OPINION: E-Bikes in the Eyes of a Cyclist
I like to pedal. Even more, I like to pedal uphill. I like the honesty and simplicity in the transaction of pain for speed. Want to go faster? Pedal harder. Certain climbs, trails, and segment times are all earned by those willing to build the fitness and face the suffering. They're not given out for free. I am a cyclist, and this is how we think. This is why I love my bicycle and the sport of cycling.
In the eyes of a cyclist, ebikes go against the foundation of why we love cycling. I'll admit it - I felt this way when I was first introduced to them in 2013. "Why not just get a motorcycle?" I thought. My issue with ebikes had two parts:
- My sport was going to be taken over and lose the very essence of what made it great in the first place
- Singletrack and bike lanes are no place for these electric "motor bikes"
Now it's not my proudest past opinion, but I bring it up because no matter my job, I'm still a cyclist at heart before a businessman. Even when we first started bringing KTM ebikes over, I still had some of these views. I was skeptical.
As soon as they arrived I made it a priority to at least understand them from a technological standpoint. I wanted to know how they worked. This did a great job of eliminating my #2 above. As soon as you hop on one and start pedaling, you get it. There's no throttle and it really doesn't even feel like there's a motor. Rather, it simply feels like you've got really strong legs. While offset a bit, that transaction between effort and speed is still there, which I was very surprised to discover.
While understanding how they worked was a good start, I still had a pretty big issue with my #1 listed above. If anything, I was even more concerned with what these bikes meant for cycling because I now understood how similar riding an ebike is to a regular bike. This was until we opened our new showroom and HQs in Southern California.
We had been selling ebikes for 2 years before our showroom opened, but I rarely would meet, in person, one of the end consumers. Now with our corporate offices being attached to a sales floor, I was starting to meet more and more ebike riders. To put it simply, I quickly learned that ebikes were never going to take the place of regular bikes. Rather, they were serving a purpose entirely of their own, which in the end, would be a positive for the sport of cycling.
What I've come to realize is the primary reason I love cycling, is also the biggest barrier to entry for most. The truth is, riding a bike for any significant distance or amount of time is hard work. If someone doesn't have the time, need, or physical ability to put in that hard work, then they simply won't ride a bike.
Some of our ebike customers include injured athletes, people who just recently received a knee or hip replacement, businessmen and women looking to get fit again and make their commute less stressful, and individuals battling chronic diseases like obesity and type II diabetes. What I've come to realize is just about every time an ebike is sold, someone is becoming a cyclist that otherwise never would have.
Another one of the coolest uses I've seen for ebikes is in the downhill sector. In most communities (Southern California included), there are not a lot of chairlift-accessible trails. Rather, if you want to do some "big mountain" type of riding, riders will typically shuttle to the top in a van or truck with their trail bike. More and more I'm seeing ebikes used to eliminate the need for a shuttle. This takes yet another car off the road and makes this kind of riding way easier to do since you don't have to coordinate with a group of friends every time you want to do a few runs on your favorite DH trail.
At the end of the day, ebikes are a brand new genre of cycling. There's sure to be some growing pains as we figure out how to best incorporate them into the world of cycling. But it's clear that ebikes are a tool that can make communities healthier, happier, and more bicycle friendly. Sure, they're not for everyone. However, they get cars off the road and butts off the couch. Whether you love them or hate them, there's no denying this. I'd challenge every ebike skeptic to do two things:
- Ride one
- Talk to someone who owns one
I am a cyclist. And I know that ebikes are not trying to change my sport. They're trying to make my community a better place.