The Isle of Wight offers plenty to the e-bike rider. Here, Ray describes the highly enjoyable journey complete with his top travel tips and links to the sights and restaurants that he and his wife visited so that you can do the same.
[Prices mentioned correct at time of publishing]
We heard that the Isle of Wight is one of the world’s top ten cycling destinations with a suite of over 150 miles of way marked bike routes. But – and it’s a big ‘but’ – there are significant hills, so Welcome to E-bike Heaven.
After basic research we decided to catch a ferry as foot passengers with bikes from Lymington to Yarmouth at midday on a Sunday. The ferry journey is approximately 40 minutes and costs £10 for a single journey (£7.50 for oldies). The ferry runs every hour through the day. Roll your bikes on the ferry and sit back with a coffee.
At Yarmouth harbour, set off half a mile to the now disused Yarmouth station, which is very pretty, and is also home to Wight Cycle Hire who are friendly and give a good service. We obtained a terrific map called “Bicycle Island ” published by Heritage House (£4.95). This map is all you need for your journey, so forget Ordnance Survey or more complex offerings, as it identifies long distance and shorter cycle routes. Helpfully it also lists ‘power bike’ charging points plus places of interest, cycle shops and other useful snippets to make your trip go with a zing.
Set off on the off-road link from the station and then join the B3041 which is a back road going past an alpaca farm, and take the signs for Shalfleet which boasts the New Inn. This old pub has won plenty of awards and provides marvellous platters such as a ploughman’s lunch and crab sandwiches, which are stunning – good beer too!
On to Cowes to potter…
There is a pedestrian area which we rode on but were a bit uncertain whether the car ban included bikes but pressed on anyway. Lots to see and a good selection of shops and historic yacht clubs. Cowes has a good buzz and sailing groups abound, filling pubs and making life lively. Speaking of pubs, we booked ahead to stay in The Anchor, which is right in the heart of the town. A helpful team led us to a secure area to leave the bikes and we settled in. Our double room was £80 and was clean with plenty of room and quiet. We ate at Coast which serves bistro style quality food in a zippy, busy atmosphere with a good choice suiting all.
No breakfast served at pub but plenty of casual breakfast places nearby. Hop on the bikes and head for the chain link bridge to East Cowes (£1 one way). Head south and follow signs to Osborne House. This historic pile was a favourite of Queen Victoria who indulged Prince Albert and let him have his head with furnishings and fit out, and so it is eclectic (some would say garish) and memorable for all the wrong reasons. Put it this way: the current Queen has visited four times in her long reign and the last time was many years ago. Enough said but worth a visit and wonderful setting and gardens. Also, nice coffee on terrace.
On to Fishbourne along the coastal path…
We got a bit lost here and finished up passing Quarr Abbey on the left when it should have been on the right but eventually got to the coast and rode along the Ryde sea front. Quite commercial and quintessentially English seaside resort but good to see from the saddle as you moved along. Down to Seaview which is quaint and then on to St Helens accessing Bembridge Harbour which is unusual with lots of quirky residential moored boats and good views over shallow water. We lunched in the Crab and Lobster which we found did pretty good crab sandwiches but the place looked a little tired and we had to persuade them to serve us as it was 2.35pm. Kitchens close at 2.30pm.
Press on and take the coast road through Sandown and Shanklin…
Lovely views along another commercial sea front with traditional promenades. The road wriggles and leads you to Ventnor which is an old style English resort high above the beach and sea front. The descent is not for the faint hearted as it is really steep but the e-bikes coped well and allowed us to discover the Spyglass Inn on the end of the sheltered bay. This is a themed pub (some might say “naff”) which has 4 spacious self catering apartments above. . £80 for a double apartment, with kitchen and living room and TV, was good value and they provide a box of breakfast enabling a feast of an English breakfast which (weather permitting) you can eat on the private terrace overlooking a stunning sweep of empty bay. As the sun goes down life is good, especially as you potter down the steps and drop into the pub for a terrific meal in an unusual environment. The e-bikes were stored overnight up the steps and in our apartment. Safe and secure.
The next morning was a slow start to pack-and-go after a leisurely terrace breakfast in the sun. There was a 25% hill climb from the sea front to rejoin the A3055 and the “Taste Round the Island Trail” identified on the map. Just after Chale don’t miss the second turning to join up with a fabulous country road taking you to Brightstone which is very pretty and on to Mottistone Manor Garden. This is a gem and merits a coffee. Allow an hour walking in their bitesize, pretty, formal and colourful gardens. Hop on the bikes and, one mile on, pull in to the Sun Inn in Hulverstone.; Baked Camembert recommended.
On to Afton…
…and keep left with wonderful views of Freshwater Bay leading to Alum Bay. This is where life gets interesting. You pass the Alum Bay Needles Park which has coach parks, themed rides and all sorts of touristy “attractions” including chair lift to the beach. This is where you get multi-coloured sands.
You may care to cycle on and keep going following the signs for the Needles and keep climbing the zig-zag road till you get sight of the Needle rocks. Spectacular views and strange selection of disused military installations which are a bit eerie. Drop down and either cycle through Freshwater, time permitting, or keep going to the ferry and, moist eyed, set sail back to the mainland.
It would be possible to belt round the route but we covered the 90 miles in two and a half days easily on e-bikes. The terrain is hilly and with fully loaded panniers and some of the hills would be really testing without e-assist. We continued to be astonished and impressed by the performance and comfort of our bikes which enabled us to travel with some exercise and effort but also in comfort, while achieving greater distance and range.
The Isle of Wight is a delight with well marked routes and universally wonderful road surfaces (EU money?). Many people say that it is like going back 25 years and it certainly has this feel of sleepiness and time warp. Quite charming.
The equipment – All items available at our showrooms. As it turned out we were incredibly lucky with virtually 3 full dry days and in the last hour on our way to the ferry day three we got soaked.
I took the MTX Trunkbag DXP. This is a top-mounted unit which slides into a MTX beamrack seatpost. The advantage of this system is that it is not permanently on the bike and when it is not needed can be easily unclipped altogether or just the bag can be slid off if you need to take it off when the bike is left unattended. It also needs an MTX Dual Side Frame which secures the fold-out, drop down side pockets (released from the zip top unit).
I fitted a Rixen and Kaul handlebar bag which has a plastic see-through clip on the top for a map. This was useful to store phone, wallet and odds and sods. It clips on and off easily and can be popped off to take into a shop or a pub leaving the rest of the bike secured with other device. I keep an Abus Unigrip Bordo 5700 permanently attached to the frame of the bike with velcro fastenings. This is a fold out plate system which is very effective and easy to use. It has greater range than a D-Lock and is easier to carry. In addition I took a heavier Abus snaplock combination D-lock and I intended using this if we had to leave the bikes overnight outside (which we did not need to do). Finally I always carry a pocket sized Abus combination Combiflex 201/202 which is a pocket pull out strengthened cord – good for securing panniers or helmets if you have to pop in somewhere.
To avoid my wife having to heave her leg over a high pannier she used two A2B zipped removable panniers which were capacious and did the job. It also left the top rack of her MTX seatpost unit free to accommodate a jumper or top as the weather changed. She also had the same Bordo lock on her frame. She carried a water bottle on the frame. We already had good lights fitted although we did no night cycling on this trip.
Both bikes were fitted with Mudhuggers. These not only do a great job but also if you catch them as you swing your leg over they don’t snap like many others as they are flexible and held on firmly.
Both had Ergon GP1 flared grips fitted. These grips spread load and ease pressure on hands and elbows. My wife suffers from mild arthritis and again no problems in this direction.
Finally both have headset extension units fitted. These heighten the handlebars and make for more relaxed riding. E-bikes welcome a rider wishing to look around and take in the scenery. The crouched “racing style” biker position may not be welcome or a must for many riders. Our e-bike workshop is able to fit extension headstems on most bikes, so give them a call if you’re interested in this.
Summary This was a very successful trip. The Isle of Wight is a delight and the route we took was perfect for a 2/3 day relaxed ride. Could be done in much less time but there is so much to see and do. Being on an e-bike is liberating: no parking, no barriers, and the freedom to go anywhere. Simply, spot a lane or an opening and just explore. Stop where you like for lunch, coffee or a drink.
The e-bike ingredient is that vital extra. We met up with a fully loaded biker and girlfriend who were carrying a huge amount of kit. I was pretty impressed until I learned that she was frequently off the bike and pushed her load up steeper hills. Not us. We cycled everything – even the 25% hill – and a bit more. Touring on an e-bike is fabulous.