Can the over-70 set keep up with hotshot young bikers on a European bike tour? Do senior citizens have to call it quits on Vineyard bike paths when they pass the three-score-and-ten milestone?
The answer to the first question is yes, to the second, no. And my wife and I can tell you why.
If you biked the hilly roads of Tuscany and rode up to the beautiful hilltop chateaus of Provence in your younger years, don’t give up now. They’re still within reach of your pedal power.
You’ve mastered e-mail, banked by e-commerce, read e-books and bought an e-car. Now it’s time to get on an e-bike.
With one of us approaching his 76th birthday recently, we had pretty much assumed that our biking days in Europe were over. An advertised bike tour to Prague, a city we’d always wanted to visit, seemed beyond our reach.
Enter the wonderful world of electric bikes.
A 200-mile bike hike up and down the hills stretching from Vienna to Prague in the Czech Republic? Piece of cake — and we proved it. We made it the whole way without breaking a sweat. Well, okay, maybe a little one.
The tour organizers suggested we try electric bikes to add pedal power to our tired legs in the rolling terrain, and they worked. Splendidly. With our little e-secret, we found ourselves at the head of our group’s straggling peloton going up the steepest inclines.
Electric bikes look like any others except for a small lithium battery the shape of a ciabatta bread loaf positioned on a carrying rack over the rear tire. Unlike a motorbike, they make no noise. Other people don’t know your secret unless you reveal it.
Riders on e-bikes have to pedal like everyone else, of course, and the bikes have the usual gears that one shifts going up and downhill. But the electric-assisted bikes have an additional lever that allows you to choose one of four levels of help with the flick of your thumb on the handlebar: “Eco” gives you a gentle lift as you bike along a flat farm road; “Tour,” adds a little more zip at the start of a long hill; “Sport” ups the ante another notch as you begin to pant on a steep incline . . . and “Turbo” allows you to reach the top with ease, riding past all the other poor devils gasping for air as they toil upward.
With electric assistance, it feels as though your daddy is running behind you, pushing you along with an invisible hand. “Pedal!” he whispers in your ear. “Don’t worry, I’ll help!”
And so we pedaled along, through the rich farm and forest countryside of Austria and the Czech Republic, following, for many miles, the winding course of the Danube River. In all, we biked a total of 205 miles, which felt like only 35 miles, thanks to our e-bikes.
We followed runners in an annual marathon along the Danube one morning, biked past a gypsy colony near the medieval town of Cesky Kremlov on another; passed through the deep Bohemian Forest, not a soul around, and pedaled up a hill to the Hluboka Castle, one of the many majestic early Gothic structures in the Czech Republic.
On and on we went, our e-bikes making life on the road smooth and easy. Many Europeans have already embraced e-bikes for commuting to work. Among other things, they allow you to bike to your office without needing a shower upon arrival. For senior citizens like us, however, they represent an even more exciting virtue: they will extend our biking lifetime another 10 years.
Edgartown selectmen should re-think their opposition to a businessman who wants to rent electric bikes on the Vineyard.
Hey, astride an electric bike, 75 is the new 45.
Timothy Leland, who lives in Boston and Chappaquiddick, is a retired managing editor of The Boston Globe, where a version of this article first appeared.