Feature - e-bikes in Villafamés

REB (Rural Electric Bike), Villafamés, Castellón, Spain

Amid the numerous topics and issues dealt with on a regular basis in the specialist cycling media - bicycle paths, carbon components, electronic shifting, urban transport, disc brakes, health and fitness benefits, women's racing, bike-sharing, gravel riding, smart trainers, folding bikes, etc., etc., etc. -, there's a curiously ambigious place reserved for the "e-bike", seemingly situated at an equidistant point between unbridled praise, general indifference and outright rejection.


It's an odd situation for the e-bike, frowned upon as it is by certain cycling traditionalists as somehow being a mode of "cheating", feared and cursed by some sections of the driving and pedestrian populations as "dangerous" and, perhaps due to their price and the relative lack of "safe" cycling infrastructure, largely unknown by all the other people that we group together as "the general public". Outlawed from most, of not all, competitions, e-bikes are conspicuously absent from public transport policy and are only timidly making their appearance in bike shops and sports retail outlets in the form a somewhat obligatory "add-on". 

At onyour.bike, we can't be help find this state of affairs to be, at the very least, a little strange, given the multiple applications to which e-bikes are suited and their, apparently obvious, health and environmental benefits.

As such, we thought we'd find out for ourselves a little more about just what it's like to ride an e-bike. 

So, what exactly is an "e-bike"?

In its simplest definition, an e-bike, as electric bikes are generally known, is a bicycle fitted with an electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery that provides assistance to the user, taking out some (and sometimes a lot) of the effort required when pedalling.

They are not - in general - to be confused with mopeds or motorbikes: you still have to move the pedals in order to move the bike, as the motor (in most cases) will stop when you stop pedalling. Furthermore, no driving licence or insurance policy is necessary to ride an e-bike. 

To all extents, most e-bikes look very similar to "normal" pushbikes, with the exception of their batteries, often installed on (or in) the downtube, and the motor, sometimes fitted to the rear (or occasionally the front) hub, but increasingly to found under or around the bottom bracket.

The link between the battery and the motor comes in the form of a speed sensor, which engages the motor when the rider starts pedalling, or alternatively a torque sensor, which responds to the effort placed on the pedals.

With batteries that can usually be recharged in around five to six hours, an e-bike can be reasonably be expected to get you around a distance of about 80 kilometres although, naturally, the exact distance will depend greatly on your speed, the terrain and your weight, among other variables.

Carrying these extra components (battery, motor) means that an e-bike weighs more than standard bicycles, but not so much as we would notice once underway. In fact, the sensation of weight - or lack of it - is one of the most interesting characteristics when riding an e-bike, but more of that later.

In terms of their legal status, whether or not they are classified as motorized vehicles, where they can  be ridden and at what speeds, these are all questions that offer varying answers, depending on the corresponding national and/or local legislation.

Hybrid e-bikes with bottom-bracket mounted motors
Hybrid e-bikes with bottom-bracket mounted motors

As far as we can ascertain, under current Spanish legislation e-bikes cannot exceed a top speed of 25km/h and their motors are limited to a maximum power of 250W.

Types of e-bike

Digging a little deeper, we can find that there are two main types of "e-bike": those whose motor assists the rider by means of a pedal-assist system (these e-bikes are commonly known as pedalecs) and those which provide power-on-demand. 

Pedal-assisted (Pedalec)

Pedal assist e-bike - pedalec
Pedal-assist "pedalec" e-bike

With pedal-assist models, the electric motor is regulated by pedalling and boosts the rider's effort. They are fitted with a sensor to detect the pedalling speed, the pedalling force, or both.

Power on demand

Power on demand electric bike
Power on demand e-bike

With power-on-demand models, the motor is activated by a throttle, usually handlebar-mounted just like on most motorcycles or scooters.

There are high-powered power-on-demand models available which overlap with the physical and legal definitions of mopeds/motorcyles, but they are, for all purposes............motorcyles....., and as such don't concern us here.

Combined pedalec/power-on-demand

A third type combines the pedal assist and the power-on-demand models, being equipped both with  pedal-assist sensors and with a throttle. The motor on this type of e-bike is activated either by pushing the throttle or by pedalling.

Uses of e-bikes

The uses of e-bikes really do depend on the requirements of each rider. From cargo bikes to urban bike-share schemes, their range of applications is extensive.

Cargo e-bike
Cargo e-bike A1AA1A [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

It's especially interesting to see how this technology can provide assistance to those who, due to injury, fatigue, age or simple a lack of familiarity with riding a bike, are unable to ride at the level they would prefer: for touring, for commuting, for tourism, or for simply going down to the shops for a pint of milk. In such cases, e-bikes are capable of providing the highly-commendable service of enabling people to enjoy a level of cycling that would otherwise beyond their reach.

Road e-bike
Lightweight road e-bike

Levels of assistance

Similary, each rider has control over the degree of assistance employed at any given moment. For example, when using an e-bike solely as a means of transport with full assistance, it's highly unlikely that you'll break out in a sweat during your journey. If, on the other hand, you adapt the level of assistance to your physical capacity, using the minimum power applicable at any given moment, you will obtain more of the health benefits usually associated with cycling.

As we say, it depends on you.

E-bikes and rural tourism

To find out a little more about the practical uses of e-bikes, we headed out to Castellón and sought out Susana Meseguer of Rural Electric Bike to see how she combines e-bikes with rural and cultural tourism in and around the beautiful village of Villafamés.

Villafamés, province of Castellón, Spain
The village of Villafamés, province of Castellón

e-bikes in Villafamés

Based in the village of Villafamés in Castellón, REB (Rural Electric Bike) offers a series of routes in and around the municipality aimed at enabling visitors to enjoy the full historical, culinary, scenic and tourist potential of the area.

There's nothing competitive whatsoever about their bike rides: to the contrary, they are designed to be relaxing and contemplative, allowing visitors to explore the area with friends or family in groups, independently of their physical ability and/or condition.


Villafamés, Castellón, Spain
Villafamés, Castellón

Villafamés itself, located around and atop a steep hill, with its castle presiding over the village and the undulating surroundings, offers ample opportunity both to discover the beauty of this relatively-unknown Mediterranean enclave and to put an e-bike to the test.

Rural Electric Bike, Villafamés, Castellón
REB's routes run mainly along low traaffic roads

Having picked up the bikes from Susan at REB's base in the centre of the village, and received the preceptive indications about the use and control of the e-bikes, we set off on a circular route taking in the surrounding area, before heading back for a ride round the old village centre.

REB's e-bikes have a single chain-ring and 8 gears, activated by a trigger shifter and used in the customary way. There are 5 levels of electric assistance, which are managed by means of a handle-bar mounted control unit: by clicking up or down on the control button, we can increase or decrease the amount of assistance received at any given time. There is no mystery about the significance of the levels: 1 is to the lowest intensity, whilst 5 is the highest. The control button is coupled to a LED indicating the level of assistance, battery level, etc.

So, what does it feel like once the assistance kicks in? Whilst pedalling along normally, the initial, immediate sensation is somewhat curious, and not a little gratifying: a pedal-stroke or two after activation via the control button, a feeling of lightness permeates the bike and something akin to an invisible helping-hand seems to take hold of our seat-post and propel us on our way.  The impulse, naturally, is stronger the higher the level of assistance.

Once we've got our bearings and got used to the feeling of being boosted along by the invisible "hand", we head off into the surrounding countryside to put the e-bikes through their paces on more demanding terrain.

Rural Electric Bike excursions, Villafamés, Castellón
Visitors can follow routes with or without a guide

REB's routes run mainly along asphalt agricultural roads and have been designed with safety in mind: whenever it is necessary to cross, or travel a short distance along, a main road, the sections in question have been chosen as the safest options available on roads with very low levels of traffic.

Once we've left Villafamés behind and are out into undulating terrain, the advantages provided by the electric motor become immediately obvious, with the assistance taking a lot of the work out of hills that would in all probability be quite testing on traditional sit-up-and-beg bikes.

When climbing, it's important to remember that we are on electrically-assisted bikes, as odd as that may sound. Attempting to pedal hard will, whilst instinctive, actually be counter-productive and cancel out most of the help provided by the motor, leaving us, in effect, pedalling a heavy bike up a hill, which isn't the objective. Instead of pushing on the pedals, we're better served by simply turning them with our feet. The sensation is a little odd at first, especially for those of us accustomed to viewing hills as a challenge, but that's not what these bikes, or indeed these routes, are designed for. Once we get our heads around the idea, we can sit back (literally) and enjoy the ride: we seemingly glide up hills without effort, and it feels great.

On sections of level road we don't strictly need to engage the motor, but the sensation of floating around quiet country lanes among scented pine trees on a sunny day is just too tempting to resist and rarely did we pedal without some degree of assistance.

Where we do need to be cautious with the use of the motor is on the downhill stretches: even minimum assistance while riding on descents has a notable effect and the pick-up in speed can feel a little unnerving. We found that it's best to switch of the assistance completely while descending until it's needed again.

E-bikes in Villafamés, Castellón
E-bikes in Villafamés, Castellón

Back in the village of Villafamés, with its steep slopes and narrow, ancient streets, the e-bike once more comes into its own and helps us up climbs that, quite frankly, would be beyond most casual bike riders.

Rural Electric Bike in Villafamés, Castellón
Rural Electric Bike in Villafamés, Castellón


There are moments when it seems improbable that we will be able to get what is, after all, a rather heavy bike up Villafamés' steep climbs, but with the maximum assistance (level 5) engaged, there really were never any problems and, if we wanted, it would be perfectly possible to climb from the bottom of the old town all the way up through the narrow streets to Villafamés castle in a mere matter of minutes and with minimum effort.


REB in Villafamés, Castellón
With e-bikes it is possible to cycle up steep slopes with ease

Based on our experience in and around Villafamés, we can safely say that e-bikes a great fun and fit perfectly into the context in which they have been deployed: as an aid to rural tourism.

They are very easy to understand and to operate, with the only skill need being the ability to ride a bike. As we have said, they are not to be confused with motorbikes, and they provide all the fun we habitually associate with riding a push-bike. However, and this is where they really stand out, they allow users of all abilities to experience that fun without having to worry about the physical effort that normally comes as the price.

Now, we know this sounds like "cheating" to die-hards, but that's a bit like saying that a digital camera is not a "real" camera, and it is missing the point of e-bikes.

The assistance they provide can prove enormously useful in wide range of situations and, to make things even better, they are great fun, as we found out riding around Villafamés.

e-bikes in the centre of Villafamés, Castellón
e-bikes in the centre of Villafamés, Castellón


Rural Electric Bike


Located in Villafamés, Castellón, ReB offers a fleet of robust, comfortable e-bikes that allow users to visit the town and its surrounding areas without having to worry about questions such as distance, gradients or tiredness, meaning anybody of just about any age can use them. The only skill you really need it that of being able to ride a bike.

Their bikes are fully-equipped with front and rear lights, padlock, helmet, basket or panniers and (optional) GPS.

Cycling clothing is not essential: comfortable shoes and clothes are sufficient.

Routes

Visitors can choose from a series of full- or half-day routes that cover the surrounding area and villages, as well as the village of Villafamés itself.

Themed routes include visits to local sites associated with the Spanish Civil War, guided visits to local wineries, tours taking in the ancient water-distribution infrastructure first introduced during the Arab period, nearby villages and their Roman roads and remains, all set in beautiful, undulating countryside dotted with traditional farmsteads and Mediterranean vegetation. Specific routes can be designed upon request, and clients can choose between lunch in local restaurants, tapas bars or specially-prepared picnics.

So now you know! Get on your e-bike and visit this beautiful area!

Rural Electric Bike


Vía Pintor Cantalapiedra, 9
12192 Villafamés, Castellón
Spain
Telephone: 622 160 953

Michael Dixon

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