CrankTank, Part I

CrankTank, Part I

I’m in Ketchum, Idaho, for a new event called CrankTank. It’s a successor of sorts to PressCamp which was shut down after last summer. The format is a bit different, with fewer presentations and more time outside on the bike. And the schedule is jam packed, making posting rather difficult. To top that off, I rode a very interesting bike yesterday that is under embargo, so I can’t even tell you about it yet.

What I can say about the event is that ebikes are a significant part of the event, something the degree to which all the attendees are just beginning to find out.

My takeaway is that more and more, bike companies really don’t want to talk about ebikes.

Let that sink in a second. They don’t really want to discuss ebikes. What they would rather do is just get people on them and let them ride the bikes. The belief that seems to pervade manufacturers is that the only time to discuss ebikes is after people have ridden them.

To that end, yesterday, we were taken to some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land outside Ketchum, with a significant trail network that is open to ebikes. We were each set up on bikes, and in theory the suspension was properly set up—more on that later—and two different groups were taken for rides on the trails.

Ketchum sits at 5853 feet. Just high enough for me to become winded doing, well, anything other than sitting down. This little detail makes my willingness to ride an ebike instead of a regular bike rise like a hot air balloon on a cold morning.

I was given a Specialized Turbo Levo to ride. And while the tech took me through the normal steps to set up the suspension, he got something wrong and I ended up on a bike with suspension set up for someone who weighs 200 pounds, not 160, something I didn’t pick up on until we were out on the trail and it was too late to do anything. Sigh. Yet another eMTB ride where the suspension wasn’t set up right.

And yet.

And yet, I had a great time. It wasn’t significantly difference than the experience I’d have had on a traditional mountain bike. The biggest difference of course is that I was able to get to the top of a climb without being utterly destroyed. The way it zeroed out my experience of the altitude was remarkable, making the riding much more enjoyable. Plus, there were several steepish, sandy pitches that I’d have had trouble riding up at sea level where I simply bumped up the power assist and I was able to pedal right up.

The Specialized Levo is not a light bike. It weighs roughly 52 lbs., more than my eight-year-old son. One of the things that makes the Levo different than my experience with other ebikes is how well balanced it is. With the Brose battery and motor slung as low as possible, the center of gravity is a bit lower than on a standard bike, which makes leaning it into turns easy enough.

The bike ran on plus tires, 27.5 by 2.8 inch Specialized rubber. If ever there was a terrific application of plus wheels/tires, this is it. With the extra weight, a rider is able to achieve much better traction on a big footprint.

To a person, we got back to the trucks in the parking area in agreement that the ride had been fun and we didn’t feel that we’d been out for a motorcycle ride. And that seems to be the strategy. I’ve been troubled by why Specialized and other companies are pushing so hard to get these bikes out there without devoting enough energy to advocacy to help pave the way for their arrival. The challenge is simple: most riders badmouth ebikes, especially eMTBs, before they ride them. No one seems to dislike them once they ride them.


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  1. dave

    Who exactly is badmouthing ebikes in general?

    MTB riders don’t like E-MTBs because they create enforcement issues for land managers. Much easier to ban bikes altogether than try to figure out who is and isn’t on an ebike. My area trails are forest service multi use trails, and e-mtb riders routinely violate the ban. All it takes is one incident.

    You are from Nor Cal, surely you understand the trail access issues…I don’t want my area to be like Marin.

  2. Shawn

    Our mtb bro group meets every few years in Crested Butte. The altitude is challenging, and it has made at least one of our members reluctant to attend. What’s the fun in a 5-mile ascent to the base of the trail if you’re a little overweight, under-fit, smoke too much dope at home in CA, and wheezing with every pedal stroke? But last year he rented an e-mtb, and it was life changing for him. He was able to ride with (and beyond) the rest of us.

    I don’t think ebikes should be allowed on trails designated for human powered pursuits. (They’re not in Crested Butte, where ebikes are restricted to trails that also allow motos.) But for commuters, the disabled, folks who lack fitness, RVers, etc., ebikes are game changers that in some cases open cycling to those for whom riding a bike would otherwise be impossible.

  3. Neil Winkelmann

    Here in and around Vancouver, we already have a lot of trails with motorised access. We have pick-up-truck serviced trails on the Northshore, and lift-serviced trails at Whistler. There is great variety of riding available for people who are reluctant (for whatever reason) to pedal much. Squamish is different, with most of the trails requiring a combination of RIDING uphill and descending. Squamish is perhaps ground zero for this battle.

    I have no insight into this issue, just an opinion. If you don’t want to, or can’t pedal your bike uphill, then there are already options for you. Leave traditional mountain biking as it is and keep the e-bikes off these trails. The risk of land access issues is the number one argument for this, I think. Mountain biking is grudgingly granted access to many areas. I like to experience wilderness on foot. The presence of mountain bikes in remote areas diminishes that experience for me (and don’t get me started on bloody horses). I see how hiking/conservation/wilderness preservation groups would be motivated to mobilise on this issue.

    Riding an e-bike because your buddies are better riders than you is a cheat. Should I get a e-bike so I can hang with the Cat 1/2 riders on Saturdays? Of course not. I just ride with a club/group that matches my abilities and ambitions.

    I don’t quite know what to make of the couples argument. That is where one member of a couple uses an e-bike to allow the slower partner to keep up. My wife and I wouldn’t consider this. We each ride with people who match our pace. We don’t actually need to do 100% of all things together. Other couples seem more co-dependent and that’s fine.

    e-bikes that replace cars for transport and utility cycling are great, and have my 100% support.

    1. Shawn

      But cheating only happens in competition and romance, and riding with your buddies isn’t either. Or at lease it shouldn’t be. For me, I’d rather have my buddies with me than not (if I were less social, I’d likely do solo rides on a road bike or a recumbent, depending on the day’s retrogrouch meter reading, rather than my mtb), and if it takes an electric assist for that to happen, so be it. I can’t help it: I like people. Indeed, I like my friends so much I’d ride with them on ebike-approved trails — and even wait 20 minutes for them to show up late and thoroughly rub-in their sunscreen. But I’d also tell them to stay TF off the non-motorized trails.

    2. Neil Winkelmann

      Many of my friends don’t ride. This doesn’t make them any less my friends. And of course there are very, very many great people and potential friends that I don’t ride with at all. My riding friends became my riding friends because we ride at speeds similar enough that we can enjoy an outing together. There are faster bunches and slower bunches than us, but we’re friends because we ride together.

  4. Ron

    E-bikes have tremendous value for fun on trails and especially for urban transportation. That being said, they still aren’t bicycles. They are motorized vehicles and ideally would be treated as such in every area of application, the same way that old-school mopeds with tiny gasoline engines and pedals used to be way back in the 1990s. It has been a real boost to my self-improvement on the bike that in my daily fast commute in my super-hilly locale, I have trained hard enough to still be faster than the e-bike commuters. Why? They are to avoided at all costs with a high probability of extremely bad riding skills and bad habits such as talking on cell phones or loudly listening to terrible music while sloppily riding along in the bike lanes. Will mountain bikes and road bikes become second-class citizens on the trails and bike lanes to make way for e-bikes? Damn, I sure hope not.

    1. Neil Winkelmann

      e-bike commuters can be a bit reckless on the shared-use commuting trails. They occasionally come whipping by on the climbing half of the narrow Lionsgate Bridge bike path. Overtaking safely is possible (never had an issue in 10 years and 4000+ trips) but care is needed, for sure. They mostly announce their presence, and it’s all OK, but not always – the odd surprise and close call. I’ve not really had a problem, though. I’ll occasionally yell at them to “slow down”.

  5. Marc L

    As some who has ridden e-bikes I’m all for quieter, lower-power, and displaced-emission motorized recreation. And in light of their reduced price/power/impact there’s certainly a case to be made that they should be exempt from licensing requirements–though I’d like to see an honest life cycle analysis so that we know how many car miles they’ll have to replace before their embodied energy is accounted for.

    But they’re not nonmotorized in any sense of the word should be restricted from nonmotorized trails. Why? Because we’ve spent 40 years trying to convince equestrians and hikers that bicycling is a nonmotorized activity and as such cyclists should have access to nonmotorized trails. It is infuriating as a mountain biker, trail advocate, and industry member to see bike companies and the advocacy groups they bankroll sell the vast majority of riders down the river in the name of a quick buck.

    E-bikes won’t save the bicycle industry.

  6. MattC

    I have a ton of work up in CO Springs, and up there most trails that allow bikes also allow dirt-bikes (motorcycles). In a selfish way I HATE the dirt bikes on what I consider mt biking trails (they can go UP the steep stuff and quite honestly really ruin it, roosting over the bumps digging them out deeper and deeper, among other things). However, that said, it’s public land and why shouldn’t they have rights to be on it too? Share and share alike. I’d imagine the hikers hate mt bikes as much as dirt bikes…to them we are all the same. So why not e-bikes on public land trails? Lets face it, an e-bike is NOT a dirt bike…there’s almost no comparison. An e-bike is WAY more closely related to a mtb than a gas powered motorized bike (if nothing else than the power and range available, let alone the noise and pollution gas engines spew). One day in the future (hopefully NOT so near) I may be relegated to an e-bike just due to age…and why shouldn’t I be able to ride the same trails? Public land is public land. No one group should get to say “me and my type only, none of you OTHER types of users are allowed”. I’ve seen e-fatbikes in Cheyenne Cyn on some pretty hard trails recently, and guess what? They didn’t kill me, or burn down my house, or any other doomsday scenario…they were just out enjoying the mountains as I was. The US vs THEM needs to stop…just my 2 cents.

    1. Author

      That’s a straw-man argument. For all practical purposes that thing is a motorcycle. It will NEVER be okayed for use on trails based on the advocacy angle that’s being proposed. With a top speed of death, it exceeds the 20 mph speed limit that Class I ebikes must respect in order to be part of the group of bikes being proposed as acceptable for trail use. In short, you’ll never see that thing ridden anywhere other than OHV trails, at least, not legally.

  7. Jim

    Between losing Fatty and Hottie on the podcast and yet another e-bike article, I’m losing interest fast. It’s a shame, I used to really enjoy RKP.

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