PRAGUE — Can the over-70 set keep up with hotshot young bikers on a European tour? Do seniors have to turn in their bikes when they pass the three-score-and-10 milestone?
The answer to the first question is yes, to the second, no. And we know why.
If you love adventure mixed with exercise, if in your younger years you biked the hilly roads of Tuscany and rode up to the beautiful hilltop chateaus of Provence, 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, even driven e-cars. Now it’s time to try the e-bike.
With one of us approaching his 76th birthday, we had pretty much assumed that our biking days in Europe were over. Three years ago we took what we thought would be our last luxury bike tour pedaling around the Netherlands. But that country is as flat as a you-know-what. Even at our advanced ages it posed no problem. Biking there felt as if we were coasting.
This year, when we heard about a group bike trip from
Vienna to Prague (the latter being high on our bucket list), we considered it beyond our reach.
Enter the wonderful world of electric bikes.
A 200-mile bike tour up and down the hills stretching from Austria to the Czech Republic? We made it the whole way without breaking a sweat. Well, OK, maybe a little one.
Austin Adventures, the tour organizers, suggested we try electric bikes and they worked. Splendidly. We found ourselves at the head of our group 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. Others won’t know your secret unless you reveal it. (Ten percent of Austin Adventures’ Cannondale fleet is electric and they’re considering upping that number to 25 percent.)
Riders of ebikes have to pedal, like everyone else, and the bikes have the usual gears to shift going up and down hills. 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 vineyard 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” puts you over the top — in racing mode — where you speed past all the others as they toil upward.
With electric assistance, it feels as though your daddy is running behind you, pushing you along with a gentle hand. “Pedal!” he whispers in your ear. “I’ll help!”
And so we pedaled along, through the rich farm and forest countryside, following, for many miles, the winding course of the Danube River. In all, we biked 205 miles, which felt like only 35 miles, thanks to the e-bike.
Many of our earlier European bike trips (our first was in 1984) were taken in springtime, the fragrance of mown grass and the rich wet earth of furrowed fields heavy in the air as the planting season began. This trip was in the fall, at the height of the harvest, and the sights and smells were different. We biked past apple and pear trees heavy with fruit; past vineyards in the Wachau wine region, their vines thick with blue and green grapes; past orchards hanging with sweet purple plums and ripe yellow peaches.
We followed runners in an annual marathon along the Danube one morning; biked past a gypsy colony near the medieval town of Cesky Kremlov; passed through the deep Bohemian Forest, not a soul around; pedaled up 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. But 70-year-olds get tired occasionally even with e-bikes, and whenever that happened one of the Austin guides would suddenly appear at the top of a hill with a plate of Austrian chocolates or a dish of fresh Czech apricots to give us a quick boost of energy.
Austin Adventures offers use of the e-bike on all of its European bike tours for $25 extra per day. Many Europeans have already embraced them for commuting to work because, among other things, they allow you to bike to your office without needing a shower upon arrival.
For seniors like us, however, they represent an even more exciting idea: These miracle machines can extend our biking lifetime another 10 years.
Astride an electric bike, 75 is the new 35.
AUSTIN ADVENTURES Nine-day, eight-night Vienna to Prague tour, $3,798, $25 extra per day for an e-bike. 800-575-1540, www.austinlehman.com