It’s just seven weeks since the first run on my electric converted Trek 830 MTB bike and already I think I can safely say it has revolutionised my cycling, which due to ongoing knee problems had recently become so moribund that I feared I might need to give up completely. Hitherto I had only completed a few short rides on the Audax bike this year, in total amounting to just 50 miles! Since the end of July using the converted Trek bike I have already completed nine rides of up to 34 miles and a total of 250 miles in all. There have been some technical niggles but overall the conversion has performed very well, as have my knees; mostly using the electric assistance on hills and inclines has noticeably reduced the stress on my already damaged knees, with noticeable benefits.
I have been particularly surprised how using the addition of power assistance from time-to-time has changed my approach to choosing cycle routes. In the past unless it was absolutely unavoidable I have always tried to ride in such a way as to minimise adverse terrain and on circular routes. On circular rides I would try to cycle out into the wind and return with the wind behind when more tired; naturally weather, temperature, road conditions and fitness are also important factors in the choice of routes. With the option of using power assistance, such considerations have become much less important, with the result that I’ve been re-configuring old established routes based more on the aesthetics and pleasure of the ride. As a result old routes have become new routes, incorporating roads and locations hitherto avoided for the aforementioned reasons. Last weekend I undertook just such a ride, which turned out to be one of the best local rides I’ve had in years.
The main objective was to undertake the Box Hill Zig Zag climb onto the North Downs, used in the 2012 London Olympic road races. To get there I first took my standard route over the new Flanchford Bridge to Leigh, then on towards Dorking using another favourite circular route towards Brockham.
However, instead of turning right at Tilehurst Lane to Brockham, on this occasion I continued straight on along Punchbowl Lane. At this point the lane climbs steeply, which produced some spectacular views across the Holmesdale Valley and onwards to the North Downs, where I was ultimately heading. Though short the section of this road between Tilehurst Lane and the A25 AKA Reigate Road is very beautiful and as a result is also the location of some seriously large and no-doubt expensive houses – lucky them!
Crossing the A25 onto Pixham Lane and then on to the A24, good paved cycle tracks subsequently run along both sides of this busy road and ultimately the base of Box Hill at Ryka’s Café.
Since the Olympics this climb has become something of a Mecca for the brightly coloured, lycra clad, carbon fibre, would-be road racing brigade from London and elsewhere. Being Saturday the hill was literally swarming with such persons, attempting to demonstrate their climbing or descending prowess to each other. There are six power assist settings on the converted bike, 0 being no power, and I climbed the hill comfortably using 3 or 4 for most of the way to great effect. After a pit-stop at the National Trust café, I first continued my normal easterly route towards Pebble Hill along the top of the Downs. But this time instead of descending I turned left and to Headley village and then left again along Headley Lane, which ultimately then returns to the bottom of Box Hill via Juniper Hall.
In 2011 a dry run road race was held to test the route and arrangements for the Olympics the following year – it was won by no less than Mark Cavendish himself. The so-called circular route runs from Box Hill to Headley village and then back via the A24 to Box Hill, which in the 2012 men’s race was repeated nine times before heading off to the finish in central London. The week before the 2011 race I undertook my own dry run on the circular route. However, on this ride instead of continuing on to the A24, I turned onto Headley Lane and was in for a very pleasant surprise.
The lane mostly winds downwards across the dip slope of the Downs, through some beautiful chalkland scenery and was a lot of fun to ride. Unlike the Box Hill road this lane is very quiet and apart from myself, I only saw two other cyclists – they don’t know what they’re missing!
From the base of Box Hill it’s now back on the A24 cycle track again to the A25, before crossing nearby onto a good off-road track from the Dorking Golf Club to Brockham. At which point the route connects with another familiar ride via Betchworth, Trumpet Hill and then back home, all-in-all some 30-miles.
Putting together this cornucopia of previous routes, places and views was very enjoyable and a new experience after cycling regularly in this area for more than 20-years. Though quite hilly my knees were in good shape at the end and there was still 50% of reserve power left in the battery. Even in good shape I would probably have avoided this combination of rides but with my new found electric stoker on board such routes are now possible, even desirable, thus opening up new horizons.
Since the new Electric Bikes section of the Cycling UK Forum has recently been added, previously something of an anathema to some others on the Forum, it’s been interesting to see that I am not alone in my appreciation of the benefits of electric bikes, especially for those older or unfortunate enough to find cycling a little more difficult than in the past. Not only am I a convert but I can see huge benefits using assisted power bikes for all those that need a bit of help nowadays – it beats driving, is kind to the environment and is lots of fun. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?