Warm sunny days, low humidity, and undulating terrain are the ideal conditions for wine grape production and a recipe for killer road cycling. The two pair well in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, Canada’s largest vineyard region, where temperatures are mild through fall as the grape harvest begins. More than 300 wineries fill this fertile pocket of lake-lined land between the towns of Vernon and Osoyoos – and the bottle-filled trucks yield to riders zooming along at pace.
We started in the center of the valley, in the towns of Kelowna and Penticton, where nearly every resident rides a road bike. Here, more than a dozen cycling events take place each season, ranging from stage races to triathlons. Roads run through vineyards and orchards, around lakes, and up and over mountain passes. We headed toward the tiny town of Osoyoos at the valley’s southern end, where things took an unexpected turn.
When we arrived at Heatstroke Cycle, where we were signed up for a winery bike tour, owner and local downhill mountain biker Rich Cooper dropped a bomb. He was taking us out on some of the electric bikes from his fleet. Our protests were futile (“We’re road cyclists, we like pedaling up hills”). We may have outnumbered him, but Cooper had a hunting bow behind the counter. The electric bikes were an obnoxious shade of orange and three times the weight of our road bikes. Cooper rhapsodized over the specs as we begrudgingly adjusted the seats – $2,400 bikes imported from California, custom paint to match his branding, 48-volt, 10-amp electric engines – the biggest on any bike in Canada. We eyed the battery packs rigged to the rack above the back wheel. This was going to be so lame.
Then we started to ride and changed our minds. The thing about electric bikes is that you shift gears and pedal just as you would on a regular cruiser-style bike, but you have only to twist the throttle for a power boost. We quickly figured out that pedaling the bike in sixth gear, the heaviest, while cranking the throttle full force put the bike in turbo mode. Without pedaling, we were whizzing along at 20 mph. With pedaling, we were going considerably faster. After a lot of wind in our hair and seven wineries worth of reds in our stomach, we were flying. When we dismounted with broad grins still firmly plastered across our faces, Cooper, a true Canadian, was too polite to say, “I told you so.”