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I Took my Dad on an E-Bike Ride

By Spencer Powlison

Last weekend, my 66-year-old dad absolutely crushed me on one of the toughest climbs in Boulder, Colorado. He’d only ridden outdoors twice this year. He lives in Vermont, about 8,000 feet lower than the peak elevation of Sunshine Canyon. But I wasn’t embarrassed to see him beat me on my home roads.

That’s because I set him up with a Specialized Vado e-bike for this ride. If you pay attention to a lot of the comments on social media, he was “cheating.” That didn’t matter to him or to me, because without this e-bike, he wouldn’t have gotten to experience this ride.

While he’s very fit and active for someone his age, riding long climbs at high elevation is tough for anyone. Maybe he didn’t necessarily need an e-bike to get out and ride with me, but I had a hunch it would make this way more fun. It would let him access terrain that would ordinarily be outside his fitness level. It would enable me to include him on a proper weekend ride. And plus, he’d have the energy to enjoy the day and not be bedridden for the rest of his visit.

E-Bike Ride

First of all, let’s clarify what an e-bike is. On this ride, he was aboard a bike with an electric, battery-powered motor that maxes out at 20mph. To engage the motor you have to pedal — the harder you pedal, the more the electric assist. I like to compare it to a very strong tailwind. The motor produces a maximum of 250 watts of power. This qualifies as a Class 1 e-bike according to the laws, and its probably the most common type of e-bike. There is no throttle. No gas tank. Hardly any extra noise. Anyone who says an e-bike is just a motorcycle has either never ridden a motorcycle or never ridden an e-bike.

However, at 50 pounds, this bike takes a bit more wrangling than an “acoustic” bicycle due to its weight. That was one of the first things my dad noticed when he wheeled it out of my garage. Thankfully, it had a kickstand to help keep it from tipping over as he checked out the controls.

Whether it is sailboats, vintage cars, bikes, or skis, he has always enjoyed the technical aspects of sports and hobbies. So as I anticipated, he was pretty intrigued by the electric motor hiding in the Vado’s bottom bracket.

After a primer on the three e-assist modes — eco, sport, and turbo — we rolled out on the most ambitious ride I’ve taken him on in Colorado. We set out to ride Sunshine Canyon to Gold Hill, which climbs 3,000 feet over nine miles. Prior to this, his hardest climb had been to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) just south of town, 685 feet over 2.4 miles. When he was riding regularly, that alone had been a challenge.

As we rolled through town, I asked him how the bike felt. Turns out he hadn’t switched on the e-assist yet. At the bottom of a steep climb up a city block, I told him to put it in Turbo. I could see a lightbulb switch on in his head, just like that motor kicked in its 250 watts. The learning curve was pretty short. And he was going to have a lot of fun.

I think he said something very dad-like when I caught up to him at the stop sign, like “Holy cow!”

Through the lower section of Sunshine, he comfortably pedaled along in eco mode, remarking that it made him feel like he was in a lot better shape than he really was.

I provoked him with a little acceleration, and he quickly caught on to the game, riding up to me and then counterattacking. As we approached one of the climb’s most aesthetically pleasing switchbacks, I suggested he attack it in Turbo mode. It didn’t take much convincing, and when I finally found him waiting along the road, he was clearly thrilled by that slingshot feeling you get when you’re flying up a climb. (Maybe he was even a little inspired by the morning’s Tour de France stage up the Col du Tourmalet.)

Farther up, on the climb’s aptly named “wall” section, he caught an innocent bystander and blew by him, never mind the Vado’s fenders, rack, flat bars, and suspension fork. I think he was getting bored with waiting for me. E-Bike Ride
Dad waiting (somewhat) patiently for me on the long climb to Gold Hill.

Toward the top of the paved section, we reached a section with some more rolling terrain that allowed me to draft off of him a bit, which was actually quite intuitive even though he’d never done that sort of thing before. Every so often I’d look down at my Wahoo computer and see power numbers in the 400s and realize this wouldn’t last very long.

At one point he even mentioned that he’d been purposefully riding in eco mode for parts of the climb to “get a better workout.”

Well, despite his best efforts to make it harder on himself, when we reached Gold Hill, at about 8,300 feet above sea level, he admitted that he didn’t feel that tired at all. Unlike past rides we’d done in Colorado, he had plenty of energy for the rest of the day.

Plus, along the way up the canyon, he’d had the chance to see a lot more. We’d driven up that way before, but as you probably know, on a bike, so much more of the world is on display to appreciate and enjoy. From the scenery to the architecture to a stray deer, he saw a lot more on a bike. And on that e-bike, he didn’t need to train all winter to experience it with me.

I did have one reservation about climbing high into the Colorado mountains with him: how to get down at the end of the ride. Not wanting my dad to take risks on a totally unfamiliar bike or to leave my mom out of the morning activity, I had her drive up to meet us for lunch and shuttle him down.

After, he admitted it was one of the most fun rides he’s done. Now, when I talk to him on the phone, he’ll be able to understand a little better when I describe a weekend ride. Even if it was on an e-bike, he rode the same climb I’ve been riding for years. He saw it firsthand and felt its changes in gradient and switchbacks.

Would he buy one? He wasn’t totally convinced. Will e-bikes conquer the world and ruin our sport? I’m not totally convinced either. But I do think they’re a great way to give somebody an experience on two wheels that would be otherwise out of reach. E-bikes are tools (albeit expensive ones) that we can use to make cycling more inclusive and attainable. That’s a worthy goal for all of us, no matter if we want to ride e-bikes or not.

Oh, and don’t worry. I wouldn’t let him post that ride on Strava.


Thanks to the Specialized Boulder Experience Center for providing a Specialized Turbo Vado to ride.

16 comments


  • I have 12 bikes. At 68 I can pick and choose from the stable. My e bike is the go to bike for; groceries, trail maintenance, morning beach check, etc. It makes carrying a chain saw much easier when needed at the local trail. I can see a Specialized Creo in my future.

    Bill Skaff on

  • My wife and I (Both in early 70’s) took some ebikes to ride to the Maroon Bells near Aspen. Really enjoyable 7 mile uphill ride. Coming back down we coasted up to 30 mph so shows how steep the hill was.

    David Alexander on

  • As an 83 year old female, the century rides on my custom road bike are sometimes too much. I tried an e-bike yesterday and one of these machines will help me hit the roads more often for longer rides. It’s not an either or. For me, both kinds of bikes can have a valid place.

    Janet on

  • Riding an e-bike is like surfing cold water with a wetsuit. Yes, you can surf without a wetsuit and stay in the water for about 30 minutes (on a sunny and windless day). OR, wear a wetsuit and stay in the water until you are either too tired or too hungry – but never until you are too cold.

    Scott on

  • I never had much patience for luddites. Or for those that espouse others enjoyment as “wrong” just b/c they don’t find the same enjoyment in the activity. I have bikes, e-bikes and motorcycles, so there! Whatever, dude. E-bikes are the future. Keep right, please…

    JimmyTwoWheels on

  • My Wife does Bike Tours in many different locations. She started to see some tour participants on e-bikes several years ago and each year the number increases. It is the great equalizer that allows tour companies to offer the experience to a wider audience. I’m a Mtn. Biker and will continue to ride my regular bike for as long as I can. I won’t say that the day will never come where I rely on Lithium Ion’s to allow me to keep riding.

    Joe Hollyday on

  • Funny how some people think. If they don’t do it then no one else should either. Be open minded and think of all the different ways e-bike can help different people enjoy biking that couldn’t before. I’m assuming most of the people against e-bike haven’t gotten old enough yet or handicapped to appreciate an e-bike. Please don’t be so closed minded.

    David on

  • I understand the angle of this post, but there are more pros to ebikes than just getting someone into the sport. I have a Yeti SB4.5 and a Specialized levo. I’ve been Mountain biking for 14 years and I’m now 42. I’m able to do everything on my SB4.5 that I can on my Levo. However, the levo is so much more fun. You can still push yourself on an ebike, you’re just going faster and you can go much further. Is it as strenuous as a regular bike? Obviously no, thats why you can go father, but you can still totally get an adequate workout.. You have the choice to place it in eco or trail mode and hammer up the climbs or turbo and coast up the climbs. either way, you’re going much faster over a regular bike and its a flipping blast. I’ve also found the weight of the ebike makes jumping much more stable. You’re also more inclined to session down hill sections / work on your jumping skills without the fear of climbing back to the top over and over. Finally, and the most important was the realization that my son and I can ride together. At 12 years old, my son hated mountain biking because he could never keep up with me on the climbs and he was always too exhausted to enjoy it. It was more of a workout than fun. After purchasing him a small levo ,he is now able to keep up with me, no problem and his skills have increased dramatically! After I finally let my guard down, stopped bashing ebikes along side the “elitist”, and actually tried one; they have brought tremendous enjoyment into my life. If you mountain bike for general fitness and fun, you should really try one, they are an absolute game changer!!!

    Michael Utley on

  • Love my e-bike! It lets me go places I’d never even consider trying to go on a regular bike. There is such a thing as an electric motorcycle, but to me an e-bike is quite different. Riding my e-bike feels like I’m riding a regular bicycle and I’m still able to get a great workout. I used to ride my regular bicycle on a “less strenuous route” which was essentially a relatively flat dirt road and now I am able to ride in way more interesting places thanks to my e-bike.

    Alan Chavis on

  • “Hey Leroy, I’m curious to hear if you have any specific reservations, concerns, or critiques of e-bikes?”
    Spencer, I am already competing for space with e-bikes that pass me like I’m standing still, except now they’re in the bike lane. Same goes for offroad trail access. I’m being crowded out by motorized bikes. Why are e-bikes allowed in bike lanes? Probably because they are unsafe as motor vehicles and the boom of inexperienced e-cyclists speeding along are a hazard to others. For reasons of safety and fairness, e-bikes should be classified as e-motorcycles and not be in bike lanes or on mtb trails. As for my philosophical opposition, I don’t want to ride with motorized bikes in my group, especially when the battery runs down and they are forced to pedal the 50 lb bike home. I love cycling as a self powered activity, but I ride a motorcycle for bigger adventures. For me, e-bikes don’t satisfy either activity.

    Leroy on

  • Hey Leroy, I’m curious to hear if you have any specific reservations, concerns, or critiques of e-bikes? I respect the fact that for some people (maybe you?) e-bikes simply don’t line up with your opinion on how people should or should not ride bikes, but do you have a more tangible concern?

    To answer your question, I don’t ride them often, but when I do, I always really enjoy myself (https://www.velonews.com/2018/04/mountain/e-mtb-race-fun-actually-pretty-hard_464311). Honestly, the main thing keeping me from getting my own is the price. Maybe someday … But I can assure you I won’t be a full-on convert like Chris (also in the comments here). Neither will my dad!

    Spencer Powlison on

  • I see ebikes like this: Remember old push mowers without engines? ebikes ARE the future. I won’t go back to a regular bike.

    Chris on

  • Spencer: You can call them E-bikes, but they are more accurately E-motorcycles ( yes I own bikes and motorcycles). You might also ask yourself why you don’t ride one too? Is it because they don’t fit your view of what cycling is at it’s core? You can ride real bikes with your dad anytime, just slow down or pick a less strenuous route. Here’s an idea. Let dad ride your lightweight bike and you can ride the 50lb E-bike with the motor turned off. I bet he could stay with you!

    Leroy on

  • We hear similar stories like this all the time at our shop in Louisville. They are game changers. Glad you spent some quality time with your Dad and he was able to enjoy your ride with just a little e-bike assist.

    e-bike of COLORADO on

  • Awesome. We are seeing the same here in Park City. They are definitely bringing more people in, but there is strong resistance and lack of understanding of them, and they let so many more people get back into riding bikes. Thanks for posting!

    Andre Shoumatoff on

  • So awesome Spencer! I had nearly the exact same experience here in Moab with my 87 year old Mom! Priceless :)

    Mark Sevenoff on


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