The bike industry’s annual spring trade show just ended. The Sea Otter Classic may have started as a celebration of bike racing, but it’s a good deal more than that now. The racing has expanded, almost exponentially. In addition to the mountain bike events which gave the event its start, and the road events that fueled its growth, the event includes two gran fondos, dual slalom, cyclocross, a folding bike race and, new for this year, an eMTB race.
I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a fan of ebikes. As a means of getting more people on bikes, making it easier for anyone to use a bike for commuting or errand-running, and as a way for IBDs to reach more consumers at a higher profit, ebikes are a win-win-win. Still, they’ve received some resistance from die-hard cyclists, though that lack of enthusiasm is faint when compared to the resistance that eMTBs receive in the U.S.
There’s some good reasons for that. It’s safe to assume that any card-carrying Sierra Club members who hate mountain bikes will hate eMTBs even more. It’s a truism that the faster we go, the more they hate us. An eMTB does nothing so well as allow you to go faster than you would on your own. So it’s understandable that many riders don’t want manufacturers to introduce a new technology that could contribute to tensions between hikers and cyclists.
Even so, I’ve encountered a number of people who don’t even think in terms of advocacy. They just don’t like eMTBs, period. I keep seeing people refer to them as motorcycles, when the differences between the two technologies couldn’t be more stark.
So, that eMTB race. There was an industry challenge among the various fields. I figured, why not give it a try? Haibike loaned me a bike in my size and I was able to add my clipless pedals. It wasn’t a perfect fit, nor was the sag adjusted for me, but for a one-hour race, it was close enough. And because the race was a sanctioned event run on private land, I knew I wasn’t going to sin against conservation, the sport itself, or my ability to advocate for mountain biking in the future.
The race was silly fun.
I really didn’t want to go super-hard, despite this being a race and not a ride because … well, I had a couple of reasons. The big reason was I didn’t want to burn Saturday’s matches on Friday; I already had plans to do the Super Sweetwater Grasshopper the next day, and I needed to save. Also, there was the reality that with actual mountain bike pros, GU’s Salty the Yeti (played by Dirty Kanza winner Yuri Hauswald), MTB legend Joe Murray, Road Bike Action editor Neil Shirley and Specialized PR diplomat Sean Estes, I was going to get humbled no matter how hard I went. So why kill myself? I just wanted to have fun (cue the Cindy Lauper).
At the risk of sounding like Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “One Note Samba,” I will maintain that any bike is better than no bike. And honestly, a bike that goes as fast as you can at race pace without you actually going race pace, well, if it doesn’t make you laugh you’ve lost your funny bone. I had serious fun. To say anything else would be a lie. Also, because I wasn’t going all out, I was able to heckle the crowd for not heckling me. I didn’t want people cheering me. That seemed a travesty. We needed to have fun and I was hoping I’d get kidded more. That was the only thing missing from the experience.
Here’s the interesting thing: To my knowledge, all of us were on Class 1 bikes, in which the assist stops at 20 mph, and the bikes work only by assisting you when you pedal; there’s no throttle. Once you exceed 20 mph, it’s all you, baby. And there were spots on the course where you could definitely exceed 20 mph. So the question became, do you kill yourself to go 23 mph on a 45-pound bike, or do you back off and just let the assist keep you at 20? I chose the latter, attempting to dose my effort so that I went quick, sorta. I also needed to exercise good judgment for picking just which mode I was in (Turbo, Sport, Tour, Eco or Off) as course conditions changed from loose to steep to bumpy. Doing a full lap in Turbo was a bit like riding an unbroken horse.
But that was one hour on private land with a number pinned on. The real world will be different. They’re big in Europe; I take that as a sign of just how different our cultures are. Trail access is a highly contentious issue and I don’t want to see anything threaten our access. However, looked at from a different perspective, we should consider that if more cyclists were out riding trails, even if they do it on eMTBs, we’d have more people to draw upon to support IMBA and the STC. If there’s one thing that will help our cause where land access is concerned, it’s the might that will come with a larger population. Politicians pay attention to big numbers, whether it’s warm bodies, or the dollars those people donate to support the cause. Heck, more people on trails could help make the case for needing more trails.
Final thought: This whole aging thing isn’t working out for me. I may need one of these in another 10 or 15 years.