My wife Cara and I have been married 28 years now. We're 52 and 53, but I won't tell who is older - that gets me in trouble. We started biking together as a family about 22 years ago (the same year Lewis & Clark opened), when our kids, Jason and Emily, were 5 and 3 and we were much younger. Back then, there were a handful of paved trails and mountain bike trails in NWA, and we'd ride together at least a couple times a week, in addition to hiking, camping, kayaking.
As the kids got older, the distances and speed increased until about the point when they started driving, and hanging out with mom or dad wasn't #1 on their list. Still, they continued to ride with us some - mountain biking, road biking, so long as we'd bribe them with food after the ride.
When the youngest left for college 6 years ago, we found ourselves having a lot of - what are we going to do with our time together discussions? I had learned as a young father that it seemed nearly impossible to be a good husband, dad, effective at work AND stay in decent physical condition. Plus, I assumed (and hoped) my family wanted me around a long time. Dedicating that time to myself to stay reasonably physically fit seemed selfish but also very necessary, to be the best I could be for everyone. So, I geared most of it around family time. As the kids grew up we hiked, biked, camped etc. together. It wasn't like I was an Ironman, but I could stay in decent shape and spend time with my wife and kids doing something we all enjoyed, that was good for us physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, both as individuals and as a family.
So when Emily moved out, Cara and I found we still really liked spending time together, we liked outdoor stuff and we wanted to maintain ourselves physically. I'm not one would call a "cyclist". I like riding bikes, but I'm just as happy hiking, paddling or whatever. The last few years, in the Spring through Fall, I'd probably average 40 - 50 miles a week (3 hours a week) on some sort of bike, plus the hiking we'd do together, often with our dog Jack (Potts). Problem is, I'm a stronger rider than Cara, so while she's the person I most wanted to ride a bike with, she was never going the speed or distances I wanted/needed to go. So we'd go ride for a while together, then I'd put in some more miles after.
The same way she couldn't keep up with me, I had trouble keeping up with other riders. Sometimes I'll road bike for a while, sometimes mountain bike. Sometimes I might not ride for a couple of weeks or so, as we're doing more hiking and the weather doesn't always permit cycling. If you're a cyclist, you know to keep up with your friends that road bike, you've got to keep road biking continuously. Same with mountain biking. So it was hard for me to go ride with guys who are more dedicated to their craft, as I simply couldn't keep up on many of the rides. E-bikes are an amazing equalizer.
The beginning of 2021, I talked Cara into getting an E-bike. She had resisted, I think both because she'd heard so many say it's cheating, and believed that herself. When you first hear about it, it does sortof sound like cheating, though that couldn't be farther from the truth, as I'll get to later.
As soon as she got her first E-bike, it was amazing. Now we were biking together multiple times a week, going longer distances and the same speed. I would be on my road bike, her on her comfort E-bike, riding along together. What was the result? We both got in better shape. She was pedaling just as hard as before, just going several MPH faster. Plus, her distances were double and triple her previous normal rides. I was riding much harder than before, as not only was she keeping up, she was pushing me to ride faster, up bigger hills and longer distances. There was no reason for me to ride more miles after our ride together.
The only problem is, I was really having trouble keeping up with her. Last year I had a mountain bike, a road bike and a gravel bike. I love all three, and would alternate my rides. Gravel had become a new fun hobby, as it's so much fun to explore the back roads of Arkansas, except the gravel roads beat the fool out of me. So the end of 2021, I added a mountain E-bike to the mix and sold all 3 of my other bikes, so I could keep up with Cara. It actually took me about 6 months to get it - everyone time my bike would come in, as mountain E-bikes were so hard to get, that inevitably I'd defer to the long list of customers waiting on the same bike. But finally, I got one. I'd debated all year what my bike mix would be, and a mountain E-bike solved it all. Obviously, perfect for mountain biking, much better for gravel roads as with the shock and bigger tires, I was much more comfortable and riding many more miles than on my gravel bike. For riding the paved trails with Cara, it's just as good as a regular road bike, as I've got the pedal assist.
The results for me were immediate. Since I could go faster uphill and with less pain, I'd usually bike twice the mountain bike miles than before. Gravel was a real game changer as the bigger tires, front suspension and more upright seating position made gravel roads much more fun. I was covering more distances, faster and getting in better shape. I wouldn't tense up like I did on a gravel bike, so I felt better afterward. For riding the paved trails or county roads with Cara, now instead of going for a 10 - 20 mile rides together, we were regularly getting in 20 - 40+ mile rides. In short, having much more fun, spending more quality time together and both getting in better shape than before we had E-bikes.
We both use our bikes differently, and a lot more. This year, we get in as many as 80 - 100 miles a week together, where before I was 40-50, and her about half that. I've found that if we are going on say a 40 mile paved trail ride, I'll have my pedal assist turned on maybe 30 - 40% of the time. I'll use it to get up the big hills, still pedaling hard but not exhausted when I reach the top. If I just want to go 2-3 miles an hour faster, I'll turn it on low, still getting in the same exercise, just going faster. I'm maintaining my speed so I can cover more ground, see more things and have more fun. We did a 43 mile ride in the 100 degree heat the other day. It was hot, but I wouldn't have remotely done that before an E-bike. She'll have hers turned off often on the flat areas, putting it in low pedal assist for the inclines, then medium to high pedal assist for the hills. My bike is rated for about 60 miles per charge, though I get about 100 per charge the way I use it.
We also now not only ride our bikes for recreation and fitness, but for commuting to work and running errands. This year Cara started commuting to work a couple times a week, so I'd do the same. We'd both put our bikes on high pedal assist getting to work. We'd arrive not overly hot, and having had a lot more fun than driving to work. Plus, we're saving like $40 bucks a week doing that! After work, we'll often meet up on the trail and take the long way home, getting in some extra miles. We'll make a half day to a day of it on the paved trails here, riding from town to town, checking out the sights, eating at local restaurants along the way, just exploring and seeing things we'd never see in a car. We'll often ride around in old, historical neighborhoods just checking out houses we dream of owning some day. When you're riding up and down many of those hills in Fayetteville, it's not at all doable on a regular bike.
So are E-bikes cheating? Well, we are riding a lot more miles, having more fun together and riding more often. More smiles per hour. We're both in better shape than anytime when we had regular bikes (okay, maybe not quite what we were at age 30, but close). I'm now a stronger compared to previous years, when I hop on a non E-bike. Quite simply, the E-bike has allowed me to significantly build my endurance. It's also helped me shave 13 pounds this riding season, that I've been trying to lose for several years, but just couldn't on a regular bike. Well, maybe also it's my love of pizza and ice cream that prevented that. However, this year I'm both riding more and eating more. Let's be real, being able to eat more is a big motivation for me to ride more.
I'll let Cara tell her side of the story another time. For me, it's been all positive. I'm spending more time with my wife, going on fun adventures; I'm in better shape; Riding in weather I wouldn't enjoy riding in with a regular bike; Spending less on gas; And, in much better physical condition.
I know that's not what many nay-sayers will tell you. But they don't know. I still hear - it's cheating from time to time, though I'm regularly going on group rides now where most of the bikes are E-bikes. If cheating means being a stronger, better rider, having more fun, then I'll keep cheating. It's made commuting to work a reality as I can average 18-19 MPH on my way to work instead of 13-15 on my road bike, and be refreshed instead of winded. I will say, we do both have mid drive E-bikes. Both rear hub driven and mid drive bikes are great, though it is possible to get a better workout on a mid-drive bike, if that's one's goal. The rear hub drive bikes let you pedal, but you do feel you're being pushed a bit. With a mid drive bike, it's more just like you're a stronger rider that day, with a more natural feeling than a rear hub driven bike. Still, everyone I know with a rear hub drive E-bike has gotten in much better shape than before. One big benefit for someone who hasn't been on a bike in a while, whether that be the winter, years or decades, is that you can hop on an E-bike and get in shape at the pace you want, while still having fun. As you ride more, you can back off the pedal assist more. On a regular bike, the "getting" into shape just isn't that much fun.
In short, this investment has made a big difference and really improved the quality of our lives the last couple of years. She's the person I most want to spend time with, I love riding my bike, and I need the exercise. I've heard this story from countless other couples who have gotten e-bikes. For the first time in many years, all three are combined. We could be spending more time watching Netflix, but how much of my life do I really want to spend watching other people do stuff.