The unique joys of exploring the world by bike are being opened up to increasing numbers of travelers as e-bikes are adopted into bike touring fleets. Some travelers might be intimidated at the thought of cycling Mediterranean coastal hills or the mountains of central Europe. They may not have the fitness level, or confidence, to broach a cycling tour’s consecutive daily rides. However, the increasing availability of electrically assisted bicycles, or e-bikes, is bridging the gap between strong riders and cycling novices with a shared desire to explore the world at a slower pace.
BikeToursDirect, representing 75 local bike tour companies in 60 countries across the globe, has seen a rise in requests for e-bikes on its more than 300 tours. Feedback from clients is consistently positive and operators are continuing to offer more e-bikes throughout the 2012 travel season.
“It really opens cycle touring to a whole new audience,” says BikeToursDirect founder and president Jim Johnson. “Many travelers whose health or lack of cycling experience stood in the way of an active vacation now have a feasible option. And more fit travelers benefit, too. For example, couples or families with varying ability levels can ride together: the stronger ones on regular bikes, the others on e-bikes.”
About overseas e-bike tours
Electric bikes have become a staple of leisure activity and transportation throughout much of the world over the last decade. With millions throughout Europe and Asia, e-bikes are wildly popular internationally, though their availability and adoption remain minimal in the U.S. The increasing popularity of e-bikes around the world has led to their adoption into the fleets of local bike tour companies operating cycling vacations in destinations across the globe. These local operators cater mainly to European travelers and have seen increased demand for e-bikes to make trips more leisurely or make difficult terrain more manageable.
E-bikes are not motorbikes – instead they provide power on demand, responding to and complementing the cyclist’s pedaling speed and power. If the rider pedals strenuously, little battery power will be used. As the rider slows their pedaling pace, though, the electrical assistance kicks in and provides power. Most e-bikes can provide up to 150% of the rider’s own power with each pedal stroke, and speeds can be significantly increased with little exertion.
Travelers can benefit from e-bikes’ increased speed in several ways. They may opt to travel longer distances daily, covering more ground and seeing a larger area of their vacation destination. They could instead opt to maintain daily distances set for traditional bikes but enjoy longer rest breaks or detours. They might even plan to arrive earlier at their daily destinations with more time and energy to explore their surroundings.
Because they use battery-powered motors, recharging breaks are a factor for travelers, though most use the time to relax and recharge themselves as well. Leisurely lunch breaks allow plenty of time to renew power for the afternoon, and plugging the bikes in again overnight at their accommodations offers a full charge for starting the next day’s ride. Some areas of Europe are starting to cater to e-bike tourists, offering recharging stations or battery swap points along frequented routes.
About e-bike users
Bike tour operators often see couples who want to travel together but are hindered by differing fitness levels. In these situations, one spouse might follow the tour’s daily biking itinerary while the other rides in a support van or takes public transportation to meet at the day’s destination. Sometimes the less-fit (or less-interested) spouse will try to cycle alongside the enthusiast but ultimately slows down or rides behind the party. These are the same challenges posed by multi-generation family vacations - the kids or grandparents may not be able to cycle the same speed or distance as the rest of the family. [insert quote from client traveling this fall with younger family members]
E-bikes offer a solution for everyone to participate and maintain an enjoyable level of exertion. Couples or groups with varying ability levels often rent e-bikes for the entire party – not just the more skeptical cyclists in the group. The more fit travelers still appreciate the boost of power when taking on hills along the tour route.
About first-time bike tourists
The ability of e-bikes to remove barriers – both physical and mental – has opened the world of cycling tours to many newcomers. Martin Lübke of Island Hopping Tours, a BikeToursDirect partner operator, reports that the availability of e-bikes has brought many new clients who might never have thought of taking a cycling tour because they didn’t feel they would be able to meet the physical demands. “It has opened access to a completely new group of guests,” he says.
Some clients have anxiety over their ability to keep up with their party, but Lübke sees those same clients finding very quickly that this obstacle is removed with the rental of an e-bike: “Nobody has to wait for them anymore. This means they don’t always have to think about being too slow and have much more time (and mental space!) for enjoying nature, the views, the sights and all the other highlights of a cycling tour. Less fear - more joy.”
Sara Simmons took her first cycling tour last year: "My friend and I were considering a trip in Portugal, but we'd never been on a bike tour and I have a knee that needs to be replaced soon. We decided e-bikes would be just right for us. The other 8 people in our tour group had regular bikes, and we didn't have to hold anyone back! The e-bikes worked beautifully and we had a wonderful time! We are using them again on a Tuscany tour this summer, and we are confident that we'll have another enjoyable and relaxed trip."
Saulius Ruzinskas of Baltic Bike Travel, another of BikeToursDirect’s operator partners, agrees that hesitation to commit vacation time to an active vacation is mostly mental, and e-bikes provide reassurance that many need to step out of their comfort zone and book their first bike tour. “Employing an e-bike helps travelers prepare psychologically for covering the longer distances undertaken on a bike tour,” Ruzinskas says.
E-bikes enable travelers with infirmities or recovering from injuries to still pursue an active avacation. Since e-bikes compensate proportionately to effort and exertion, injured riders receive assistance when necessary or appropriate. They are popular for travelers with joint problems and heart or lung issues.
About local tour operators and e-bikes
The local tour operators that BikeToursDirect represents typically serve a regional clientele and often accommodate the preferences of European travelers. As the popularity of e-bikes has grown around the world, the demand for their use on cycling vacations has also increased, leading many local tour operators to add them to their fleets.
By contrast, American-owned tour companies operating tours in Europe cater to American tastes. Americans largely perceive cycling as a form of exercise, rather than as an active leisure pursuit or form of transportation as it’s viewed throughout much of the world. Serious cyclists in the U.S. see electrical assistance as defeating the purpose of cycling as exercise, and leisure riders and non-riders are mostly unaware of the existence of e-bikes. Due to the lack of awareness and understanding of e-bikes in the U.S., few American-owned tour companies have incorporated e-bikes into their offerings for overseas bike tours, making BikeToursDirect’s selection of local operators’ tours with e-bikes a great resource for North Americans choosing an overseas bike tour.
BikeToursDirect currently offers 90 tours with e-bikes in 19 countries, including Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Nepal, and more. The list of destinations and tours adding e-bike availability continues to grow.
European tour operator Island Hopping offers popular bike and boat tours along the coasts and riverways of Europe and Asia and sees the importance of e-bikes in the future of the bike travel industry. It has recently commissioned two ships with special accommodations for e-bikes due to the rise in demand and positive response they have received from travelers about these bikes.
These new ships, operating along Croatia’s coastline, have specialized storage holds for the e-bikes that provide shelter from the salty air that is bad for the batteries. These holds were built at sea level so guides would not have to lift these heavier models (nearly 50 pounds), but can instead roll them onto the ships via a plank. Most importantly, charging stations were built to allow all e-bikes onboard to recharge at the same time, making it faster and easier to get the bikes ready for the next day’s ride.