Updated: March 2017
For all the Langhe’s wonder and beauty, it’s got one big downside (from an aspiring but unfit cyclist’s perspective at least)… hills. Big, long, steep hills. The last time the Giro d’Italia passed through the Langhe, most of the riders had to get off their bikes and push. That’s how steep we’re talking.*
Thankfully, one of our neighbours has found a cunning solution… electric bikes, or e-bikes as I believe the kids are calling them these days. He reckons they can propel you almost effortlessly to the top of anything the Langhe can throw at you. So confident is he in the ability of these e-bikes that he has or dozen or so to rent out. And he’ll rent to anyone. No fitness test or lycra required. I had to try this…
We showed up at the Itaway Langhe office tired after a couple of heavy days of walking, wine tasting and eating and were met by Stefano, who led us inside to a row of e-bikes and a huge bank of chargers and wires.
The e-bikes are effectively mountain bikes but without the toptube. All the clever stuff is located low down in the downtube, which is, naturally, rather larger than normal. They have front suspension, fat, off-road tyres, disc brakes and seven gears. Thanks to the motor and battery, they are rather heavy, but you don’t really notice that after a while, mainly thanks to the motor and battery!
The most important part of the e-bike is a little computer on the left handlebar. This is how you turn on the electric motor and choose the level of assistance you need (1 is 25%, 2 is 50% and 3 is close to 100%). The computer also shows your speed, distance and battery charge. On the flat or heading downhill, you can just turn it off to save energy. Heading uphill, flick it on, start on one, almost immediately realise you need it on three and just cruise on up! On these hills, we were told you should get about 70km out of one charge. More than enough!
After a few minutes of adjusting saddles, checking out maps and apps (Itaway has a massive selection of routes for you to follow, linking restaurants, hotels and charging points, and a really useful app) and figuring out how everything works, we were off.
The office is on one of the steepest hills around, so the motors were put to the test straight away. Turn on the computer, start pedalling and…. woah!!! It felt like someone had given me a shove from behind and was now running along behind pushing me up the hill. If you stop pedalling, the motor stops, but so long as your feet keep moving you just glide up the hill. It feels rather strange to begin with, almost gravity-defying, but you soon get used to it.
We headed from Novello down to Barolo (no motor needed there) reaching speeds of around 50km/h, which was plenty, headed off-road in Annunziata, a small borgata beneath La Morra, and wound our way through the vines and hazelnuts trees past Roddi, up into La Morra and eventually into Verduno, where we stopped for a well-deserved lunch at Trattoria Bercau.
I think it’s fair to say our group was of mixed ability and experience when it comes to cycling. I’ve got a road bike which I occasionally torture myself on, my friend Paul is one of those people who is just naturally good at every sport, while Allegra absolutely hates cycling, particularly on hills. She was tentative, to say the least, at the start, but after a couple of minutes was beaming from ear to ear. She loved it. She even started talking about buying herself an e-bike! (2017 update… she hasn’t bought an e-bike yet!)
By the end of the day, we’d covered around 30km, a mixture of on and off-road, steep hills and flats and while we could feel we had done some exercise, none of us was in any way tired. Had we done that same ride on regular bikes I’ve no doubt we would have been hobbling around for days.
Most importantly of all, we all agreed it was one of the best ways of seeing the Langhe. Slower than a car, faster than walking and less tiring the cycling. It also lets you get right in among the vines.
Itaway has an App where you can check out the routes, a website (langhe.itaway.eu) with details of how and where you can rent, and a facebook page. It costs 30 euros for a day on an e-bike, or 18 euros for a half-day.
In the interests of transparency, I should point out that we didn’t pay for our bikes because we’re neighbours and that’s what neighbours do for each other. My opinion is completely my own though. I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would and it really is the perfect way to see the Langhe. I guess I’ll probably have to pay next time, but the simple fact is there will be a next time.
*That bit might not be entirely true. Some of the hills are really steep though.