Photo: John Torsiello / For Hearst Connecticut Media
WEST CORNWALL — You love riding a bicycle along the back roads of Litchfield County. But, oh, those hills. They place such a strain on the body, especially the knees. Sometimes you wonder if it’s worth it.
Well, you don’t have to give up your passion because of steep inclines. Just hop on an E-bike and cruise up those nasty, gut wrenching hills that once stymied many a wonderful ride.
While E-bikes have been around for awhile and been a popular mode of eco-friendly, two-wheeled transportation in the cities, they are becoming a somewhat common sight on the roadways of Litchfield County.
“What’s an E-bike?” you ask. Well, it’s a type of modified bicycle, looking and functioning like a traditional bicycle. However, if riders desire, they can pedal and gain momentum as they would with a traditional bicycle. Here’s the catch; E-bikes also come equipped with a small electric motor, which can be used to help power the vehicle, ultimately reaching speeds of 20 to 30 miles per hour. The bikes’ electric motor can be charged, much like an electric car. It has zero emissions.
Marie Isabelle of Norfolk said E-biking has become popular because it “makes biking fun, especially in hilly areas.” She added, “It’s advantage is that it’s getting more people out biking and enjoying it.” she and her husband, have conducted E-bike demonstrations that appealed to all age groups.
The E-bikes only work as you pedal, so you do get exercise. The bicycle’s battery-powered motor is only an assist as you need it. E-bikes can be rather pricey, anywhere from around $2,000 upward to $16,000 or more. Yikes! But a traditional road bicycle can run close to the same price range. A lower-end E-bike will generate about 400 watt hours and one on the higher end of the price range will generate about 700 watt hours, giving riders between 50 to 60 miles of use from the motor. And if the motor quits, you can either put another battery pack on or peddle your way back home, something you can’t do with a motor vehicle and motorcycle.
Okay, so you can’t or don’t want to shell out the money for your own personal E-bike. Bob Ensign has the solution. His Covered Bridge Electric Bike Rental in West Cornwall opened this past Labor Day weekend, and customers headed out on excursions along River Road, a rural dirt road across Route 4 that runs along the Housatonic River, heading to parts north. The Sharon man’s business is located in the now remodeled building formerly occupied by the Wandering Moose Café for a number of years, and another diner for a brief time. It’s very close to the famous covered bridge over the Housatonic River.
“My wife and I had come to the Wandering Moose Café and then Pearly’s Farmhouse Cafe and had some great meals and developed wonderful memories of this beautiful spot,” said Ensign. “West Cornwall and other parts of Litchfield County are much like they were in the late 1800s. It’s a great place to bicycle, but there are a lot of steep hills that detour some people, especially those who are a bit older or who have some physical limitations. The electric bikes allow people, anyone really, to get back out and enjoy riding again. This is a game changer, in my opinion.”
According to Ensign, those who have taken to the E-bike craze tend to be Baby Boomers that have had some bicycling experience in the past, and because topography challenges of where they live or health conditions forced them to believe they couldn’t ride anymore. Now, these people are getting back on a bicycle and getting great exercise and enjoying themselves again.
“You might think that with the assistance of an electric motor that you wouldn’t pedal as much as you would on a traditional bicycle, but that usually isn’t the case,” said Ensign. “When you need an extra boost to get up a hill you can very simply adjust the motor to produce that assistance, and when you are coming down a hill or on flat ground you back off on the assistance.”
In addition to the motorized, easy-to-adjust assistance shifter on the left handle bar, E-bikes have hand brakes and a gear shift on the right handlebar found on traditional bicycles. There’s also what could best be described as a “booster” device that can be used briefly to accelerate from a stationary position so as to relieve pressure on the knees.
The bikes Ensign rents (there are various sizes to accommodate for height differences in riders) allow individuals to ride to far-off places that would be a challenge for some to reach. “We could take off down River Road on an E-bike, drive up to Ashley Falls in Massachusetts, have lunch and be back in four hours,” said Ensign. “It’s great exercise and the motor assistance pulls you up those hills that you might not otherwise be able to get up.”
This writer went for a short test ride and was indeed pleased with the E-bike’s ability to help climb several short hills and then allow me to peddle downhill and along flat stretches of River Road, which is dirt and a bit bumpy with small potholes. But, the tires on the E-bikes are wider than those on traditional road bicycles, which lend additional stability and security to the ride.
Cornwall Bridge Electric Bike Rental rents by hour increments that can stretch to all day trips. Rates are extremely reasonable for the cool experience and the use of the expensive bikes.
Safety is vitally important to Ensign, who gives customers a primer on the operation of the bikes and provides quality helmets to each rider. Maps are available showing five routes bikers can take.
The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Visit www.coveredbridgeebike.com for more information.
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