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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Prologue: June 13th Zurich

“I am sorry, sir, but we have no record of your reservation of an e-bike.” My heart sank in despair. I'd pre-arranged the reservation, but for whatever reason, the system had hiccuped and placed my reservation as happening on January 1st, 1970. Clearly I needed to check the e-mail more carefully. “Why do you reserve an e-bike for this long anyway? You should just buy one if you need it for so long.” “And sell it when I leave? Where am I going to find time for that?! You're not allowed to bring ebike batteries on the plane!” I was now outraged. The service representative clearly didn't want to help and was trying to blame me for my predicament. Reluctantly, he pulled up his computer and then made a few phone calls. “You can go to the Zurich Hauptbahnof. They have a bike there.”

It had been a long day. First, the United Airlines agent had charged us for 2 bikes when we flew from San Francisco, even though our triplet should have counted as one bike. Secondly, we'd arrived at Zurich, cleared customs with our bike, only to discover that we had arrived during lunch hour, so the Holiday Inn Express Zurich Airport shuttle wasn't going to pick us up for an hour. A taxi ride would have worked, but no taxi would take our large amount of luggage.

Thinking that Xiaoqin's e-bike had been taken care of, I started by assembling the triplet, and then took the shuttle to the airport's ebike reservation desk to try to pick up the bike. That was when the bombshell had exploded. Now it was 4:00pm and I was under time pressure since rental offices could start closing soon. The young service rep sold me a ticket for the Hauptbahnof, and told me to look for “lost and found” at the main train station to pick up my rental bike.

The folks at the main train station were much more competent. They showed me the e-bike that was reserved for me, but I noted that it was the wrong sized, since I needed a small. This started a sequence of reactions where they first searched for a bike, and then tried calling a customer to see if he could take a Medium instead of a Small, and then finally located a small sized bike in Winterthur, another city away. They called to make sure that they indeed had the bike in stock, and then sold me another ticket.

By the time I arrived at Winterthur it was 5pm, but the ticket office for rental bikes turned out to be the same as the Swiss train reservation center, so I had to take a number and wait. When my turn came, I agent stared once again nonplussed at the reservation, but fortunately decided to go ahead with my irrational long term ebike reservation and printed a contract and had me sign it. I asked if I could return the ebike at the Zurich Airport and the answer was “no. You have to return it here.” I was told to go to the rental station which was at the end of the station. There, I showed the contract, and I was handed an e-bike, along with a tiny pannier that held the charger. I asked for some brief instruction on how to ride the bike, and was taught that the mode button selected how much assist to get, and there was a special button for “walk mode.” I asked how long the range of the battery was, and was told that the limit was 1000km. It was quite clear to me that no e-bike battery could last 1000km even on a good day, so I just smiled and assumed that it was a mileage limit on my contract.

I'd programmed the location of the hotel onto my Garmin Fenix 5X, so now it was time to show its colors as I rode back to the hotel 24km away. The nice thing about being this far North was that even at the late hour I had plenty of light to ride with. The beauty of the Swiss country-side was obvious even in my jet-lagged and distressed state, where I was missing turns and ended up doing a loop around the train station before locking onto the Garmin route and riding out of the city onto Swiss Bike Route #5.

The ebike was a Flyer City-Bike, a low-end bike not intended for performance with a Panasonic BB motor detecting torque and a 540Wh battery as support. Maximum speed with assist was 26kph, with a Shimano Nexus rear internal gear'd rear hub with 8-speeds controlled by a twist shifter mounted on the right. The brakes were hydraulic Magura V-style brakes which had the job of controlling the 50+ pound bike on flats and descents, but they turned out to be more than equal to the job. The bike came with fenders, a kick-stand, and a Pletscher rear rack. The tires were the usual European “trekking” bike tires with 26” wheels and a fairly wide footprint (1.75”), but since it was an e-bike, I didn't find the Marathon-Plus e-bike series tires to be objectionable. The bike rode surprisingly well, very similar to Xiaoqin's Cheviot, and with the electric assist, could accelerate decently on the flat. Uphill, the motor would lug, causing me to slow down to about 15 or 12kph depending on the grade. In my jet-lagged state, I took more than a few wrong turns before getting back to the hotel around 6:30pm. I was so tired I don't even remember what I had for dinner. We took the kids to the playground and then gave them a bath and put them to bed. I slept the sleep of the tired.

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