Jackson’s hills can be daunting.
Carter Notch Road, Dundee Road, Thorn Hill Road and Switchback Road plus others can eat at egos as elevation challenges and cruelty are doled out with each crank of the pedal and downshift of the gears.
But from the seat of an e-bike, or electric-assist bikes, hills and headwinds be damned as an invisible hand seems to reach out from infinity with an inspiring pat on the back to lift you as you pedal up the next rise and then dart like a lithe cheetah on the double track dirt flats and solid black pavement.
E-bikes aren’t as popular in the U.S. as in Europe — e-bikes outsell traditional bikes in the cycle-friendly Netherlands according to Dutch industry organizations RAI Association and BOVAG — but the North American market is gaining ground as e-bike sales grew 91 percent from 2016 to 2017.
Easier to pedal with the help of a battery and a great leveler for varying abilities and ages, the bikes though are hefty and not cheap. But you’ll get plenty of exercise and smiles.
To tiptoe into the e-bike world, last Sunday my wife Jan and I checked out a pair of Scott e-bikes — a mountain bike for me and a beach cruiser-type for her — from Andrew Drummond’s Ski the Whites shop (skithewhites.com) at 211 Main St. in Jackson.
The valley’s well-known endurance athlete has spent the last three winters with a shop at Black Mountain spreading the free-heel backcountry skiing gospel and in May opened his new digs at the corner of Main and Route 16 continuing his mission to get people outdoors by trying equipment first. Now that includes e-bike rentals.
“You can equalize everyone’s fitness level with whatever mode you are on the e-bike,” Drummond said.
He’s had 14-year-olds ride and even sold one to an 80-year-old woman.
Frankly, my wife was nervous about trying something new on the hills of Jackson. But Drummond talked her through the bike’s simple mechanics. With the push of a button, change the various modes with the left hand. With the right, shift. Brake as normal. Done.
We would be on Class I e-bikes, bicycles with an electric motor that provides power only while you pedal, and stops power at 20 miles per hour.
“With all the hills we have around here in Jackson, you can get on an e-bike and access the viewpoints and landmarks,” Drummond said.
With a few strokes of the pedals, the e-bike’s joie de vivre is evident, spreading elation even on elevation as we climbed up Carter Notch Road to Jackson Falls, smiling amicably to those walking to the bustling falls.
After stopping for photos, we continued on up past Eagle Mountain House and the golf course, my wife leading the way and soon out of sight as her turbo mode far exceeded in power the eco mode I started in.
This was unusual. In the thousands of miles we’ve pedaled together, there was only one other time we recalled she had been so far ahead of me. So when she eventually pulled over to wait for me when the road went from pavement to dirt, I had to actually tell her to wait a second when I reached her.
Then I put it in turbo mode and life returned to normal.
We pedaled up to Prospect Farm and turned onto a glorious gated dirt road by a fine weathered camp and the Bog Brook Trail parking area, and marveled at the handling and pedaling ease on the quiet of the shaded two-track dirt road as we crossed two bridges riding side-by-side before I was informed it was time to turn around.
On the scintillating downhill, we happened upon a friend watering her garden outside her home. We stopped, chatted and then she was taking Jan’s rental for spin. She eventually returned with an elongated grin across her face and a pannier full of questions about the bike.
Jan and I eventually made it back to town during our two-hour spin. Of course, it could have been extended with a stop for a drink on an inn porch or al fresco sandwich at a restaurant. Jan was ecstatic that she didn’t have to walk up any hills and beamed all the way home.