By Julie Pendray
IDYLLWILD, Calif. — Rock climbing, hiking or eating on a restaurant patio in the forest are among reasons tourists visit mile-high Idyllwild. The village above Palm Springs also draws endurance bicyclists. However, for the average tourist, pedaling up hill in thin air on a hot day isn’t an exciting option.
Local pedaling is becoming more appealing with electric-assist bikes. You may have seen them. At first, it seems like an optical illusion — someone is flying up the street on a bike faster than seems possible. It doesn’t make any sense, until you hear the hum of the electrically boosted gears.
Electric bikes have been around since the 1970s energy crisis. These days, they’re also called “ebikes.” The more recent interest in Idyllwild echoes growing support in other parts of the world, as the latest technology makes cycling even easier, and people tighten their budgets and consider the environment. In Europe, for example, 700,000 ebikes were sold in 2010, the latest figures available, according to one industry source. Even Ford has built at least two ebike prototypes.
Now people can buy or rent ebikes at Hub Cyclery on North Circle Drive. Owners Brendan and Mary Collier — both competitive endurance bicyclists themselves — had already been renting out mountain bikes and town cruisers, then added this option for people who aren’t able to pedal up hill easily at high altitude, Mary said.
“Most tourists come from sea level and they only stay a day,” she said. “There’s no time for acclimation. They want to ride a bike around town and see and hear and smell things that you wouldn’t in a car. An electric-assist allows those people to see Idyllwild as it truly is — the fresh air.”
In 2008, Mary became the first woman to complete the 2,711-mile Tour the Divide race along the Continental Divide. That race is captured in an award-winning documentary, Ride the Divide, which is showing at theaters around the world and via the Internet. After her famous ride, Mary and Brendan founded an annual mountain bike race, Stagecoach 400, which takes cyclists down the hill from Idyllwild to San Diego, via Anza-Borrego Desert, and back again — a route of 400 miles. The race is designed as a training course for the Tour the Divide. A portion of the proceeds go to charitable causes each year.
But you don’t have to be an endurance enthusiast to get around a mountain village on an ebike. A cyclist can reach 20 m.p.h. around town without straining. Certain e-mountain-bikes can reach 29 m.p.h. You can check your progress on the bike’s speedometer. There’s even a navigational app that’s compatible with a smart phone.
Hub Cyclery has rental ebikes by Felt Electric, a California company. A half-day rental is $75; a full day is $95.
The store also sells Felt electric assists, along with another e-bike by IZIP, which markets itself as “the oldest and most established electric bike brand in the USA.”
Hub Cyclery’s Felt ebikes range from $4,000 to $4,700. These bikes really stand out because of the Bosch power system, Mary said. The IZIP ebikes start at approximately $2,500.
With electric assist bikes, cyclists still have to pedal to keep the power system going. Along with a central drive unit and motor, there are sensors and a computer control — on the handlebar — that are part of what’s known as the human-machine interface. The system indicates how much battery power a cyclist is using during the ride.
This video compares riding a regular bike up hill in San Francisco versus an ebike.
There’s a great range of ebikes out there in the market. Some can weigh as little as 40 pounds. In fact, the sleek new look is what adds to their growing appeal, according to reviews. Some batteries can stay charged for up to 75 miles, depending on the bike’s load, the terrain, the setting (“turbo” or “eco”) and tire pressure. They are repowered by plugging into a charging unit that uses a 110 volt outlet. The power packs can weigh about 2 pounds and can be taken on the ride. The power assist can be turned off to save the battery while a person cycles on her own. The lithium ion batteries can last approximately 15,000 to 30,000 miles. Replacement cost can be $1,000. Motors can be 250 to more than 1,000 watts
Styling options for ebikes vary from pink to camouflage, to foldable for easy travel. Accessories include cargo baskets and LED headlights.
To contact Hub Cyclery, call (951) 659-4070.
© Copyright Julie Pendray, SpecialsNotOnTheMenu.com