In 1947, when my great-grandmother was 93, she had electricity installed for the first time in the cottage where she had lived for most of her life. After the tallow lamps had been replaced by electric lights she was persuaded to buy a washing machine. When the men arrived, at 9am, to install it she said: “You’re much too late – I did the washing at six and it’s already on the line”.
My ancient forebear had the prejudice which most of us share against unfamiliar technology, but I’m sure that her feeling can’t have been as fierce as the antipathy I felt for the electric bicycle. The idea of artificial power replacing what legs were supposed to do seemed just plain wrong. I’m grateful to Isobel Stoddart for putting me right about electric bikes. The first thing I noticed about Isobel is that she was probably the fittest human being I’d ever met. She radiates good health and it was obvious that this didn’t come from being wafted along without taking any exercise. She convinced me that electric bikes need to be pedalled like ordinary bikes, but they have the advantage that you avoid that near death experience when you struggle in the lowest possible gear to get to the top of a hill.
Isobel lent me one of her Giant electric bikes, which I rode from the Damson Dene Hotel in Crosthwaite to my home in Grange. I nearly gave up after 50 yards when I got to the first steep hill, which turned out to be much too steep for my pedalling power. Then I realised that you had to switch the thing on. Once I had the power it was a miracle. Hills didn’t seem to exist. And the beauty was, you could still storm down the descents. There’s a speedometer, which is a brilliant incentive for speed. On my maiden run I didn’t go faster than 25 mph, but I’m sure there’s scope for more. The attraction of the electric bike is that it makes long journeys manageable. The trip from the Damson Dene to Grange, which is about 15 miles on the back roads, took just over an hour and I’m sure I would never have tried it on my ordinary road bike.
Isobel works for The Electrical Bicycle Network, whose job it is to get tourists in the Lakes going about by bike rather than by car. She’s going to get me two for the Damson Dene. It’s not as big a step as moving from tallow lamps to lightbulbs, but it still required a massive mental adjustment on my part.