Vagabond in America 2016 travel blog

The Turbo Levo

Testing my new Turbo Levo

Finding space in my RV's basement for the new bike

Head of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail

Starting my ride

Along the trail

Rail trail tunnel under I-91

Riding with a old friend of a old friend

The old rail bed

I clearly remember one day, six years ago, when I was loading my mountain bike onto the roof of my son's car. I remember my then-fiancée saying to my son, "Don't break him!". My next memory is waking up in the hospital four days later. I've never regained any memory from what happened those four days.

Apparently, I was heading down a particularly difficult hill on my bike when I crashed into a car-sized rock. When my son found me, my hands were still on my handlebars. My son says that I always scream on scary parts of the trail and I always drag my brakes, which squeak. In this case, he never heard any sounds, in particular, he never heard me scream. Much later an MRI scan showed that I had a stroke, presumably because my blood pressure had spiked from the extreme efforts.

Ever since then, my son has been trying to convince me to buy an eBike. I'd been considering buying an eBike for over 20 years. My experiences with the eBike on the Cape revived that idea.

The concept of electric bicycles is not at all new. In fact, several eBike patents were issued the 1890s. Up until recently, all eBikes were built by adding a motor and batteries to traditional (non-electric) bicycles. Finally, some vendors created designs from scratch for bicycles designed to run with electric motors. These quickly became very popular in both Europe and Asia but still have not caught on in America.

The three largest manufactures of high-quality bicycles (as opposed to mass market bikes) are Trek, Giant, and Specialized. Last year, Specialized introduced the first high-quality, electric, mountain bike in Europe, calling it the "Turbo Levo". Last month, it was introduced in the United States. The dealer near where my son lives just got one in stock, for the first time, last week.

Since I was leaving New England the next week with no plans to return to New England again until 2017, it was either buy it now or wait a year.

There were three things that I didn't like about the eBike that I rented on the Cape. First, it was a road bike not a mountain bike. Second, its motor was controlled by what's called "cadence sensing" rather than "torque sensing", causing it to be less sensitive to the rider's efforts. And third, its motor was in the rear hub rather than in the middle of the bike, preventing it from leveraging the power of the gears.

This new Turbo Levo had designed all of these features exactly the way that I needed them. It's a "fat" bike, like my current one and it has a center-mounted, torque-sensing motor.

I simply had to check it out! By coincidence, my son happened to be available that day. So, we drove to the bicycle dealer and took a test ride. I was quickly convinced that this was the bike for me. The dealer arranged to prep it for sale the following Sunday, my last day in southern New England.

It has no accelerator. You must peddle in order to get it to move. It looks and acts like a traditional bicycle. It just gives you a performance boost on hills, which is exactly what I need. This eBike has three assist modes: Eco, Trail, and Turbo. In Eco mode, the bike's motor provides a slight assistance. It essentially makes this heavy bike feel like an ultra-light racing bike. In Trail mode, it provides much more power. It matches and augments my every motion. Basically, it makes me feel like Superman! In Turbo mode, it boosts to its maximum available boost. It feels like a wild stallion impatient to go faster. I've yet to find any hill so steep that the bike can't easily climb it in Turbo mode.

On Sunday, my son accompanied me again and I picked up my new eBike. We went for a four-mile ride in the nearby Burlingame State Park. We tried all different terrains: sand, pavement, and off-road. It handled each of them extremely well. My son wasn't sure that he liked the fact that I could now, for the first time in his life, pass him on the up-hill sections!

Since it's a mountain bike, it's heavier than most road bikes. Since it's a fat bike, it's heavier thsn most mountain bikes. Since it's an eBike, it's heavier than most eBikes. The result? It's the heaviest (and most expensive) bike that I've over owned. Before leaving, I placed my old fat bike in my storage unit in Rhode Island and loaded my new eBike into the "basement" of my RV. (There's a large bay under my bedroom, similar to the storage compartments on large buses.)

I already had reservations the next day at a campground in northern Vermont. My original plan had been to ride my fat bike at Kingdom Trails, some of the best mountain bike trails in the country. Unfortunately for me, Kingdom Trails has decided, at least for now, to forbid all eBikes on all of their trails. I considered temporary removing the battery from my eBike and claiming that it was no longer an eBike. But, that turned out not to be necessary.

When I arrived at my Vermont campground, I was surprised to discover that this campground is directly on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail! This trail is part of a planned 100 mile rail trail across the top of Vermont. Currently, 17 miles of the trail, from St Johnsbury to West Danville has been completed.

On Wednesday, I road my new eBike 17 miles to the east trail head and back to my RV. Along the way, I met several other riders. Once one of the riders offered me a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Trying to avoid eating too much sugar, I offered one of the two cups to another rider. That evening, I got an email from a college buddy who lives in Massachusetts. Did I share a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup with someone on the trail? What? How did he know? It turns out that my friend had realized that a friend of his was vacationing on his bike in the same area that he knew I was currently traveling. What a small world!! His friend and I immediately made email contact and then phone contact. We arranged to ride the western section of the trail the next day. Since his bike had no motor, I set my eBike to Eco mode and we traveled at 5-7 miles per hour. After our ride, I continued onto some of the undeveloped parts of the trail. Now that I was again traveling alone, I increased my eBike's setting to Trail mode and cranked my speed up to 15-18 mph. The earlier portions of the trail consisted of well-maintained, very-smooth, crushed gravel. This future path was basically an abandoned railroad line, minus the tracks and ties. The grass was knee-high. Riding through it at 17 mph was an incredible rush! The fat tires made the trail easy to follow. The motor made the speed easy to maintain.

Each day, I used about 1/2 of the eBike's battery reserves. I estimate that I can get about 60 miles per day in Eco mode or 30 miles per day in Trail mode. I've never ridden very long in Turbo mode; so, I don't know how long that would last. It is, after all, a bicycle not a motorcycle.

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