Friday Group Ride #385

Friday Group Ride #385

Technology empowers. It multiplies our effort, and frees us from work. It improves our analytical capabilities and lengthens our memory.

And, technologies converge. Calculators become computers. Computers get integrated in cars and coffee makers and shoe horns. Soon cars will drive themselves. We all want this, most of us anyway, because we are curious and because we are lazy, because we need more food and time and money, and because we are obsessed with dominating our environment.

In the ’30s, bicycles got primitive transmissions, which have evolved over time to give riders more precise and specific control of power input. Friction shifting got indexed. Electronic shifting happened. Wireless electronic shifting happened. We got disc brakes from cars/motorcycles. Then we got hydraulic disc brakes.

What was fundamental about the bike changed, but it was still a think you pedaled. You powered it yourself. But then, E-bikes, which have been around in some form for decades, finally reached some technological watershed in battery life, and now they are proliferating like proverbial rabbits during a warm spring season.

Is it ludicrous to wonder when self-riding bikes will arrive (see photo above)? If self-driving cars have such an obvious future, why wouldn’t self-driving bikes? They are both transportational technologies, which must, by the rule of Ray Kurzeil, converge and evolve until we are all one interconnected thing, everywhere and nowhere and sublimely happy about it.


This week’s Group Ride asks, when is a bike not a bike? Will the sport we have known and love continue to exist in the next century? Or will it remain in some vestigial, eccentric way, all high-wheelers and mustachios, the throwback hobby of the preternaturally thin and hairless? What do you think is elemental about cycling? And are the basic values of turning pedals and steering your own course enough to keep the bike a bike forever?

Image: The Riderless Bike


, , , , ,


  1. KG

    A bike becomes a motorcycle when a “Motor” is added for the purpose of propulsion of any kind – even assisted.
    The distinction needs to be made and enforced on the trail systems. I can’t ride them with my motorized Yamaha and I should not ride them with my motorized Trek.

  2. Les.B.

    I agree with KG’s hard-nosed approach. Adding a motor is a paradigm shift.
    What we commonly refer to as a motorcycle is also commonly referred to as a bike.
    And so, any two-wheeled contraption with a motor can be called a bike. But that doesn’t mean that any of these should be considered bicycles.

  3. Rod

    Agreed with KG.

    But hey, if we’re referencing science fiction, on Gibson’s Neuromancer we had low-gravity bike races in an orbital resort/casino. Maybe those are pedal powered, like a cosmic Madison!

  4. Dizzy

    This is a great question which, as Robot says, has been thrust upon us and we can not ignore it.
    I currently agree w/the previous responders, i.e., once it has a motor, it’s a “motor vehicle” and should be regulated as such.
    That applies to on the road or off.
    I was taught in an early cycling class that bicycles are the “18-wheelers” of the mixed use trials. I had never thought of it that way and indeed they are. Adding a motor puts other cyclist and pedestrians, skaters and pets at an increased disadvantage beyond the current risk. Kind of like the triple-trailer big rigs now on the interstates.
    But…after listening to Tandem #2 with Shimano’s Wayne Stetina talk about Davis Phinney’s successful climbing excursion, the e-bike offers many previous and non-cyclers the opportunity to ride. They’re outside, not in their cars, etc., etc.
    Another new debate is an issue that a recent GCN show proposed. With the new aero-frame designs, should professional cycling allow changes and what impact would that have on the sport. Yet another great dilemma.

  5. Neil Winkelmann

    It’s not so much what we call a “bicycle” but what qualifies as “cycling”. Cycling is moving under one’s own power. Riding an e-bike is not, for some part at least, cycling. I’m fairly neutral about them on the roads, and if they get people out of their cars, then great. But on the trails they are utterly inappropriate. E-bikes on mountain bike trails are every bit as offensive as mountain bikes (and horses) in the wilderness.

  6. Scott D Gilbert

    If you don’t have to pedal to propel yourself and a motor of any kind can do it for you IT IS NOT A BICYCLE.

  7. Brian Ogilvie

    I make a distinction between pedal-assist motors, which I’m generally OK with in bike lanes, MUPs, etc., and electric bikes that don’t require pedaling. If the motor only engages when the rider is pedaling, and its output essentially multiplies pedaling effort, then the rider remains attuned to the relationship between energy output, terrain, and speed, even if they are getting a boost. I think it’s a great way to encourage people to use a bike instead of a car to commute, and it can help even out differences in rider strength in social rides. I’d consider getting one so my wife and I could go for longer rides together; as it is, a challenging pace for her is a recovery pace for me, but a pedal-assist e-bike could even that out. FWIW, they seem to be quite common in southern Germany and Austria, based on my trip there this summer; some Austrian trails even have battery stations for rented e-bikes where you can swap out a depleted battery for a full one.

  8. Aar

    I know I’m swimming upstream on this forum but I believe that 2-3 wheels and the act of pedaling makes a bike or trike. There’s a lady on an e-bike who rides our weekly Wednesday ride. She obviously would have trouble holding a C pace in a non-e-bike but is able to ride with her husband in the B+ group on her e-bike. I don’t know her and I enjoy it when I drop her. She is safe in the pack, fun and engaged. Our group is better with her and welcome more e-bikers like her to our community.

    Even mopeds have a place on bike facilities IMHO. I do have to draw the line at two points: 1) when an assisted bike/cyclist can and do go significantly faster than a strong cyclist on their own power, they need to use motorist, not BiPed, facilities. 2) trikes and recumbent tries, even e-trikes if they exist, do not belong in group rides nor mass start events

  9. TomInAlbany

    A bike is a tool. The tool, though, is multi-purpose.


    It’s wrong to pigeon hole the tool. You simply select the purpose for the tool.

    Now, applying the tool correctly and to the correct environment, that’s a completely different discussion

  10. Kimball

    Two observations:
    Either you open pathways to e-bikes or not. I do not see how limiting the amount or type of assist is enforceable.
    Additionally I see folks who, because they either never were an adult cyclist or because they have been away from cycling for some time now buying an e-bike and immediately riding faster than their skill-set. They are a hazard to themselves and others.

    1. Jeff Dieffenbach

      Enforceable rules are great, but that doesn’t mean you don’t make the rules otherwise. People already ride where they shouldn’t and with an inappropriate recklessness. The majority of people will follow rules, especially if there are good role models. So, give speed-limited pedal-assist bikes a try. Mark them as such. And if doing so creates a real and ongoing problem, ban them.

      As for skill sets, I’ve seen plenty of riders get out over the tips of their (unpowered) skis. And there are no doubt many formerly strong riders who for whatever reason can no longer enjoy the sport and their hard-earned skills. If pedal-assist gets them back in the game, I’m all for it. Because I’ll likely be in that boat one day as well.

  11. AG

    An e-bike only needs/has pedals to stay within the confines of the loopholes in existing law regarding motorized vehicles. As I understand it, they could easily operate without the pedals, and in fact the build would be easier and cheaper without them. But then it would be an electric motorcycle, right?

    That’s an interesting question about the potential withering of human-only powered bikes. It’s not all that far off from the question of whether or not doping should be made legal in bike racing. Is technology and scientific advancement enough of a reason to rationalize “supercharging” the human being? Is it inevitable? I don’t know, but I will pushing my pedals as long as I can totally old-school.

    1. Robot

      I’m really interested in this last part that AG brought up, basically, what happens to pedal-driven bikes as more technology finds its way on-board? How you regulate ebikes and their cousins doesn’t trouble me. Someone is going to have feelings about that and put energy into legislation, enforcement and other stuff I don’t have the stomach for. My big concern is, will technologically advanced “bicycles” push mechanical bikes off the menu?

    2. Jeff Dieffenbach

      What do the numbers say? What’s been the ridership trend for road, mixed terrain, mountain, and commuting? I can see ebbs and flows, but not an out-and-out collapse of recreation-oriented human-powered or human-powered-with-some-easisst cycling.

      If I wanted to ride a scooter or a motorcycle, that’s already an option to me. If I were commuting a decent distance (my bike commute is almost a mile), I’d consider those modes. But I’ve got no interest in going out for recreation on some next-generation alternative to cycling.

  12. Aar

    Robot, I don’t see e-bikes pushing mechanical bikes off the menu. I see them expanding the appeal of cycling to people who may be intimidated by self-powering their ride, extending their riding into later life and for other reasons. I also see them bringing people into cycling – if an e-bike helps a person overcome personal limitations why might they not migrate to a non-e bike?

    I see e-bikes in a similar manner to large head tennis rackets, shaped skis, wide skis, modern snowshoes or even waterproof/breathable fabrics.

    As far as technological advancement is concerned, which is more advanced – a $3.5k aluminum e-bike or a $15k carbon race bike with electronic shifting and aero wheels? I don’t intend that as a counterpoint and don’t believe their is a definitive answer. Rather, I think it’s an out of the box interpretation worth considering. IMHO, both technologies expand the cycling game.

  13. Scott M.

    It’s not the first time cycling has spun off a motor-propelled tangent.

    In 1895, the National Cycling Show in Chicago drew tens of thousands of enthusiasts to view goods offered by hundreds of companies. “Among the novelties was…a strange self-moving contraption with a petrol-powered engine called the ‘motor cycle.'” (The Lost Cyclist, David Herlihy, 2010). In this way, cycling provided an incubator, of sorts, for this innovative spinoff.

    Rather than replacing cycling, I contend that E bikes, Mopeds and Motorcycles have and will create new categories of participation. Some have more mass appeal and stickiness than others. One reason for creating a distinct segment is that it’s just weird to have two completely different vehicles compete against one another. For exercise, let’s ask ourselves if an E bike rider on a Tuesday nighter would celebrate winning a club sprint against human powered bikes. What would they do, pump their fist? Talk smack? Brag about their accomplishment on Strava? No, No and No (though someone, somewhere no doubt has a story to tell).

    E Bikes are and will continue to be a separate market segment. If it draws enough participants, it will be viable. It’s equally possible that it will go the way of the moped — easing the chore of locomotion for tourists in tropical locales around the globe. Where E Bikes bump agains competitive riders, the natural progression is for those looking for an assist to seek even more help, thereby evolving the E bike to another category of transportation, competition and target buyer.

    Cycling helped, then withstood, the creation of the Motorcycle. I think we’re likely to see the fundamental of human powered recreation be around for a long long time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *