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Without a Car in Norfolk? From Feet to Bike to eBike


By David Beers

You have probably noticed a biker plodding his way up the steep hill from Winsted in the rain and snow. If you’re like me, you probably felt a pang of pity because of the difficult terrain and weather. Well, let me assure you, this particular biker does not want your pity, because he is doing exactly what he loves to do every day—ride his bike.

John Mark, who is 61 years old, lives in South Norfolk. About 18 months ago, his car needed repairs that he could not afford. Initially, he started walking the roughly nine miles and 700-foot change in elevation to Winsted to get his groceries and carry them home in a backpack.

But after a friend gave him a mountain bike, he became hooked on biking. On his trips to the grocery store and the YMCA, Mark also started collecting discarded cans and bottles for extra money. Friends have helped Mark with customizing and repairing his bike. He has crates strapped to his rear bike rack to carry supplies, and contractor garbage bags hanging from the crates to carry bottles and cans. He also has wastebaskets in the crates to keep his supplies dry, along with a waterproof cellphone carrier and a headlight on his handlebars.

Mark bikes long distances (50 to 80 miles) almost every day, with his most common destinations being Winsted, North Canaan, Torrington, Canton, Avon, Windsor and Great Barrington. He likes to try new destinations and new routes to familiar places. Even going to downtown Norfolk is a significant destination for him, since it is five miles one-way with many hills (of course). Mark bikes in any weather, every day and all year. The only thing that keeps him off his bike is road ice.

This past May, Mark had a very good day. He was checking out a bike shop in Bloomfield (after having biked there) when the shopkeeper showed him a used electric bike (eBike). Mark purchased the bike and immediately fell in love with it. The hills are now much easier, biking time has been almost cut in half and his range has expanded. He can now get home from Winsted in a half-hour instead of an hour. Mark explained, “Even with some recent extra income, I now prefer my eBike over any other form of transportation. It makes the terrain around here more like Florida.”

The charge on the lithium battery lasts all day because Mark is careful to only use the electric motor when going uphill, to aid his pedaling. It takes him about five hours to fully charge a drained battery, which he usually does at home. He can also get a partial charge at eateries and hotels. The battery powers an electric motor in the hub of the rear wheel. Mark is planning to customize his bike further by adding an additional electric motor (a mid-drive motor) to help power his pedals.

In the past two months Mark has put over 2,000 miles on his eBike. Recently he went on an overnight excursion to Northampton, Mass., via the Farmington Canal bike path, and thoroughly enjoyed the off-road biking.

Now when I start grumbling to myself about the difficulty of biking up Golf Drive hill on my way to curling or swimming, I will think of John Mark and the remarkable persistence he displays every day on his long bike rides.

This is the fourth in a series of short articles about transportation alternatives in Norfolk.

Photo by David Beers.

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