'There’s nothing wrong with a bit of help': E-biking up the Great Orme on a father-son Tour of Britain

A product review of the Kinesis LYFE e-bike? A British cycling odyssey? Or perhaps just a complete and utter boondoggle?

Tour of Britain
(Image credit: Future)

A WhatsApp message from the family group chat pings up on my phone.  

It's a video of my dad wearing a bike helmet, he slowly turns to show off the flashing lights embedded into both the front and the back. It's a bit early for Christmas but at 6'4" we could put him in the corner and save the dog knocking the needles off the real tree in a few months' time.

By exercising the relative and limited perks of writing for a cycling magazine, a kind man from e-bike brand Kinesis has just been round to my family home to drop off a test model of their LYFE bike for my dad before we head off to follow the Tour of Britain up the length of the country.

But the first stop is a family holiday in Cornwall before the race begins in Penzance, at the very bottom point of the UK, the first stage culminating in a snaking drag up to the finish in the historic town of Bodmin.

Where we go in North Cornwall, on the outskirts of Bude, the road back up from the beach to the house maxes out at a gradient of 15 per cent, so severe they've erected a sign to honour the steepness. It's a long, straight road, the sufarce weathered, situated under a dense canopy that then curls round back into daylight, and dad's always wanted to cycle up it.

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He emerges from around the corner, I'm already catching my breath leaning on the fence that holds in a field full of sheep. His dream to beat this North Cornish Mont Ventoux has not been realised but only because he's not yet managed to discover all three assistance settings, all located within the push of one button, delivering 36V 250W of electrical assistance.

At 17kg it's obviously heavier than your regular bike, but not too heavy that I can't load it into the back of my van when we set off for our Tour of Britain - although I have picked up my father's penchant for getting sweary when faced with a fiddly, physical task. The design is sleek, no complaints about the stylish colour scheme, and one of the best things you can say about an e-bike is that it doesn't actually look like one.

In Bodmin, we watch as Julian Alaphilippe and Wout van Aert glide up the steep final metres up to the train station. On the opposite side of the road from the tracks, mystified homeowners have set up deck chairs in their front gardens to watch it all unfold.

After that, it's a drive up to the National Botanical Garden of Wales - and yes, it's a real place, not just a Swansea man growing cannabis in his attic. Cars are parked on verges a few hundred metres away from the course as Marc Soler whizzes past after his recon back to the team bus, looking down at his phone, managing to not collide with a single wandering spectator.

One of the wonderful things about stage racing - particularly following along as part of the auxiliary cavalcade rather than those actually competing in the thing -is that you undertake journeys you never would in 'real life', and that's how we found ourselves driving up through the middle of Wales to get to stage four.

The Great Orme was the focal mid-point of our trip and the race, a Tour of Britain that actually took in the whole of Britain. Forget the perfect vistas of a cycling trip in the Alps or Dolomites, a British climb, no matter how stunning, requires a fittingly British start - parked up in an Asda to unload the bikes, chasing an utterly ginormous seagull away from our lunch.

Snaking through mini-roundabouts and onto the esplanade in Llandudno, the Great Orme rose up ahead, a great hulk of limestone launching out of the round.

Cars were banned for the day, and so after we passed motorists remonstrating at the entry gates hosting the 10km banner, the road opened out for ordinary cyclists to celebrate the arrival of the Tour of Britain in the hours building up to when the pros would arrive on the same stretches of tarmac.

"Approaching the 10km to go sign of Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain, which indicated the start of a category two in the race, I’m a little worried that I won’t be able to keep up with my 27-year-old son and a beautiful, sunny dad/son ride will become a disjointed I’ll-catch-you-up-in-a-bit disappointment," dad writes afterwards. "However, I needn’t have worried as once I’d pushed the red button on the Kinesis LYFE bike to give me a little bit of extra help I was free to enjoy the sea views to the right and maintain an even pace up the Great Orme."

While I've spent 700 words prattling on about our borderline boondoggle, in comes Long Snr to deliver the quotes the marketing men want to hear. 

"Don’t get me wrong, you still have the ‘pleasure’ of pedalling uphill but you can carry on a conversation, keep up with a much more able rider and generally enjoy the ride without worrying if you might have to get off and push at some point."

And there was a lot to enjoy, if Wales has ever seen weather like on the day the Tour of Britain arrived, they've certainly kept it quiet - maybe in order to keep the riff-raff out.

The sea sparkles, sprawling out for miles as the road curves around, up and down, one small sheep picking at the grass at the side of the road.

While I've been out front as we loop around, pulling back to take pictures, swinging onto a left-hand turn to tackle the hairpins up to the summit reverses the roles. Soon, I'm pedalling squares as dad trucks on, near the top I have to ask to pull over to catch my breath, dad is fine. So fine, in fact, that he would have had time to tell you the LYFE bike has up to 75km in range between charges, a top assistance speed of 15.5mph, disc brakes to slow you down again, the motor being frictionless when disengaged as well as coming complete integrated lights and a rack.

"Not only that but I rode it without having to get out of the saddle," alright, he's boasting now. "So the advantage of the electric help to someone who hasn’t done any more cycling than to the shops and back for 30 years is clear. 

"To experience the thrill of climbing Great Orme alongside serious club riders after all these years would be impossible for me on a ‘normal’ bike - and some might say it’s cheating - but as you get older you realise there’s nothing wrong with a bit of help, just enjoying being in the moment and the Kinesis enables that. Then, of course, there is the ride down which no matter how you got up rewards all riders."

Our average speed up the climb was 15km/h, and on top around 200 people had gathered in front of the big screen in the sunshine, equipped with 99 Flakes, for what must have been the most perfect day of racing the country saw this year - where once again the fans who'd made the schlep were treated to Wout van Aert storming past Julian Alaphilippe for yet another victory.

After stopovers for unassuming stages in Warrington and Gateshead (you can't have it all) it was time for Edinburgh, and while the LYFE bike did a job on the gradients for a 'proper' ride up the Great Orme, it is advertised as predominantly a city commuter.

So up to the castle we rode, along the Royal Mile, seamlessly gliding through the Saturday traffic.

The bike connects to a phone app that gives you all sorts of data. While riding, one screen brings up your current and average speed, RPM, altitude, as well as how much power you're putting out and battery you're using.

LYFE bike app

(Image credit: Phil Long)

By logging activities you can keep track of your rides as well as crucially see how much battery certain efforts use. It will also adjudicate on the severity of your rides, and when 'easy' is the verdict given to our Great Orme ride, dad isn't so sure, seeing as it used up a great chunk of the battery getting him up there.

Riding on from the castle, the finish line is set against the backdrop of Arthur's Seat. Honestly, Tour of Britain route organisers, you've outdone yourselves.

After watching Peta Cavendish keep her astonishingly well-behaved kids quiet during the minute's silence for the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in Holyrood Park (honestly a sentence I never thought I'd have the privilege to write) we sat back to once again watch the race on the big screen. Exiting the loos my dad's phone buzzes: "Do you want to go for a ride?" asks the Kinesis app. Have we not done enough cycling yet?

The last leg of the trip is the final Aberdeen stage. After the week we've had, dad is in full holiday mode, shorts on as the temperature dips along the seafront finishing line, nothing can dampen his Tour of Britain spirit.

We pack our bikes back into the van and make the long drive back down to London. I say to dad that sometimes bike companies will leave you with test models for weeks or months on end, only recalling estranged machines when taking stock at the end of the year.

Unfortunately, the man at Kinesis is in touch within a couple of weeks, but not before dad's been able to pootle around London a few times on the borrowed e-bike. It makes sense, Kinesis' 2021 and 2022 stock is already sold out online amidst high demand. 

The bike may be gone but the memories of the trip, a true Tour of Britain, will last. And if there are any other e-bike companies out there wanting their models tested out by their target market dad will be more than happy to help out. Not sure mum, or the hallway, will though.

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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.

Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).

I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.