DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: The electric horsewoman

I’M IN LOVE. Or just lust — and it feels great.

One impossibly sunny afternoon last week, I test-rode a Trek Verve. As soon as I took my seat on this electric bicycle, I felt that rush of happiness, that “oh, yeah” that comes from feeling free.

I’ve felt this way about bicycling since I was a young teenager, pedaling my yellow Schwinn along the Contra Costa Canal. Later, in college in Chico, Calif., I biked blissful miles through Bidwell Park on many a warm summer evening.

But there’s been an estrangement. Steep hills and damp days up here in the Pacific Northwest drove wedges between the bike and me. I admit it: I can dance for hours and I can do some wacky yoga poses, but lack the motivation to two-wheel it to upper Port Angeles or Port Townsend. Go ahead, call me wimpy.

Then, last year, I started seeing riders whose bicycles sported big batteries. Talking with the friendly people at Sound Bikes & Kayaks in Port Angeles, I learned that electric bikes give what’s called pedal-assist: Just a boost when you want it. I mean, they’re not scooters or mopeds. You still get a workout.

By the time I finally got around to taking an e-bike for a spin, I had moved to Port Townsend. Off I went to the Broken Spoke on Water Street, where mechanic Meghan introduced me to this magical creature. The Trek e-bike before me was a “step-through” model, meaning I could somewhat gracefully lean the bike toward me and step over the low-down crossbar to mount; no swinging a leg over the back. This used to be called a “girl’s bike.” Fortunately we are beyond such nomenclature. Meghan informed me that today all genders enjoy the step-through.

My vehicle had four settings in a little black box on the left handlebar: Eco, for slight electric assistance; then tour, sport and turbo, the most powerful pick-me-up. Meghan told me that some riders sense a little stutter when switching upward.

For this 20-minute trial ride, I took Water Street to Monroe to sloping Walnut Street, hoping for a view of the beach at Fort Worden. Then came a journey-and-destination reverie. I was on flat road for the first 60 seconds, sailing along without a care. Then came the climb, where I downshifted as on a regular bike and switched up to turbo on the motor.

At no time did I feel a stutter. What I sensed was a kind of tailwind, so I could continue my sprightly pedaling with the “e” giving me a lift.

This brought back the pleasure of bicycling: being quiet, quiet enough to hear the birds singing to one another, the breeze sighing in the treetops. I traveled at a pace that let me see everything abloom — rhodys, lilacs, rosemary — while feeling the energy flow in my chest and legs.

Then, despite the bright rays of sunlight that day, some rain fell on my romance. I knew it was coming, having done some research. The Trek Verve model I tested runs $2,399, more than I paid for most of the cars I’ve owned. Clearly I need to do some renting of various e-bikes before making a commitment. At the Broken Spoke — and other bike shops in Sequim and Port Angeles — rentals are big; the Olympic Discovery Trail beckons, after all. A half-day rental runs $40.

One woman rented an e-bike and went to Montana, Meghan told me. Most pedal to Port Angeles. That sounds just right, after this first blush, as a route where turbo and I can get to know each other.


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be June 5.

Reach her at [email protected]

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