Bob Turney was on his electric bike in Cades Cove at 1 a.m., Tuesday morning, June 27. He was making pictures of the Milky Way. He had a friend with him, someone who had admired his electric-assist bike for the last year.
“He finally broke down and bought one a couple of days ago,” Turney said. “It was his maiden voyage. He loved it. He has back issues, so he was having a lot of trouble riding his traditional bike. With this one, he had no pain whatsoever. We made pictures until 2 in the morning.”
These bikes feature a motor that can be turned on when riders need a little extra push.
Turney said the e-bike he and his wife, Helen, bought at West Bicycles in Village Green Center has been life-changing.
“I bought it for my wife because she had a problem with one leg that wouldn’t allow her to ride a regular bike,” he said. “It’s wonderful. It’s really a life-changing experience for people who have a handicap.”
Turney said he rides it a lot, too, even though he doesn’t have any handicaps.
“It feels almost sinful to ride,” he laughed. “I’m embarrassed sometimes to say I ride it and I pass riders who have their tongues dragging the ground trying to go up a hill and I’m passing them not even breaking a sweat … . The one I have has about a 40-mile range on the battery. The one my friend bought has a 70-mile range on his.”
Fares Schlank, owner of West Bicycles, said he started carrying e-bikes eight years ago. He not only sells them, but he rents them too: about $55 per day.
“Renting is popular,” he said. “I’m the only one who rents e-bikes in Farragut, probably the only one in Knoxville. I have people coming in from across the country to rent e-bikes for Cades Cove to do night photography.”
Joe Rafferty owns three electric bikes.
“I rode 35 miles yesterday and 35 miles today — from Heritage High School to Walland to Tuckaleechee Cove and back,” Rafferty said. “Today we rode three loops around Cades Cove. I was with my two boomer buddies and we rode a total of 35.3 miles.
“I had a heart attack in 2000 and it really damaged my heart. I tried to ride a regular bike around Cades Cove, but it was useless. In 2011, I bought my first electric bike and have upgraded three times since then,” he added. “It is majestic. It is a joy. I really get pleasure out of this more than about any sports activity I’ve ever done. You’re moving but you’re not wearing yourself out. You’re not winded at all. I have no endurance because of this heart attack. I wouldn’t be riding a bike without it. It’s like doing 60 percent of the effort and going the same speed as a regular bike. I don’t have to walk up any hills.”
“My wife, Tracy, is a runner, and she’ll take her assist level down to ‘1’, or sometimes to ‘off’ to get a workout.”
Arnold and Cathy Bridges both bought e-bikes in February.
“My dad was always concerned about me,” Cathy Bridges said. ‘“Are you taking care of yourself? Are you eating right?’ When he passed away, he left my brother and I a little bit of money.”
Cathy Bridges said she did some research and decided that e-bikes would be a good use of some of her inheritance.
“I got on it and I felt like a girl again. I cried. I cried and I thanked my dad … these bikes are expensive, but they’re worth every penny,” she said. “When my husband and I pass away, our kids will be fighting over our e-bikes.”
The Bridges have bought baskets and pannier bags for their bikes so they can make a trip to Kroger from their house on the west end of Oak Ridge. They’ve even bought a blue tooth intercom system so they can talk to each other, listen to music and take calls hands-free.
“Really what happens is when people come in and ride them for the first time, nine out of 10 times the first thing people say when they ride an e-bike is ‘Whoa,’” she said. “You’re having a mental flashback to when you were very young and started biking.
“We get people in here with new knees, new hips or who are in cardiac rehab. That’s a niche for the market. I’m 63, my son is 30 years old,” Cathy added. “He’s an athlete. I can ride with him at 20 mph. One guy couldn’t ride a bike at all because he has a heart issue. He has a defibrillator. He and his wife head up to Cades Coves almost every week now.
“I will get folks coming in here [about] my age. It’s usually near the first of the year and they say, ‘I need to get fit. I want to ride my bike for 10 miles.’ If you’re not fit, 10 miles is a long way on a bike. You’re sore and you’re not happy and according to your fitness plan, you’ve got to get back on the bike the next day. If you get on an e-bike, you can ride as if your fitness level is much greater than it actually is. You start riding more and using the assist less. You don’t give it up because it’s fun and you’re not sore.”
West Bicycles offers e-bikes from $1,500 to around $3,000 and up to $7,000. Schlank said a ride leaves from the store every Saturday morning at 8 a.m. during the summer.
“We don’t differentiate between e-bikes and road bikes,” he said. The ride is from 20 to 50 miles and participation is free.”
The store’s next charity ride is Saturday, Aug. 12, to benefit Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries. It features rides from a
few miles up to 70 miles and Schlank invites the community to participate.