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Through the Grapevine: Touring the coast

Published November 18, 2019

These are two women that dealers should pay attention to: Wendy Appleby and Diane Runyan. Both are accomplished cyclists. Financially secure. Independent to the core. And riding bikes has been a many-decade joy for both. And it’s not a stretch to say they are evangelists for cycling and now, in their later years, cycling on e-bikes. 

Appleby, in her youth, was a world ranked tennis player. Today she is retired from the Oakland, California, police department, where she spent 27 years on the force. At age 67, she retired to Roseville, California, and spends much of her free time riding a Trek Cross Rip+. 

Appleby, who played with Billie Jean King back in the early 1970s, comes across — at first — with a no-nonsense “this is the way it is and I’m not taking any guff” attitude, perhaps the result of being a cop for almost three decades. But she is wickedly funny with a sly sense of humor. I liked her immediately.

Runyan, a woman who stands a bit over five feet tall, spent 30 years as a top-level administrator at Pacific, Gas & Electric, better known as PG&E; that’s the much-maligned California utility responsible for dozens of Northern California wildfires including the infamous Paradise fire that killed 85 people. Runyan retired before PG&E began to implode.

Runyan is 75 years old with several grown children and a husband at home.   She has completed 14 AIDs rides and has cycled across the U.S. several times with many, many tours and centuries in between. But because of her short stature she commissioned Northern California frame builder, Steve Rex, to build her a bike.

That was in 1998. She spent $2,500 for it back then. She’s still riding it today, but with a twist. After hours of research and through her connections in the cycling community, Runyan turned to Luna Cycles, an El Segundo, California, company that offers kits to refit standard bikes with either a hub or mid-mount motor.

Runyan chose a mid-mount motor, weighing 7 pounds. By the time the Luna kit was retrofitted to her bike by a professional bicycle mechanic, she had spent $1,250 — more or less. That was much less, Runyan said, than buying a new e-bike capable of delivering the performance she demands. (I might suggest for dealers with the know-how, retro-fitting an IBD-quality bike with some of the kits now on the market could be a profitable side-hustle. And I’m certain some are doing just that.)

Now for the backstory. I met Appleby and Runyan while riding from San Francisco to Santa Monica as part of the annual Arthritis Foundation’s California Classic. It is the only major organized ride down California’s scenic Highway One allowed by the California Highway Patrol. 

For many of the 230 or so riders, September’s annual event is an opportunity to raise money for the Foundation ($1.5 million or so). It’s also a Bucket List challenge to traverse 525 miles of hilly, and sometimes steep, roads that offer a mixed bag of surface conditions ranging from deplorable to the sort of OK. 

It’s a guesstimate on my part, but there were perhaps three dozen or so e-bikes on the ride including three e-bikes lent to ride organizers by Yamaha’s Drew Engelmann. It’s fair to say there was a long list of would-be riders for the Yamaha bikes, especially after the first day’s 85-mile trek from Fisherman’s Wharf to Santa Cruz.

Appleby and Runyan, however, offer a clear voice as to the importance e-bikes have held as they age. These bikes, they say, will extend their ability to participate in events for years to come, like the California Classic. “You’re still working; you still have to work at it, though,” Runyan said.

But the industry, as it always has, pays lip service to older riders who want to get more out of living before cashing in their chips. Go to any supplier’s opening website page and look at how they portray cycling. Trek, Specialized, Giant and to a lesser degree Cannondale — it’s all young, magically fit cyclists performing amazing feats on conventional two wheels. At least Cannondale’s opening photo is of a Neo mixte e-bike that offers a nod to lesser human beings.

Suppliers love to yammer on about e-bikes bringing new life to older folks who want to ride with the youngsters. And it’s true up to a point. But where’s the beef telling that story to the 24 million readers of AARP’s magazine, as an example?  Or anywhere else for that matter. (If it’s out there, I may have missed it. But I’m certain someone will let me know instantly!)

Most industry advertising continues in the same vein that has always targeted a younger demographic. Now it’s hukking an e-bike off a cliff, or railing a scenic mountain trail on a mid-motor. That’s crazy. Older riders continue to be a market woefully under served by the industry. And they have two things that our highly sought-after youth lack — money and time.

And for dealers, selling a well-equipped e-bike to older riders can truly make cash registers sing. For those over a certain age, e-bike weight is a problem. A dealer who sells an e-bike without discussing weight and hitch-mount racks does the customer—no matter the age—a disservice. Weight is an issue, so talk about it and sell solutions.

Range anxiety, a term that popped up as hybrid and electric cars began to flow into the marketplace, applies equally well in the world of cycling. It seemed almost everyone I met along Highway One was packing a spare battery and at a substantial cost. Wendy paid $750 for a spare from Trek, carrying it in a pannier. Mary Gonser, riding a Specialized Vado, forked out an additional $1,000 on top of the $3,500 she paid for the bike. Then her husband spent time on the internet looking for a suitable bag to carry it. All felt they were ripped off.  

And then there were a few e-bikes bought off the internet like the Aventon Pace 500 — a $1,400 model that lacks the sexy appeal of a brand name but it made it up and down Highway One nicely, thank you.

This article appeared first in the November issue of BRAIN.                        




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