Sunday, March 27, 2022

Electrifying Biking

The past week has been awesome with the warmer above freezing temperatures and the snow gradually melting away. Our driveway is no longer covered in half a foot of ice. No, with the rains we have been having, it is now rutted deep in mud for the next 3-4 weeks until the sun is out long enough to warm the ground and dry it up.

While some people may be a little dismayed at the muddy mess we have going in our driveway and yard, I am ok with it. No longer am I having to do the ridiculous penguin walk to keep from face planting on the ice. I can now stride down the driveway and take running leaps over the pools of mud scattered about down to the mailbox and road. My only worst case scenario is to jump and not clear the muddy puddle of cold standing water. But so far it has only happened once. My shoes luckily were able to get hosed down and thrown in the washer with all the other muddy messes we have made this week.

Once past our driveway, the road up to the highway is fairly thawed and drying with less ruts and mud in the way. And once down to the highway, it is ice free and fairly dry when it isn’t raining. Which leads me to why I am giving these road reports. It is now officially biking season for this winter weary woman! 

Last Fall, right before the snow started falling, I bought a new electric bike, an E Bike, as they are called. I have had one the past several years due to  back and arthritic leg issues. But last Fall I bought one that fits my short height, is comfortable to ride, and is good for pavement and gravel roads or even a little off-road riding. And the really great thing…I feel safe on it, because I can let my feet touch the ground and still pedal and stretch my legs out. Before the snow and cold temps came I was able to test it out and put a little under 100 miles on it. But then the freezing Minnesota temps and snow came so my baby was parked downstairs. At least until we went to El Paso last month. I did fold her in half and stash her in a tote in the back of Big Eddie. 

The plan was to stop along the way and take the bikes out and explore through some of the towns we went through. But the 2 big dogs with us and a long winter of lying around after eating everyday, made Max and Zoe…let’s just say…out of shape and kind of lazy. I had high hopes of just letting them run alongside us on their leashes while we rode around and explored. Last Fall they were both traveling up and down the road next to me while I rode. But I guess 4 months of eating and lying around watching Lassie and Rin Tin Tin turned them into couch potatoes. And I will admit, the long winter got me lazy too.

As for right now I have charged my bike battery, polished up my bike from the dust of Texas, and am ready to ride solo until it dries up a bit more out there. A few weeks maybe? Who knows? But then I will hit the rails and trails (bike paths made from old railroad routes) and state parks and dirt roads around here. Sometimes solo, sometimes with the dogs, and sometimes with my Best Half. He has an E Bike too. And we go out riding sometimes together. But to be honest it is more of a challenge riding with him than the 2 dogs trotting next to me. 

Remember he is very hard of hearing to the point of almost deaf in certain situations. And biking just happens to be one of those situations. With a helmet on, the wind blowing in his ears and not being able to read my lips because I ride behind him to watch for traffic, let’s just say it usually winds up me shouting to him. I wind up yelling “turn left”, ``there's a car behind you”, “wait up” or my favorite, when he is talking ahead of me and I can’t hear him…”What’d you say”? I am sure we are not the quietest or most relaxing people to come across on the bike trails. The quietest thing about us are our E Bike’s silent motors. 

Last Fall, I had a brilliant idea to use the 2 walkie talkies we have and hook up the earpiece/microphone to the helmet to easily chat back and forth. I showed my Best Half how it would work and how it would make it really safe biking together because I could tell him when a car was coming up behind us. I got everything set up and we set out on the bikes to try it out. I was so convinced it was the best idea I ever had. We got out there and started riding, our walkie talkie radios clipped on to our shirts and the earpiece in my ear and clipped right next to my Best Half’s “good ear”.

I pressed the mic and started to talk to him. No response. I tried again, and no response. So I put the throttle down and cruised up alongside him and realized his radio was turned off. Of course he couldn’t hear me! So I turned it on and we started out again. I pressed the mic and remembered I had to count to 3 before talking or only half the message would go through. No response…I tried again and said “please answer me if you hear me”. My radio clicked on to my Best Half midway through a conversation. Throttling on, I zoomed up to him and reminded him to count to 3 before talking or I’d only get a part of what he was saying. By this time he was getting perturbed that I kept telling him what to do. Guys don’t like that. That’s not just a Minnesota thing, it is global.

Off he went ahead of me, and my radio came alive with his voice saying something, but it was muffled and the wind seemed to cancel out his voice. I throttled back up to him once again. He stopped and asked what was wrong this time? I took the radios off of us and put them in my bike bag. I realized this was actually worse and probably louder than no walkie talkies at all. 

Last Fall before we put our E Bikes in storage, I went and bought us a pair of helmets with intercoms built into them. The speakers are built into the sides of the helmets and there is a microphone in the top of the front. And there are 3 buttons on the side for communicating or listening to the built-in FM radio. It’s bluetooth and syncs with a cell phone and is quite simple to use once the buttons are figured out. I got them both set up and we sat at the kitchen table going over how to use them. We went to different rooms in the house and talked to each other. It was working! So we took them out and up the road to test them out on the road.

To my surprise they were clear and working well. I had them set up for just the intercom and instructions were given to not press any buttons or it will cancel the intercom. A few minutes went by and my Best Half pulled over alongside the road. I came up alongside him. He took the helmet off and had me take a listen. It was the FM radio going. He had accidentally pushed the radio button. It got set up for the intercom again and we finished the ride. We got home, happy we figured it out, and put the helmets in their storage bags and the bikes downstairs for the winter. 

Only now that I have pulled my bike from downstairs do I realize that I will have to relearn how to use the helmets all over again. I have forgotten. But that is not the worst thing to happen. What is worse…I will have to show someone else how to use it all over again too.

So if you are out there on the bike trails and you see a couple of E-bikers yelling back and forth, remember to allow us some grace. We are learning once again how to use the helmets. 

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