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How an E-Bike Changed My Life

Riding grew harder as I grew older. Then I got an electric bicycle.

(This is an excerpt from a column by Jennifer Finney Boylan, that appeared in the NY Times on August 20th.)

BELGRADE, Me. — I was doing my usual bike circuit around the north half of Long Pond, here in Belgrade. As I turned left, I found myself accidentally merging into the Trek Across Maine, a three-day event in which cyclists ride from Brunswick to Augusta to Waterville and back again.

It felt good to suddenly join the pack, and to find myself surrounded by all those other cyclists. But it was awkward, too, and not only because I wasn’t wearing a race number. More embarrassing was the fact that I was passing everyone, sailing up the hill on Castle Island Road in front of the Travis Mills Foundation for wounded veterans while everyone else was grinding away in low gear.

That’s because my bike was no ordinary road bike, but one of the new e-bikes now taking over the cycling world. The principle is fairly simple: You plug the bike in at night, and it charges a battery that provides an extra level of support as you ride. You still have to pedal, but the battery silently doubles the amount of power provided by your muscles to the wheels.

For older riders like me — I’m in my 60s — the assist makes all the difference in the world. I’ve been riding all my life, and while I’ve never been a competitive cyclist, biking has always been my favorite form of exercise. In part it’s because I like the solitude of riding, especially on the remote trails where I take my mountain bike.

Cycling, like everything else, has gotten harder as I’ve grown older. For much of the year, I live on a dirt road at the bottom of a mile-long hill, and some days I just don’t have the energy to make the ascent. Last summer, I was on my bike a total of five times.

Since I got the e-bike, though, I’ve been riding 15 and 20 miles a day, four or five days a week. It’s been life altering, not just making me fitter, but also raising my spirits, getting me out of the house and back into the mountains.

I felt more than a little guilty as I soared past the other riders in the Trek Across Maine. A couple of them called out to me as I passed. “What in the world is that?” asked one. “That is so awesome,” said another.

“When people first jump on an e-bike, their face lights up. It’s exciting and joyful in a way that you don’t get from a regular bike.”

Nowhere was this clearer to me than when I left the Trek Across Maine peloton and paused at the top of something called Blueberry Hill. For a moment I thought I was alone. But then I saw another rider had pulled over, and he had the same kind of bike as mine, a Specialized Turbo Como. We exchanged goofy grins, and I told him that the bike had changed my life.

At that moment, from down a mountain trail, came a dozen wounded veterans also on e-bikes. Some men had prosthetic arms and legs. They were from the Travis Mills Foundation, as my companion explained, and some of them hadn’t been on a bike in years. Now they’d ridden all the way to the top of Blueberry Hill. “You’re not the only one whose life got changed,” the man said.

I rang the bell on my bike — ding! — and headed into the mountains, feeling hopeful, feeling as if I still have lots of adventures ahead.

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