Cycling

John Vincent: On An eBike Around Europe

A few weeks ago, John Vincent , a Canadian based in British Columbia got in touch. He explained that he and his wife were enthusiastic eBike tourers in Europe and could he write a piece for the website about his experiences. I was delighted to take him up on his offer and below you can read what he has to say. If you’d like to get in touch with John, he has included contact details at the foot of the article. And if you’d like to contribute your own article for publication on CyclingEurope.org, please get in touch. All the contact details can be found here. Over to you John!


From a review of cycling articles one might infer cycle touring is the exclusive realm of young people engaged in grand adventures bikepacking the globe leaving the rest of us mature and senior cycling enthusiasts vicariously following them armchair cycling at home. I am here to tell you it need not be the case. My wife and I are senior citizens, one of us more than the other. I am 74.  My wife is… I am not allowed to publish that figure.

This past year, 2022, we bike toured both the Spring and Fall in Europe avoiding the busiest European holiday months of July and August. We do enjoy following the adventures of these young bikepackers; but we are also adventurous in our own way. We decided we were not going to let them have all the fun. So we set off on our own bike touring adventures in Europe. Whatever your age or level of experience you can too. The great equalizer has been the development in recent years of E-bikes for long distance bike touring. Let me share with you why and how we did it to show just how it is possible for you to do it as well.

Below is a picture of a typical bikepacker we met in northern Italy on the Claudia Augusta trail alongside yours truly. From this picture what is the difference between us? Okay, he is less than half my age and better looking. Not much I can do about that. His bike is significantly lighter than mine, at least half the weight. He is carrying half the gear. Why? Because he has to. On our E-bikes we don’t.  On flat sections he passed us. On the big climbs we passed him. At the end of the day we arrived at the same location at roughly the same time. 

Even some of the steepest passes are possible on an E-bike for E-bike touring seniors like us.  Here we are climbing the Vrsic Pass, the highest and most challenging of all the passes in Slovenia. That’s my wife on her E-bike. That’s a young 20 something women on her ultra light carbon fibre road bike out in front of her. As we caught up to her on the climb I think she was afraid we might pass her. Being the competitive type such young people often are, she pushed ahead hard and beat us to the top by several minutes.

Cycling purists often say riding an E-bike is cheating. We say it’s only cheating if you are competing. Being older and wiser, we are no longer trying to compete with others or ourselves.  So we held back to let her have her victory.  In the end we all made it to the top with plenty of time to enjoy the same grand views. In summary, E-bikes make climbing even the steepest passes not just easier, but possible, especially for E-bike touring seniors like us.

Similar to conventional bikes, there are many different types of E-bikes: road bikes, mountain bikes,  commuter bikes, touring bikes and others. They can all be used for E-bike touring, but there are differences and advantages between them. I could write an entire article on why we chose our Riese & Muller Superdelites for E-bike touring in comparison to all the others. The most important reason was they have two batteries giving us twice the battery capacity of many single battery E-bikes. For this reason many E-bike tourists we have met along the way, who have single battery E-bikes, carry a second battery in their panniers for the long haul and steep climbs. The longest single day trip of riding on our dual battery bikes was 140km and 1,600 meter of climbing from Garmische, Germany, across Austria over the Brenner Pass to Vipiteno Italy.  I was as dead as my dual batteries.  That’s the measure of how much battery capacity you ideally want to have; batteries that will last as long as you will in a single day.

Yes, E-bikes are heavier. Our dual battery Superdelites weigh 32kg. Panniers add another 20kg. That’s two to three times the total weight most bikepackers carry. However, as I tell people who are chagrin about our bike and gear weight, you cannot have an E-bike too heavy, only a battery too small. As such, while those on conventional bikes stop for breathers at the top of climbs we just cycle on by.

We also differentiate ourselves in how we tour from most bikepackers who camp along the way. We don’t camp. In our youth we enjoyed backpacking and camping. Even now we still enjoy the occasional weekend camping trip.  But we don’t camp along the way while E-bike touring.  We stay in a pensione or Gasthaus. Yes, it is a bit more expensive, which is one reason most bikepackers camp. This is one of the few disadvantages of being young.  They have to save their money for when they get old.  We already did that. As the old yarn goes, “You can’t take it with you.” As for what we will leave our two sons, we tell them not to plan on a big inheritance, perhaps at most a few worn out E-bikes.

After a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed we awaken to start our next day of bike touring. Here is our typical day. It begins with my making coffee and tea (n.b. We carry a small electric kettle with us) either served in bed or on a patio. We review emails from envious family and friends back home and catch up on as little bad news from around the world as possible. That’s right, I make my wife coffee each morning. She claims beyond E-bike touring it gives my life meaning and purpose. I say that’s one way to rationalize it.

We attempt to stay in places that include breakfast. Some are better than others. Yet nearly all are better than boiling water on a camp stove to make instant oatmeal. In Italy breakfast might be just a croissant, or a bit of cheese and ham with bread rolls.  In Austria and Germany however, you can’t beat the enormous buffets they spread out before you each morning. We, or should I say I, especially like those. I make up for what my wife doesn’t eat. 

Then we pack up our panniers and off we go on another day of E-bike touring, with emphasis on the word touring. Touring about Europe on any bike is by far the best way to do it. We find hiking across Europe on foot is a bit slow; and by train you can miss a lot of interesting stops along the way. Driving by car is too fast and stressful, and not enough exercise for us. In short, hiking is too slow; driving is too fast; biking is just right.

Here is another bonus of biking versus driving through European cities. Many historic city centres do not allow cars to enter at all; but have no problem with bikes entering. Here is my wife biking through the gate in Montalcino, Italy with cars parked outside. Even for those cities that do allow cars to enter, they end up driving around in circles trying to find a place to park. On our E-bikes we just ride into town and stop in front of whatever store attracts our attention. Or should I say my wife’s attention.

Which brings me to one of my wife’s favourite pastimes while E-bike touring through cities and villages, shopping. There isn’t a town or village we pass through she can’t help but stop to look in the stores. She has it down to a science. Some places she doesn’t even have to get off her bike to shop.

According to my wife’s reasoning, since we don’t have to carry a tent, sleeping bags and camping gear, this means she can carry more clothes as well as the numerous purchases she makes along the way.  Here she is buying some hand painted pottery in Tuscany to stash in her panniers. Shopping for her in European boutique shops is half the fun of E-bike touring. I believe I mentioned E-bikes make it easier to carry large loads.

If the panniers become too stuffed or too heavy, it’s  no problem. We just box it all up and mail it home. I think all this shopping would be a major differentiator from bikepackers. What can I say, happy wife, happy life!

Beyond shopping we also stop at the major tourist attractions; virtually a daily event and too many to list here. I’ll save that for future articles discussing the specific areas we have E-bike toured. We try to avoid the most crowded tourist attractions. Yet we couldn’t skip the big ones like the leaning tower of Pisa. No, I am not the one trying to hold up the leaning tower. That’s a regular tourist behind me. As E-bike tourists we have our standards and do attempt to differentiate ourselves to some degree from the antics of common tourists.

Similar to bikepackers we like to carry our lunch to eat along the way. A fresh baguette, some cheese, a bit of meat and fruit are easy and inexpensive to come by. They make for a delightful lunch at some scenic location away from all the crowds back in town. We even carry two compact folding camping chairs and a small table. What could be more comfortable and ideal?

Then we are on our way again across the scenic countryside taking in all the grand views on our way to our destination for the day. Our objective is not to cover as much distance as possible in a single day, but to collect as many experiences as possible along the way. As the afternoon draws on, if it starts to get late or we start to fatigue, with spare battery capacity we can always boost our E-bike power a bit to finish the day’s ride to our next destination. 

If we need to jump past a region that is less scenic to get to one that is more desirable, or avoid riding back on a trail we have already cycled along, we have no qualms about jumping on a train. Europe is very accommodating to those traveling on trains with bikes, even E-bikes.

By late afternoon as we near the end of our E-biking day, I start to feel a bit peckish. While my wife peruses another shop  to look through, I start hunting for a shop that serves ice cream. Okay, we each have our passions. She is fond of shopping.  I am fond of ice cream. If it sounds like I am eating a lot, remember I am burning a lot of calories while bike touring, even on an E-bike.  In fact, according to biking physiologists, on an E-bike one burns 80% as many calories as on a conventional bike over the same distance.

At the end of an 80km day with 1,000 meters of climbing, note that’s an average day’s ride in Tuscany, you can’t beat a warm shower in a nice room, which is yet another reason we don’t camp. Then it’s time for a happy hour drink and aperitif. The Italians are big on aperitifs such as this one in Bologna, where we discovered that Oscar Meyer did not invent baloney. It was created in Bologna in the 17th century as a delicacy called Mortadella. 

Or to save a bit we will savour a glass of wine from a bottle we bought along the way for 8 Euros on the balcony of our pensione overlooking the city we just cycled into, like this one in Sienna. 

Then, if we are feeling a bit flush and wishing to spend a bit more of ours sons’ inheritances, it is off in the evening for fine dinning to enjoy some epicurean delight the local region is noted for.

Or, if we stay in an Agritourismo apartment, such as those in Tuscany, and are tired of eating out, we make our own dinner from ingredients purchased fresh from a local grocer, eating on the lawn overlooking the countryside. Hey, isn’t that the same as the bikepackers do, albeit without having to carry a stove, cooking pots and dishes. 

Another positive of settling into an Agritourismo or equivalent is staying put for several days. We can then hub and spoke cycle in the area. This eliminates having to pack up all our gear every day and carry it with us on our daily rides. What better place to do that than San Gimignano, Italy?

So another typical day ends for two E-bike touring seniors. We watch the same sunsets casting their golden hues across the same countryside as young bikepackers do.

Ultimately we all have the same wishes and desires. We are all out there cycle touring  in our own way to the best of our abilities having fun. Like us, if doing it on an E-bike is what allows you to get out there and bike tour, then by all means do so. I hope to share with you more details in future articles of our E-bike touring adventures. I would like to hear your thoughts on it as well. Drop us a note at ebikestouring@gmail.com.

John Vincent


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