilauea Crater and into the Thurston Lava Tube. Depending on the current mood of the volcano, on some days you can ride your bike along certain portions of the rim—and if the volcano cooperates, there are areas where you can actually watch red-hot magma flowing into the ocean!

    When riding down from Kilauea, you can head on over to Punalu’u (which is famous for its black sand beaches). If you’ve timed your trip accordingly, you’ll likely see green sea turtles sunning onshore. As part of your Bicycling Adventure tour, you’ll continue along the island’s turning-to-westward shoreline for a stop at the City of Refuge, an historical site where – in ancient times – islanders could flee for protection after committing a crime. Wander the queen’s path, play some ancient Hawaiian games, marvel at the wooden statues and maybe dip into the water for some great snorkeling here. This area is not far from Kona and you’ll find it lined with coffee plantations, many of which offer fascinating tours. Be sure to pick up some decadent Kona coffee while you’re there!

    For the final part of your trip, you’ll most likely continue up to the island’s north coast. Pedal past enormous fields of black lava rock where topsoil hasn’t yet had time to form (since 1983, the volcano has added over 500 acres of new lava land to the Big Island!) The Kona Ironman cycling route takes place along these roads: no matter the time of year, you’ll see plenty of other cyclists out on training rides. As you continue north, the terrain continues to change: lava fields turn to grasslands, then to wiry brush and finally to dense undergrowth and palm trees. Not quite as tropical as Hilo, the northern stretch of the island’s shoreline is less inhabited and feels quite remote. It boasts a number of white-sand beaches, and when the surf’s up, the north shore is the place to watch for the biggest waves and the strongest surfers.
    Whether you decide to cycle on your own or with a Bicycle Adventures tour, you can’t go wrong with a cycling adventure on the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s honestly the trip of a lifetime!

    Touring South Dakota’s Badlands

    South Dakota’s Badlands are truly alive with American history. From Devils Tower to Deadwood to Badlands, the region is brimming with iconic historical sites. But that’s not all—this area is also home to a number of unique fauna, flora and natural features. Tourists visiting the region can watch herds of bison roaming the grassland prairies, stop off at the Wind Cave (one of the largest caves in the world) or explore a fossil bed and check out some of the amazing creatures that once called the Badlands home. While you can explore the region in a number of different ways ranging from car to hiking, one of the best ways to see all of the major sights is to plan a cycling trip. If you decide to cycle through the Badlands, here are a few things that you should plan on checking out.

    Badlands Bighorn Sheep 

    The Badlands: You can’t visit South Dakota without devoting at least a day or so to exploring the Badlands! Consisting of roughly 244,000 acres of grassy prairie, rocky canyons, austere buttes and pinnacles, pine-covered hills and more, the Badlands region is famed for its natural beauty. Currently, there are a number of unique creatures that call the Badlands home, and you can see many of them while riding along the Wildlife Loop Road (which runs through Custer State park). You can watch bison, elk and bighorn sheep grazing throughout the prairies, and you can also spot other animals, like prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets, darting through the grass too. Interestingly, most of the area used to be covered by a shallow sea during the prehistoric era, so there a number of fossil beds that you can meander through too. It’s often common to see the fossilized remains of such animals as saber-toothed cats, rhinos and even three-toed horses!

    Mount Rushmore national monument

    Wind Cave and Mt. Rushmore: The Wind Cave consists of a number of strange natural formations, and it’s actually one of the largest cave structures in the world—the cave earned its name due to the barometric winds that occur at the entrance. After visiting the cave, go ahead and stop by Mt. Rushmore. The memorial boasts four impressively large carvings of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. The memorial was built in 1941, and each carving is roughly 60 feet tall—in fact, when workers were building the memorial, they removed roughly 450,000 tons of rock.

    Crazy Horse Memorial

    Crazy Horse and Deadwood: South Dakota is also home to the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is considered to be the largest sculpture and memorial-in-progress in the entire world. A chief of the Oglala Sioux, Crazy Horse is famously known for being involved in the Battle of Little Big Horn, and also for resisting the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands. Afterwards, you can also stop by and visit Deadwood, which was once a rough-and-tumble gold rush town back in the days of the Wild West.

    Devil's Tower

    Devils Tower: Lastly, while Devils Tower isn’t in South Dakota, you can ride over to Wyoming to check out the famed natural feature, which is actually considered to be the country’s first national monument (it was listed as a monument by Theodore Roosevelt back in 1906).

    Cruising through the Badlands on your bike will be a real adventure—one that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Remember to enjoy yourself, and do take as many pictures as you can!