E-Bikes: One – Delach: Zero

by John Delach

The young man who worked at the bike shop in the port town of Avalon on Catalina Island began his five to seven-minute tutorial as soon as we signed the waivers holding them harmless for all liabilities including injuries we could sustain by riding electric powered bicycles (E-Bikes) during the next two hours.


He walked us through how to increase and decrease the gear ratios to help us pedal the E-Bikes over the numerous up-hills and down-hills we would encounter, how to work the electric motor throttle and the front and rear brakes. “Remember, these are disc-brakes, not traditional hand brakes. To use them, don’t press and hold them. If you do, the bike will suddenly stop, and you may go flying over the handlebars. Squeeze them gently, on and off.”


I knew he didn’t see the weird look on my face as he explained braking. As if by magic, his words transported me back to the summer of 1957 in Cutler Ridge, Florida. My father had put me on his Vesper motor scooter and was explaining how to brake it. The old man was bit more elegant but less P.C. than the young man, “John, touch the brake like you are squeezing a girl’s breast.”


Mary Ann returned me to the moment with her worried question and plea, “Do we really want to ride these things?”


“Yes, yes, of course we do. C’mon, lets do it, we’ve been looking forward to this.”


I hoped my adamant reply concealed my own doubts and any panic in my voice.


But our guide only raised more red flags as he took out a map and set out his recommended route. “Head out on the coastal road that gives you about a half mile to get used to the bikes. Remember, they weigh over twenty pounds so don’t make sharp turns or brake hard. Use your electric motor judiciously and brake easy and often on the downhills.”


When he warned us about watching out for other tourists driving rented four and six-passenger golf carts, I really became nervous.


Again, came the warning, “Do we really want to ride these things?”


Thanks to male ego or call it what you will, I stayed the course with, “C’mon, let’s do this.”


And so, we started off. Leading the way, I had only gone about fifty feet when I was forced to stop for a woman inching a golf cart out of a parking area. Seeing me she stopped. I clearly had the right-of-way and began to move forward when she looked beyond me to see if the road was clear and pulled out. “Son of a bitch,” I murmured to myself as I jammed on the brakes to let her pass.

From the back seat, one of her companions who witnessed this near miss said as he passed by, “Sorry, rookie driver.”


I learned what I could during that first half mile but any confidence I acquired evaporated as we climbed a series of switchbacks that led us up the side of a mountain, especially those stretches where we had to navigate on the outside half of the road. I was able to climb even the steepest hills by peddling while keeping the motor at full throttle.


But I had to force all my attention on keeping a line away from the edge while not straying out of my narrow lane. By the time we reached a scenic overlook, my state of mind was such that I really didn’t observe the spectacular scenery. The many houses that clung to the hillsides should have been impressive as the beautiful harbor filled with boats big and small, but my preoccupation trumped enjoyment.


Realizing how high we had climbed only intensified my state. A group of twenty-something young adults took a photo of the two of us and asked us how we were doing. “Okay, so far, but we hate having to stay close to the edge.”


One young man responded, “You don’t have to, this road is one way.”


How do you say “relief?” “One way!”


We made it the rest of the way and back into town. Still in the lead, I decided to halt at a stop sign to check our location and discuss where we could go next. After I brought my bike to a stop, I turned off the battery to prevent inadvertently using the throttle and stepped off to use the kick-stand. I moved my left foot onto the ground. Holding the bike steady, I lifted my right foot to clear the relatively low bar,


My right leg failed me, the combination of a seventy-four-year old knee and a replacement hip. The weight of the bike won out and over I went. First response: check all body parts. All good, but my left leg was pinned under the bike held fast by my right leg that remained on top.


Slowly I lifted the bike to free my left leg. It was then that Mary Ann arrived. “Oh my God, are you all right?”


“Yeah. A few bruises, nothing of concern.”


I was able to stand and right the bike. We biked for a while longer before returning them. My left knee had the kind of blood wound that seven-year-olds regularly suffer.


God bless Mary Ann for remaining silent about the folly of our adventure. Instead she accompanied me to a local pharmacy to purchase Neosporin and over-size band-aids to cover my wound.


We had a pleasant dinner before boarding the ferry for the return trip to Dana Point and our car ride home to Carlsbad.