Growing up, the outdoors is where I called home.
I lived in a small town called Mexico, NY (pop: 5,100), thirty miles upstate from Syracuse. Miles of country roads wove through rolling forests and streams. Just off the elbow of Lake Ontario, Mexico’s claims to fame include home to NY’s best tasting water + most annual snowfall (which made winters very very interesting).
Our house sat on 6 acres in the woods and was heated by an outdoor wood furnace. One of my childhood chores was finding, splitting, and stacking wood. I’d spend all day outdoors, bringing an Igloo lunch box with food and gatorade. Honestly, I didn’t mind the work. I’d walk as far as I could on the backwood trails, climb + hang out in the trees, sometimes bringing a fishing rod, using bait I found underneath old logs.
As I got older, a bike was my ticket to adventure beyond our property; I didn’t get my first car until late Senior year. As I’ll tell my kids one day, “I used to bike 10 miles to school, uphill both ways.”
I biked everywhere, exploring new trails, meeting up with friends for pick-up sports, and sneaking away to girlfriends houses (sorry, Mom). I found riding a bike to be meditative and euphoric. Time slows when pedaling, your body and mind are forced to be present and engaged with your surroundings, enjoying the process of the commute. You take in the fresh air, sounds and sights in a different way than speeding down the road. Even when I got my 1987 Honda Accord senior year, I still rode a bike most places when I could.
I lost that connection to biking in 2006 when I graduated high school. College brought me down to Raleigh and the city life; competing with a bunch of cars and stop lights just didn’t do it for me anymore.
Fast forward 10 years, to fall 2016. My buddy Pete and I were catching up over breakfast in Raleigh when he said he wanted to ask me a question.
“You want to bike down the Oregon and California coast with our golf clubs and camp out?”
I heard the word “yes” come out of my mouth before I could even fully process the question. I was drawn back to memories of the open road as a kid back in NY, and knowing what the Pacific Northwest entailed nature-wise, it was a journey I felt destined to take.
The details to actually complete the trip turned out to be pretty intense. Whoops. “I used to play high school sports, I’ll be good, right?” was a reoccuring little voice I had. Mapping out our route, elevation change would be constant, terrain grades unlike what I’ve ever rode before. We would be bike 50-70 miles, haul our golf clubs, clothes, and camping gear on a trailer, and walk 9-18 holes on a daily basis.
After planning the itinerary and committing to flights, we needed to do a test run. A week out from our flights to Portland, we did a 140 mile loop on our touring bikes with burley trailers. The plan was to pedal from Raleigh to Dormie Club, play golf/camp, and ride back the next morning. On day 2, after mile 105, I had to shut it down. In my right knee I felt a deep pain unlike anything I had felt before. I tried grinding out a few more miles, using my arm to push down and help pedal, but it kept getting worse. Boom, day over. With a week to go before heading west for the trip, I needed a solution, and needed it fast. A solution that would help me conquer the extreme distances we would do repeatedly for the next 2.5 weeks.
I started googling, starting with the search phrase: “electric bikes.” I came across The E-bike Store, a specialized electric bike shop. Coincidentally, their brick & mortar store was in Portland, the starting point of our bike adventure.
I called them up and was greeted by the owner, Wake. He walked me through the basics on e-bikes (Wake is an incredible guy and knowledgeable as heck on the subject). Essentially, the electric “pedal assist” style I was looking at would provide an adjustable assistance to your pedaling when turned on. They had a limited range of miles it would assist that varied from the manufacturer, as it was battery powered.
After talking to Wake and going over the trip, the best option we thought would be the Raleigh Redux IE. It is rated to have around a 50 mile range, which would effectively be about 30 with the trailer + terrain. So, the pedal assist was something I could utilize when I was fatigued or needed help up the large hills.
When we arrived in Portland, Pete and I headed to The E-bike Store where we had shipped our touring bikes, and I took the e-bike for a test ride. It was a breeze and fit my riding style; I weaved up and down city streets + metro parks testing different levels of the pedal assist. The hydraulic disc brakes would be crucial for the intense downhill stretches as well. Passing all of my tests, Wake + team got the Redux IE road ready.
During the trip, I would snag charges wherever I could. The bike could be plugged into any normal outlet. Being in remote areas most of the trip, sometimes I had to get creative. The thing I loved most was that for the majority of the ride I could have the assist off and feel the full test of the road, but when I needed it to give my legs a break and prolong my endurance, I had the option.
The Redux IE made it 900 miles down the coast with no hiccups or flat tires. I did run out of range a few days, which made it grueling going uphill with the extra weight, but that comes with the territory of 70 mile rides. It was a life changing trip, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the electric assistance.
What Pete did on a touring bike with pure leg power was the most impressive physical feat I’ve seen with my own eyes. He never showed fatigue, wear, or defeat. I’m honored to have been along for the ride.
Finding my connection with biking again is awesome. I now ride to the course when I can, which gets my mind focused on golf and my body loosened up. The best public course in the area, Lonnie Poole, is a perfect 13 mile round-trip from my place. You can even scoop a charge from the cart barn.
For those who used to have a passion for biking and want to find it again, or maybe joint pain is keeping you from pedaling long distances, electric bikes are worth taking for a spin. I’d start by checking out the Redux IE, it is adaptable to different needs and has a big range. Raleigh Electric also has a fat tire version which I’m lusting over … may need to buy myself an early birthday gift.
Keep pedaling, homies.
SPECIAL THANKS // Wake Gregg, The E-Bike Store, Raleigh Electric, and Burley Trailers, for making the biking component of “Portland to Pebble” possible.