1965 Newport Folk Festival, Rhode Island USA. Bob Dylan plugged in. And most of the folk world freaked out. That’s the summary, the detail is a limitless rabbit hole of contemporary accounts, first hand interviews and long shadowed documentaries. I have spent far too much time burrowing deep into fact and myth but “Dylan was said to have “electrified one half of his audience, and electrocuted the other” pretty much covers it.
It’s also a solid metaphor for the eBike revolution. And be in in no doubt this is exactly what it is, right down to eating its own children. My ambivalence / shifting views on whether this is a good thing recently sparked a bit of Twitter back and forth which, on reflection, was firing darts at the heart of the periphery. There’s no Canute pushing back the sea here*; anyone riding mountain bikes (in fact all bikes) cannot miss the opening up cycling to the masses/debasing the purity of the thing. Delete as applicable. Nobody cares. Especially the manufactures scrambling to play to an audience through the power of electricity.
Plugging in has the historical whiff of full suspension versus hardtail, 29 or 26, trail centres or natural tracks. Except it’s way bigger than that. And more diversive. It’s is one of hardened positions, not arguments on both sides, it lacks nuance. It’s become a bit of a cult, the root of which appears to be guilt.
Right table, see those cards they are all mine. I have absolutely no problem with eBikes. Appreciate that’s a sentence adjacent to ‘I know lots of gay people‘ and ‘some of my best friends are black‘. I’m not trivialising the problem with such phrases often being – at best – cultural adoption or virtue signalling. Rather I know this is a position oft taken to claim some nebulous moral high ground before righteously pissing off it.
So let me be absolutely clear on what irritates me when conversing with our electrically enabled brethren.
1. I’m working just as hard as on a normal** bike. “riding twice as far, twice as high, loads more upper body strength required, etc“. H’mm if you’re racing E-EWS then sure. In my experience of trail eBikers, you’re really not. Cinderella pedalling on glass cranks as you breeze by. ***
Jealous? A little. Bottom of another 20 minute climb, I’d be lying if wishing for a bit of assistance isn’t a guilty daydream. But I’m at an age where a cheese and beer diet is incompatible with going steady. Or taking an easier option. I hate it sometimes, but it still feels good to get it done.
And I don’t need to ride all the trails. I’m happy – deliriously so – just riding a bike with my mates. Making choices based on trail conditions, companions, capacity of legs etc is all part of it. I am not a completist, I am not a Strava whore, I’m not confusing time on the bike with only descending.
So sure, eBikes mean you can ride more downhills. That’s not the same as riding more.
2. I only have an hour. This I have more time for. If I don’t drive, it’s 30 mins to decent trails and half of that for Gravel bike technicality. Sometimes this cranks the ‘can’t be arsed‘ gauge deep into apathetic self loathing. Would I turbo charge my motivation with voltage? Amp up my laziness into a new me? Maybe. Probably not. Everyone is not me though.
3. I can’t ride a normal bike. You’d have to be a total twat not to be swayed by this rationale. That’s before we agree that more people on bikes can only be a good thing. If it’s mountain biker with a ruined knee or a commuter getting out of their car, electric bikes level a previously lumpy playing field.
When I smashed my ankle a few years ago, I’d have given the other foot to get off the turbo to ride outside with my friends. An eBike would have enabled that.
So for the hard of understanding I get it. What I don’t get are the endless reasons for why someone has chosen an eBike. Just be honest about it. We’re moving into a new phase where riding is about making choices not entirely based on fitness or injury. I still don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing. But it’s a thing and it’s going to be a majority thing at some point. Feels quite soon.
There’s something else here. Price of entry and all that. eBikes are expensive – even compared to normal bikes – and I worry this is just another barrier to riding bikes. Don’t want to ride a normal bike, can’t afford an eBike. It’s not a new issue because there are already massive disparities between buying a utility bike and buying a mountain bike. eBikes amplify this disparity but they didn’t cause it.
Oh I just bought an eBike. For none of the reasons above. Obviously we’ll be back to that.
*to be fair, didn’t go well. Still you got to admire the self-belief 🙂
**The bike lexicon fails to align on what a non eBike is. It’s not acoustic whatever the mags might tell you.
***Yes I know this is massive stereotyping. It is based entirely on what I see every week. I’m sure there are many examples / outliers. But the plural of anecdote is not evidence.