E-biking into the Future

E-biking is on the rise around the globe as a sustainable mode of transport. Taupo is alive with the e-bike movement, and two of its fifty-somethings are embracing it with huge enthusiasm. Chris and Kathy Johnston tell us how e-biking has changed their lives, and why it’s here to stay. Originally published on NZHerald.com.

The Johnstons are perhaps best known as the owners of Replete Café, a Taupo institution on the café scene. They’re passionate about their hometown, originally drawn to it by the size and nature of the community, and for the outdoor recreation opportunities it presents.

They’ve always been into mountain biking, and with 25 years of Taupo riding under his belt, Chris knows the trails pretty well. Both he and Kathy were finding, though, that work-related commitments had left them with less time to get out and ride. They started to think about how they could get more time in the saddle - for fitness, but also just for the love of it.

Local bike shop owner Mark Gibson, when hearing about their predicament, suggested they try out some e-bikes. He said they’d get them further faster, and they’d breathe new life into their riding. Not long after, a friend lent Chris an e-bike and he was sold, so he and Kathy went back to the bike shop and took up Mark’s offer of trying out some e-bikes together.

“We giggled and couldn’t believe how cool it was,” says Kathy. “I was absolutely hooked on it, so we decided to just do it, to seize the day. Life’s too short to wait.”

She’s talking about the distance they covered, the exploring they did, and how they still returned home with a smile on their faces without being ‘absolutely spent’. A year later Chris and Kathy often ride together, exploring the huge network of local backcountry mountain bike trails far further and for longer than they ever could before.

Kathy says it’s reintroduced biking into her exercise regime. “It’s no longer a chore to go out on long rides, it’s become a pleasure again.” She also commutes to work on her e-bike and loves that she can arrive in normal clothes without being hot and sweaty.

Chris says he rode all winter on his e-bike and clocked up 1500 kilometres in 5 months. “Conditions in Taupo allow you to do that,” he says. The volcanic pumice soil is free-draining, meaning mud doesn’t have a chance on the trails during the rainy season.

The couple trained on their e-bikes to ride the nearby Timber Trail with a group of friends, and despite opting to ride their normal mountain bikes rather than their e-bikes for the actual trip, they found they were fit and well prepared for the ride.

“You’re still getting a good workout,” says Chris. “It’s not about using the e-bike on maximum power all the time, it’s about taking the humps out of your riding. I ride mostly on 20% power, so I’m still improving my fitness every time I ride.”

Cycling for recreation is hugely prominent in the Taupo community. Chris says mountain biking is the norm for many people because the trails are so accessible. There’s the 10-kilometre grade 1 Great Lake Walkway that follows the lake shore from town to Five Mile Bay, and Craters Mountain Bike Park is just 5 kilometres from town, linked to the CBD by off-road trails.

“How many towns of 22,000 have five bike shops?” says Chris. “The fact that they are able to survive is testament to the bike culture here.”

Chris says Taupo’s central location to a number of NZ Cycle Trails (the Timber Trail, Great Lake Trail, Mountains to Sea and Te Ara Ahi) has really given the region momentum with cycle tourism. These trails are also working to increase the popularity of e-biking in the region.

They give access to some pretty spectacular backcountry, often attracting people who haven’t done a lot of cycling and are looking for an easier way to complete the journey. E-bikes make it achievable, although Chris is quick to point out that riders do still need some riding skills.

When asked what they see as the future for e-biking, Chris and Kathy both agree it’s here to stay.

“E-biking will allow us to continue to ride as we get older,” says Chris. “We would struggle through if we didn’t have the e-bikes,” says Kathy. “The e-bike movement is just going off. You see 60 and 70-year olds out there riding with smiles on their faces. They wouldn’t otherwise be able to do it, so it’s a no-brainer really.”

And on having what is clearly the good fortune of living in a place with plenty of trails to e-bike on, Chris says, “You can get in a good 30-kilometre ride after work, be home by 7pm and not even have to get in the car. People often find that hard to believe.”

“At times you have to pinch yourself because you forget how good it is to live here.”

Read about Chris and Kathy's five favourite e-biking trails here.

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