Silly Fun

Silly Fun

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.

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  1. Lyford

    Being newly diagnosed with a degenerative hip joint problem, this topic has taken on new interest…..

    For me, the value is more in the “farther” that’s possible. The idea of being restricted to the same few miles of flat roads as my physical capacity decreases is not pleasant. The possibility of still being able to get out and explore hilly back roads sounds great, as does being able to go on a group ride and keep up.

    On the other hand, some of the same “they get more people out in the woods” arguments have been used to promote the increased use of ATVs, and seeing and hearing them does detract from the quiet enjoyment of a hiking trail.

  2. MattC

    Looking at the ebike from a slightly different angle, if any of you know who Martyn Ashton is (and know that he broke his back doing a stunt when filming for the Road Bike party 2 video and is now paralyzed from the waist down), there is a video posted where his friends got him on a modified mtb and he was able to ride again (all downhill). I can TOTALLY see paralyzed people using an ebike (modified with a throttle rather than pedal to get power) and riding again on trails that aren’t just down!

  3. miles archer

    This is kind of analogous to riding a moped on a bike lane. Part of me hates that (it’s cheating) but part of me says to let it go (it’s not hurting anyone).

    Would it bother you if someone was riding a moped on a trail? I think it would, though the noise and exhaust would be part of it.

    1. Author

      One of these days we are all going to cop to the fact that we hate getting passed. I used to get passed on the beach bike path in the South Bay by a guy in a fish bowl motorcycle helmet on a throttle-assist ebike. He never, ever waved or said hi. Would pass me with a foot to spare. I really didn’t like that guy despite my best efforts to dig the fact that he was commuting by bike. I believe my deep-seated dislike of that experience is the same thing at the root of what many people dislike about ebikes. I can’t really blame others for not wanting to see beyond that. I’ve had to work at it.

  4. Rob

    So “card-carrying Sierra Club members” are enemies to mountain biking? Really? I’m a Sierra Club member and an environmentally aware person and a mountain biker and I don’t see that those two identities are mutually exclusive. But I do think that motorized vehicles on trails are a blight, no matter what the bike industry tells me (and you) how to feel about it.

    1. Author

      I wouldn’t say that all Sierra Club members are enemies of mountain biking, but the Sierra Club itself has definitely been an enemy to the sport. They have deliberately thwarted a great many advocacy efforts put forward by IMBA. Also, I think I’ve been very careful not to tell anyone what to think. I’ve simply tried to share my experience, and in this case, a bit of surprise. Seriously, the Sierra Club is no friend to mountain biking.

  5. Michael

    This conversation has moved from Padraig’s pure silly joy to the implications o that joy. I have to admit to feeling split on ebikes in the dirt. I LIKE them a lot on the road, and perhaps some day I will want one for myself. In the dirt, though, I keep thinking of trail maintenance. Around here, all the trail maintenance is done by the mountain bikers – the forest service has no money for it, so we do it, with their blessing and guidance. The effects of bikes on the trails, as the bikes have gone from rigid to hardtails to full suspension, has been remarkable. We used to curse the horse riders, who did more damage than anyone and never showed up to fix the trails, but the free riders (and the rest of us) do more damage now. With the ability to go UP hills quickly, I wonder about the trail damage we might be looking at with ebikes, and also wonder if the eriders will show up to fix the trails.

    1. Author

      One point I keep trying to make with regard to trail damage is that how you ride is way more important than what you ride. While in Deer Valley last year, I went for a spin on an eMTB and found that on some really steep trails, I was able, while using the sport or tour mode, to apply power evenly and consistently and get up stuff where I might otherwise have thrashed around a bit trying to climb. For me, the lesson is the asshole is on the bike, never in the bike. Of course, if you put enough people on a trail, there will be damage, whether it’s hikers, horses or bikes.

  6. dropoutdave

    If the mountain bike industry is more or less making us use single chainring gearing and saying if we do not like it that’s tough, then why should less athletic riders not move to e bike use?

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  8. Perry Brown

    If you don’t have the fitness or the skill to pedal into the backcountry under your own power, why should you be allowed to use an e-bike so that you can have more rope with which to hang yourself? I am all for allowing e-bikes on rail trails and the like, but backcountry single track is for non-motorized use only (unless otherwise designated, of course). E-bikes are motorized and are therefore not welcome or allowed on most trails. This is as it should be.

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