Cyclists recharge enthusiasm with e-bikes
Pete Rodgers has been riding bikes since his boyhood in 1940s Brooklyn, New York, when pushing pedals was a kid’s standard mode of transportation. Back then, two wheels meant freedom, exploration, adventures with friends.
“So, that hasn’t changed,” laughs Rodgers who – now 81 years young – still hops on a bicycle multiple times per week with The Cliffs Riders, an unofficial club that’s all about fresh air, fitness, and fellowship. The cycling group typically rolls Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from The Cliffs Valley, often including a stop at a bakery or brewery along the way.
What’s different for a few of them who aren’t, ahem, getting any younger is the addition of an electrical drive system on their bikes – a battery, a motor and a mechanism to integrate the motor’s power into the drivetrain. These electric bikes, or e-bikes, are recharging the enthusiasm of riders who might otherwise age out of the sport.
“I thought I’d feel guilty, getting an e-bike, but it makes riding our hilly terrain fun again,” says Rodgers, who has done many of the country’s famed endurance events over the past four decades. “I’m the oldest guy in this group. Rides that we used to do all the time, no trouble, just kept getting harder and harder, and I started struggling to keep up.”
Rodgers initially resisted the e-bike temptation because it felt a little like cheating. “I didn’t want to knuckle under, but I didn’t want to give up group riding, either,” he says.
As it turns out, he’s riding as hard as ever – it’s just easier to go faster. That’s because the “pedal-assist” motor on the e-bike boosts, but doesn’t replace, the power created by his own pedal strokes.
“The tough climbs are still tough, the hard stretches are still hard, but now the younger, faster guys don’t have to wait on me,” Rodgers says. “My e-bike lets me enjoy being part of the group again.”
Kris Bierbaum agrees. He led The Cliffs Riders for years, first from the front of the peloton, then gradually, as he aged into his 70s, from behind.
“We’re all trying to stay active, to preserve whatever youth we have,” he says, “and for some of us, e-bikes make that more possible.”
Bierbaum retired to The Cliffs Valley 15 years ago, after living, working and riding all over the country. A cyclist for most of his life, the decision to settle south was sweetened by the terrain of the Carolinas mountain region.
“Cycling routes don’t get much better than this,” Bierbaum says. “The Cliffs has furnished us with a perfect setting to pursue an active lifestyle. We’re in a place where it’s easy to share the joy of cycling with our friends and neighbors.”
The Cliffs Riders share local miles regularly and, occasionally, travel to other states, sometimes even other countries, for bucket-list events. What’s more, members have the opportunity to ride with former pros George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, and Bobby Julich, who are cycling ambassadors at The Cliffs.
“They’re just a nice group of ‘regular’ guys who are fun to be around,” Rodgers says. “Now [that several of us are riding e-bikes] it’s even more fun because we can ride as fast as they can … well, almost.”
When Bierbaum decided it was time to get plugged in, too, he purchased a Specialized Turbo Creo SL with three levels of assist. Weighing in at 29 pounds, it’s 10 heavier but handles just as well as his standard Cannondale Synapse – “which I haven’t been on since I got the e-bike,” he admits.
“Switching to an e-bike was the right decision,” says Bierbaum. “That little assist allows me to stay with the group and maintain the social aspect of cycling.”
Indeed, the technology is designed to lengthen cyclists’ years of participation in the sport. “I love my e-bike,” Rodgers says. “I’m planning to ride it ‘til I’m 90. Hopefully longer.”
This story was featured in Cliffs Living magazine. To read more stories like this one and learn more about The Cliffs, subscribe here.