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Make the Most of your Spruce Peak Stay by Planning Ahead.

It's a beautiful, peak-foliage October day when we pull into the trailhead parking lot at the very end of Sterling Valley Road, about 20 minutes east of Spruce Peak. We're here for a mountain bike ride, and the crisp air elicits some debate: Is it shorts weather? Do I need a windbreaker? Is this wool shirt warm enough? Am I going to get really sweaty on this two-hour ride, or not?

My husband Chris and I often idly debate clothing choices before mountain bike rides, but after years of riding and racing bikes of all types, we tend to have our respective clothing systems pretty well dialed across temperature ranges. (Bottom line: Always start out just a touch cold; you'll heat up soon enough.)

But today, neither one of us knows what to expect, despite the amount of time we've both spent in the saddle over the past 20-some years. And that's because what we're doing is new to both of us: We're riding electric mountain bikes.

To be fair, I'd ridden an electric bike — or e-bike — once before, when a local bike shop owner let me take a newly purchased cruiser-style e-bike for a quick spin. I was wearing flip-flops and a skirt that day, but hopped on with enthusiasm and started making increasingly fast circles around the parking lot, laughing out loud as I realized how quickly you could rev an e-bike up to max speed. My delight was fleeting, though, as the shop owner subtly — but fervently — cut my ride short. The bike's owner had just shown up and was less than thrilled to find a stranger ripping around on her brand-new wheels. 

That's largely because on an electricassist bike, enthusiasm quickly turns into forward motion; and with each pedal stroke, we experience the elation that comes from putting in minimal exertion and being rewarded with maximal output.

We are on "type 1 pedal-assist" e-bikes, where the harder you stomp on the pedals, the more power you get from the bike. Don't be fooled: It's still exercise, and you definitely feel like you're riding a bike, rather than being ferried around on a scooter or moped. But the effort-to-fun ratio is super high. Additionally, you can choose how much the bike is helping you out by adjusting the level of assist the motor provides. It doesn't take me long to decide that there's absolutely nothing wrong with getting a boost on the ups if it makes you enjoy the downs even more because you're not exhausted.

And that element of pleasure, Laughlin says, is where e-bikes really shine.

"I haven't seen a single person riding an e-bike on these trails who wasn't enjoying themselves—and people of all ages can participate," he says. "Some folks have told me, 'You know, I wouldn't be out here if I wasn't riding an e-bike. Now I can keep up with my kid or my grandkid!'"

Right now, Sterling is the only trail system in Stowe open to e-bikes, but there's plenty here to love. After dialing in our preferred settings on a quick and scenic out-and-back on Maple Run trail, we venture deeper into the forest, climbing north up the mountain to link sections of singletrack (that is, narrow sections of trail better suited tomore advanced riders) and doubletrack (easier sections of trail that rugged vehicles may be able to access) together into one big loop that eventually spits us out onto Maple Run Lane.

And that's one of the great advantages of Sterling Forest: You've got options. Head southwest and climb up Maple Run to zip through sections of both singletrack and double track, then loop back on 8 Bridges/ Catamount Trail. Or go north from the trailhead to get into the tougher Callagy's or Split Rock trail systems. On a regular mountain bike, the challenging climbs here are enough to wipe you out and make you want to call it a day. On an e-mountain bike, it’s all good.

Because the bikes we'd rented that day are technicallybetter suitedtomellowtrails, we coast down Maple Run doubletrack to tap into the lovely, quiet dirt roads in the Sterling Valley. I dig riding dirt roads on my gravel bike, but I really loved it on an e-bike. Thanks to the pedal assist, we could sit up and admire the patchwork of fields dotted with the reds, oranges, yellows, and greens of fall, rather than working hard to maintain forward momentum.

As we cruise along Moran Loop Road and then turn onto Sterling Valley Road to return to our truck,we chat and leaf-peep, feeling like we have Tour de France-level fitness as the steep uphills become mere molehills under the influence of electronic assistance.

Soon, though, I notice the pace increasing, as Chris, unable to simply chill on a bike, starts really stomping on the pedals. I can't resist; I take the bait. And as we fly uphill at about 28 mph I realize that the bikes do have a top speed limit, and the motor will stop helping you at some point (for obvious safety reasons). Laughlin, who leads tours about twice a week during the summer months, just laughs at our antics, keeping pace as we motor our way back toward the Sterling Valley trailhead.

"The thing I love is that e-bikes level the playing field—you can get multiple generations together on the same trail at the same pace," he said as we load the bikes back into the truck. "Plus, it doubles your ability. If you could only ride for five miles before, an e-bike lets you ride 10. If you could ride 50 miles on a regular bike, you can go 100 on an e-bike."

We definitely didn't ride 100 miles — or even 50 — that day last October. But we had a blast, and I loved the ability to control both the pace and effort simply by turning a dial. That means it's up to you: Make it a workout or a pleasure cruise — either way, the fun is guaranteed.

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