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To e-bike or not to e-bike

By on October 28, 2019 in Outdoor Fun with 1 Comment
The future is looking so fast on his e-bike, Lief Carlsen has to wear parachutes… well, not really, but he does use the chutes to slow on steep downgrades.

Bicycle purists frown on machine-powered help, but the pedal assist has these former cross-country cyclists back in the seat

By Lief Carlsen

Several years ago, my wife, Mary and I were straining to pedal our bicycles up a very steep hill on a bike trail near Lake Mead when several less-than-athletic-looking (overweight) people jauntily overtook us, chatting all the while, their breathing no more stressed than if they were strolling down the aisle at the supermarket. 

“E-bikes!” Mary muttered, her tone betraying just a trace of disgust. 

Bike purist snobbery?

I knew where she was coming from. Something didn’t seem right about the ease with which they were accomplishing what we were working so hard to attain. It just wasn’t ……, wasn’t…….fair!!!

Jump ahead to the present where Mary and I are the proud owners of two pricey e-mountain bikes, the virtues of which we enthusiastically proclaim to friends, relatives and complete strangers. 

I suppose we sound like two former atheists who are now true believers and, having at last seen the light, go about proselytizing among the heathens.

So what happened to change our minds?

To put it succinctly, we rode some e-bikes. And what we discovered is that e-bikes are an impressive synthesis of human-power and machine-power. 

Most e-bikes, for example, are what is termed “pedal-assist,” meaning that the motor only kicks in when the rider pedals. The result is that you can get as much or as little exercise as you want. 

The way I use the pedal assist, typically, is no assist on flat ground, slight assist on modest grades, and more assist the steeper the hill becomes.

And I do need assistance. We live at the top of a mountain, 2,000 feet above Lake Chelan. 

I have ridden up the hill on a conventional bike but it is an exhausting experience. With my new e-bike, the ride is still good exercise (I burn about 600 calories) but at least I’m able to function for the rest of the day. 

My e-bike is the perfect conveyance for going to town to pick up the mail or a few bolts at the hardware store. About the only problem with riding my bike to town now is going downhill.

 I found I was either constantly braking to the point where my disc brakes were sizzling hot or I was going dangerously fast – 45 mph. The solution: A parachute (as in photo above).

But the most significant effect of our e-bikes is that Mary and I go bike riding once again. 

Over the years, Mary and I have done some significant rides, as in crossing the United States west to east and north to south — twice. 

An e-bike got Lief’s wife, Mary, back into riding through nature.

But Mary’s enthusiasm has dwindled in recent years. I found it harder and harder to get her on her bike. It seemed that most rides I wanted to do required more effort that she was willing to expend. 

Enter the e-bike. Those pesky hills don’t look so intimidating any more. 

As a result she’s ridden more miles in the last few months than in the previous few years. 

Mountain passes? Fierce headwinds? No problem. That handy button on the handlebars will give you just the right amount of assistance. 

Since acquiring our new bikes we have revisited many of the most challenging rides of yesteryears. This is no small matter to us. Many of our fondest memories are of those bicycling adventures. 

But getting back to the matter of our initial antipathy for e-bikes — we were not alone. E-bikes are not appreciated in much of the bicycling world — as we have run into signs saying “No e-bikes.” 

To me, such signs are indicative of nothing less than prejudice by what I would term “bicycle purists” — nothing less than a new form of snobbery. 

The justification offered by purists is that e-bikes tear up trails more than conventional bikes — a laughable assertion in my opinion. 

The motors of e-bikes produce a fraction of a single horsepower. There’s no way they are going to leave the ruts motorcycles do. 

Look, I understand that bicycle purists are justifiably proud of the physical exertion they devote to their sport but I would argue that they take their pride a step too far when they frown upon others who are not willing to go to the extremes they are. 

Behind their elitism is the notion that one has to earn the right to ride a bicycle.

Athleticism is a laudable accomplishment but it’s not for everyone. 

It may be counterintuitive that adding an electric motor to a bicycle will actually increase the amount of exercise one gets but that is precisely what Mary’s and my experience suggests. A lot of people who would never turn the crank on a conventional bicycle have taken up regular bicycle riding because of e-bikes and that’s a good thing.

Perhaps someday soon e-bikes will no longer be excluded from mountain bike trails by a more tolerant bicycling community. 

Just think — with such a spirit of cooperation and acceptance we (e-mountain bikers and conventional mountain bikers) could unite against the real enemy — roadies!

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  1. Mike Bike says:

    My wife and I fitted our hybrid bikes with e-bike pedal assist kits in January of ‘19 before a six week rv trip to Gulf Shores, AL. We are both 61 and have ridden our bikes over 1600 miles since January which is at least 1000 miles more than we would without the assist. With the assist we have rediscovered the enjoyment of riding that we had in our earlier years without the grind. We too use the assist when the conditions warrant, but usually are on no assist or setting one of five when on flat ground. We also alternate pulling a pet trailer so that our dog is able to enjoy the rides as much as we do. As far as “cheating”, we’re not riding in competition so how is it cheating.?Do people that jog/run consider it “cheating” when a bicycle passes them on a multi/use trail? To each his own. Our money, our decision. Just enjoy your active life for as long as you can.

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