Speed Is My (Bicycle’s) Middle Name: Embracing the Electric Wheel

I owe an apology to every middle-aged person with an electric-assist bike. When they’d proudly show off their vehicle, I’d make all the polite noises, but here’s what I’d be thinking : “What are you, eighty? Why would you trade in perfectly good exercise for a free ride?”

That was a year of knee pain ago.

Since I haven’t been able to shake the pain (neither a torn meniscus nor arthritis–my doctor delivered the complicated diagnosis of, “Your knees are tired”) in 13 months, I have taken to walking my heavy bike, Dora the Explora*, up the steepest hills in order not to exacerbate the hurt. I hope to keep biking into my eighties, like my parents.

*Yes, I am a grownup who names vehicles, and large appliances too. No, it’s not in the least infantile. It’s not. It’s not. It’s not.

Then my friend Stephanie let me try her electric-assist bike around town, and I made a startling discovery: you can still ride hard in E-mode! In fact, you can gear UP going UPhill!

Whoa. I wants me some of that. So I went to my friendly neighborhood shop, Village Cycles, and they hooked me up–or Dora up. Literally.

Looks pretty much like a bike, right?

Look closer:

That’s the battery pack. Needs recharging about every 20 miles. But since I only use juice a minute at a time, usually…20 miles is forever!

Discerning eyes can spot a big difference in Dora’s front wheel:

Where the electricity meets the road!

Because I only want the E-assist on big hills, I opted for the most basic option: a tiny button which you have to hold down for the juice to flow. Let go–you’re back in regular mode. It’s a great way to keep the electric-zoom sessions short: my thumb gets tired!

Truly, though, I’ve found only three big changes to going semi-electric.

  1. Good: Pressing that magic button has taken all fear out of any potential route. I sometimes seek out hills now, just for the joy of riding hard up them without fear of too much knee stress. I think I’m getting a better workout than before!
  2. Bad: Dora has gained a lot of weight. Hefting her onto my bike rack is suddenly not a trifling thing.
  3. Ugly: I have to come to grips with my own pride. When fellow bikers, recognizing the battery pack & wheel, give me that knowing, condescending look, I cringe inside. That used to be me. And when someone now says to me, “Well, if Gretchen can use an e-wheel, then I guess it’s ok!” I have to fight the urge to blurt, “But it’s not because I’m trying to make it easier on myself!”

Except, of course, that’s exactly what I’m doing. For all the right reasons. I just have to get over my own macha-ness (kind of like when I had to get an epidural during my first childbirth and felt like a failure for not going drug-free). And that’s a pretty good workout too.

To celebrate my new acceptance of the E-life, I’ve given Dora a new middle name: Izumi. It’s a girl’s name, also associated with bikewear. And it fits: she IS zoomy now!

So if you see us zooming up a big hill and you know I’m mashing that button, you can say to yourself: “There goes a woman who’s learned a valuable lesson in humility. I wants me some of that.”

Fitness In Your Eighties: Keeping Up With My Parents

We just got back from vacation, and my husband and I are exhausted.

Not from the long flight back from Greece, although that took its toll. (I swear, jet lag should be declared an illegal drug: Just Say No.) We’re exhausted from trying to keep up with my parents.

It’s my own fault. This whole Cyclades Islands bike tour was my idea. “Let’s invite my parents,” I said. “We always have so much fun doing athletic things with them, and they won’t be able to do this kind of thing forever.” (Plus my mom is super laid-back and my dad grabs every check and pays for everything if you let him is super-generous.)


We are tired out from trying to keep up with Mom and Dad on all those hilly bike rides. Did I mention that my mom is 78 and my dad is 83?

They’ve always been terrific athletic role models, WAY ahead of their generation. My dad, a zoologist, got into distance running in the mid-1960s as the result of a near-death experience being chased down a beach by a bull elephant seal (at least the way he tells it, and hey, it’s his story, right?). My mom and my sisters got into running soon after. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I got into it in due time. (For more on this,  https://gretchenkwing.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/ill-put-a-gird…ok-maybe-years/

Mom became a running star almost immediately. Not that many women over 40 were running in the early 1970s, let alone racing, and mom was FAST. When she turned 45, she owned the national 10k record. Her picture graced the cover of WomenSports magazine in 1975–a journal that, sadly, did not survive into the 80s. Dad was never quite as competitive, relative to other men, since there were more of them. But he embraced each new age group eagerly, ready to face down his rivals.


Together, they dominated the roads of North Carolina, then branched out around the country, running marathons, 10ks, 5ks, plus one and two-milers on the track. They even attended the World Masters track championships. And they cleaned up annually at the Levi’s Ride and Tie, a crazy cross-country endurance race involving teams of 2 people plus a horse. (My sisters and I got free Levi’s all through high school thanks to their prizes. 🙂 )

These days they’ve slowed down–just a little. Mom’s had a tough time with soft-tissue injuries and spends more time biking, riding, and doing weights and pilates than running. Dad still runs a couple times a week, and usually bikes the six miles to his lab, but he’s considering buying an electric tricycle to help him get home when fatigue finally catches up to him.

As if!

Not only did fatigue not catch up to him on our bike trip, the rest of the tour members hardly could. My husband and I kept waiting for Mom or Dad to ride in the sag wagon that followed our bike tour. Never happened. They rode every hilly, windy kilometer.


So I guess I just want to say Thanks. Thanks for being such great role models, not just for me and my sisters, but for everyone who sees you riding past, grey beard and grey braid flying in the wind. Thanks for showing the rest of us that a healthy old age may depend in part on good luck and good genes, but it DEFINITELY depends on hard work–work that doesn’t stop when the joints get creaky.

And yeah–thanks for the genes too.

P and M

How about you? Did you inherit any kind of fitness regimen from your parents, or were they your examples of how NOT to live? How do you find a way, in your super-busy lives, to model fitness for your children? Let us hear!

Why I’m Not Blogging From My Bike in Greece

Multiple choice:  As you read this, I am

a) riding a bicycle around a Greek island

b) stuffing my face with feta cheese and olives

c) sleeping off the results of a) and b)

d) not blogging

Correct answer: any of the above, although not all simultaneously.

I surely tip my hat to those of you hardcore bloggers who somehow stay in touch, live, from Paradise. But that is SO NOT ME. My version of Paradise includes nothing digital, except the digits of my hand, which I hope will be clutching only handlebars, or food, or my husband’s digits, for a full nine days.

(orig. photo courtesy bestthinking.com)

(orig. photo courtesy bestthinking.com)

That’s why I wrote this post well in advance and scheduled it. Yay for scheduling.

(orig. photo courtesy bestthinking.com)

(orig. photo courtesy bestthinking.com)

I’m not a techno-phobe. Techno-WUSS, yes, definitely. But I got nothing major against smartphones, tablets, all those other devices that chain us to society when we most need to be freeing ourselves to feel our inner spirit and reconnect with the natural world or other people allow us to stay connected.

OK, maybe I have a LITTLE something against those devices. Or against the pressure they manage to exert.

I’m on VACATION. I will check back in when I get home and tell you how wonderful it was. In the meantime, thank you for putting up with my curmudgeonliness listening to my opinions.

(orig. photo courtesy publicphoto.org)

(orig. photo courtesy publicphoto.org)

What about you? Do you stay technologically connected while on vacation? Is it hard not to? Whom do you get more impatient with, people who can’t disconnect, or people like me who grouse about disconnecting?