The tires of my loyal, fully human-powered bicycle had helped me log 13 of the 34 miles that make up Southern Nevada’s River Mountains Loop Trail. Sadly, that had only amounted to flirting with this paved path of challenging hills and epic views of the Las Vegas Valley, Lake Mead and Boulder City. Biking the entire loop would remain the stuff of my Mojave Desert dreams, unless I began a rigorous daily training routine. That’s when the epiphany of e-biking struck.
Some call it cheating; I call it reality-based bike strategy. How electric bicycles work is that riders actually pedal while the bike’s motor and mechanics provide an extra push when needed up hills that otherwise would leave many of us feeling crushed and dejected. If you’re battling a lengthy incline and can barely muster the strength to go 5 miles per hour, the e-bike kicks in to make up for human weakness and to supplement your efforts with an extra 3 miles per hour for a total of 8. Quite a nice deal, and that’s just level one. You can go faster, as long as you keep it under 20 mph.
Any adventurous ride would be easier if my own legs didn’t have to do all the work. A longer ride could become reality. The e-bike’s promise of superpowers was my key to unlocking the River Mountains Loop Trail.
My search for e-bike rentals led me to Howard Ickes, owner of Pedego Henderson. A premium electric bike with a 48-volt battery that would last up to 60 miles was available at the daily rate of $110, roughly the price of a day of skiing or a cheaper seat at a Golden Knights hockey game.
So, on a fairly chilly recent January morning, my husband, my 21-year-old son and I arrived at Pedego Henderson to get the rundown on how to manage our rental bikes and their strength. Ickes then dropped us off at Acacia Park, about 2 miles from his store. “You’ll love it,” promised the e-bike advocate after taking our family photo and waving us off.
Starting from and returning to Acacia Park added an extra 16 miles to our journey, but that allowed us to get used to our e-bikes while riding south along Henderson’s Union Pacific Railroad Trail before reaching the pedestrian bridge that crosses over U.S. Highway 95 traffic to connect with the River Mountains Loop Trail near Railroad Pass. Electric bikes are heavier, and it also takes a little time to get used to their controls and to calculate how much and when to lean on limited battery power.
Once we connected with the River Mountains Loop Trail, I immediately appreciated the determination and coordination of the outdoor enthusiasts, governmental entities and community partners responsible for the loop’s completion in 2012.
Like most cyclists on the RMLT, we chose a clockwise direction to get past the Three Sisters Hills sooner, rather than at the end of our journey. The first segment of the 34-mile creosote-lined path winds pleasantly through part of the valley’s power and water grids close to the base of the River Mountains. Continuing farther north on the Henderson segment of the trail, riders enjoy stunning panoramas of the Las Vegas Strip and its Spring Mountains backdrop.
By mile post 7, the adventurous ride intensifies with the Three Sisters, a succession of brutal climbs and descents as the pedestrian-and-cyclist path turns east along Lake Mead Parkway and toward the west entrance of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This hilly zone is one of two spots where the brilliance of e-biking shines. I’d been there another time, dismounting and walking my bike up two of the steepest grades.
Tunnels, more climbing and the Three Kids Mine are features of the trail’s transition into Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where the real beauty and a long descent to the lakeshore begin. We conserved our batteries as we twisted and turned through the parched and lonely landscape with colorful views of the rugged Muddy Mountains and Lake Mead geology. We hardly saw any critters, and desert shrubs wore their winter drab, but March and April will bring lizards and blooms that can’t be seen from a car. On this part of the trail, you have the privilege and inherent risk of being far from Lakeshore Road’s car traffic.
The waters of Lake Mead eventually come into view. And there’s plenty of lake to be seen like never before because half of the RMLT’s miles are inside National Park Service boundaries. Before reaching the lakeshore, riders enjoy rare vantage points above washes and canyons from bridges running along an old road-turned-path. By mile post 18, the trail and Lakeshore Road are parallel.
After enjoying a picnic lunch that materialized from my backpack at Boulder Beach, we began our gradual climb toward Alan Bible Visitor Center (mile post 24). The climbing theme would continue all the way to and through Boulder City — the second time e-bike brilliance would shine.
Highlights of Boulder City’s cut of the River Mountains Loop Trail included spotting distant Bighorn Sheep grazing in Hemenway Park and riding on city trails and through tunnels used for both recreation and flood drainage.
From the giant mountain bike sculpture near mile post 32 and the entrance to Bootleg Canyon, I called Ickes to let him know we’d be back at Acacia Park in an hour and a half. When he answered his phone, I asked, “How are you?”
He replied, “The better question is, how are you?”
I told him we’d had a terrific time and that I couldn’t have accomplished the RMLT’s elevation gain and the day’s 50 miles of travel on anything other than an e-bike. “Fantastic,” said Ickes with the pride of a proud papa.
We were sore and exhausted, but we had made it faster and farther because we were riding mostly human-powered e-bikes. There’s no shame in what some might call cheating.
RMLT tips: Bring plenty of water and food, don’t go alone and don’t go in the summer heat.
Natalie Burt, a former news reporter at the Review-Journal for 11 years, spends as much of her free time as possible enjoying Southern Nevada’s outdoors. She’s now a teacher and has lived in Henderson for 17 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.