Encounters in cycling don’t come sweeter than this. The young man in the sort of coloured Lycra that could bring on a migraine was heaving on the pedals of his fancy carbon road bike.
The hill was short, but sharp and nasty, as so many are around Painswick in Gloucestershire.
Then along we came, a couple of old chaps on electric-powered e-bikes. A flick of the switch to turbo and we glided past him with a cheery greeting.
Scenic route: Sebastian cycled through pretty Cotswolds towns such as Burford, above
Along with the grinding of his gears, you could almost hear the grinding of his teeth in his breathless response.
If the landscape were more forgiving, a fastish road cyclist would catch up on the flat and overtake the e-bikes, which, by law, won’t assist you when you’re travelling at more than 15.5mph. But there was no chance of that amid these gloriously beautiful but lumpy hills through Brimpsfield, Syde and Sheepscombe.
Welcome to the world of Cycling For Softies, the wittily named specialist e-bike tour operator that provides rides through the Cotswolds, linking a string of boutique hotels in stunning period houses which make up the Calcot Collection.
We had set off from an elegant Georgian townhouse, The Painswick, in the centre of that stone-built, wool-weaving town for a two-hour, 20-mile ride in glorious sunshine.
Sebastian set off from elegant Georgian townhouse The Painswick (pictured) on his tour
An outdoor table at The Painswick. Describing his meal there, Sebastian says: ‘Pig’s head fritter with smoked eel, ravioli with crab and lobster, and some Cotswold lamb all went down well’
The lamb dish at The Painswick – one of the eatery’s ‘gastronomic offerings’
While our Lycra-clad friend was doubtless nourished by protein drinks, we returned to The Painswick for dinner and decided to live up to the spirit of Cycling For Softies by tucking into its gastronomic offerings. And pig’s head fritter with smoked eel, ravioli with crab and lobster, and some Cotswold lamb all went down well.
Accompanying these was a local Woodchester Valley white wine, some elaborate puddings the details of which are a bit hazy, and – because this is a sporting break – only a few glasses of wine to finish. Those several thousand calories sorted us out after our exertions.
In truth, I had not expected to enjoy e-bikes as much as I did. They are unimpressive at first glance: clunky, step-through frames, fat tyres and weighing in at about 50 lb (24kg) – how could they possibly be fun?
This impression evaporates when you push down on the pedal and the electric motor kicks in. Hills are no more of a grind than pedalling on the flat. For those who are a little unfit, recovering from illness or injury or a bit well-padded after months of lockdown, these are ideal to get you back into shape.
Most riders with Cycling For Softies are couples aged 50-plus. Along with the power assistance of the bicycles come the gourmet enticements of the hotels, and there are also Softie tours across France and Italy.
Above is the rolling Cotswold countryside looking towards Painswick
On his second day, Sebastian O’Kelly joined Harvey Downard, who runs Cycling For Softies, for a 46-mile tour along the River Windrush, Bourton-on-the-Water (pictured), and the Slaughters
For my second day I joined Harvey Downard, who runs Cycling For Softies, for a 46-mile tour along the River Windrush, Bourton-on-the-Water, the Slaughters and Burford.
We started from Barnsley House, another gem of the Calcot Collection.
Both Harvey and I are regular road cyclists, so we knocked off this day-long ride in three hours and were soon back for some pampering in the Barnsley House spa. But it would be wrong to say it was a breeze. We felt as though we had had a workout, just a lighter and shorter one than had we been on conventional road bikes.
All of which got me thinking. My wife is a stickler for her ancient, heavy Pashley bicycle, which is fine for her six-mile commute into London, but if she had an e-bike we could ride together – me on my road bike – much farther. The downside, of course, would be that crowing look on her face as she sails past me on the hills.