“Our e-bikes garnered a lot of attention, and whenever we stopped, more than a few people, young and old, volunteered to take them out for a spin.”
to celebrate the railway’s 100th birthday. I was dubious; the
crew I was with were definitely a lot less “history buff” and
a lot more “if a little is good, a lot must be better” crowd. A
cruisey afternoon ride would turn into a test of human—and
battery—endurance for some more than others.
Owing to the variety of B&Bs in the area, setting up a
homebase from which to explore is easy. We were lucky
enough to spend a few days staying with good friends that
own the Tightrope Winery located midway between Naramata
and Penticton and one of 24 wineries that make up the
Naramata Bench Wineries Association. It just so happens that
Tightrope is just a few hundred meters away from Three Mile
Beach where you can cool off with a dip in Okanagan Lake.
That is a nice perk in a region that can see temperatures
nearing 100 degrees. The lake is also a nice perk, should you
choose to ride the 73-mile distance along the Kettle Valley
Railway, in the blazing-hot sun, wearing flip-flops.
Officially, the KVR line was abandoned in 1990 in large
part due to the increase of trucking, though cyclists and hikers had been using stretches of it for many years prior to the
abandonment. In 1992 the Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration
Society (MCTRS) was formed to make the area safer and
more accessible to the public. News of the attraction continued to spread, and within 10 years the area saw an estimated
30,000 visitors annually. The KVR now totals 600 kilometers
of gravel-packed rail bed that’s ideal for bike touring, gently
ascending and descending at a steady 2.2-percent grade.
We began our century club ride at the Chute Lake Resort,
a small rustic hotel that has truly been frozen in time, giv-
ing visitors the feeling that they’ve somehow slipped into a
“Twilight Zone” episode. We departed from the resort in the
afternoon with five electric fat bikes towing trailers to haul the
film and camera equipment, food and a remarkably insuffi-
cient supply of cold beverages. We did have the forethought
to bring an extra battery for the bike that would tow the
trailer, and, like seasoned adventurers, we snuck in one last
nutritious meal before we set out: a three-scooper ice cream
cone from the resort cantina. We suited up—flip-flops, board-
shorts, bikini tops and sun hats—and set out.
We had a big riding day ahead of us, so we agreed to limit
the electric assist on our Surface 604 e-bikes to level 1 or 2
(of 5 available) so that not only would we have as much bat-
tery power as possible for the return trip, but to get a good
idea of how far the bikes would go on a single charge.
We met dozens of other riders on the KVR; some who
were out for a quick ride and carried only a water bottle, and
others who were out for several days and were loaded down
with panniers full of heavy camping gear. For the latter, the
rail bed was easy-going when the ground was firm, but when
it turned to soft-packed sand, as it often did, their touring
tires would sink in, making the going visibly tough. By contrast, with our fat tires, both the loose sand and washboard
bumps were easy-going.
Our e-bikes garnered a lot of attention, and whenever we
stopped, more than a few people, young and old, volunteered
to take them out for a spin. Everyone was suitably impressed,
but one consistent comment stuck in our minds: “This thing
is awesome!” Exactly.
A NEW CENTURY TO COME
It was a great adventure that day on the KVR; the tunnels
and trestles are a legacy of the frontier mindset at the turn of
the century and totally worth the effort it takes to get there.
We got some great shots and footage that would not have
been possible (okay, possible, but maybe not in flip-flops)
without the advantage of electric assist to cover the distance
in one day.
We arrived back at the Chute Lake Resort just in time to
suck back what may have been the most refreshing bottle of
Kokanee beer ever and settled in for the final 40-kilometer
Naramata Bench is a wine region
perched above Okanagan Lake, a
massive fresh-water lake located in
south-central British Columbia.
Since the old railway bed is an engineered
grade, it climbs at a steady 2.2-percent
grade that is quite rideable.