December 19, 2016 § 23 Comments
As the revelations unfold, it’s deja vu all over again. Cheaters use new technology to cheat. What a surprise.
The difference this time is that the cheating is in the bike, not in the dope who rides it. And the other difference is that even though as a percentage only a very few people will take drugs like EPO and testosterone to improve their bike performance, virtually every rider ever born will spend money to upgrade a bike so that it goes faster.
Ergo the distinction between bikes and motorcycles, a distinction that evaporated with the advent of mass-produced e-bikes and has now, with tiny motors, completely obliterated it. The bike used to be a thing that you pedaled. When your pedaling stopped, so did the bike.
Now the bike is a hybrid. Even though your pedaling wilts, the bike can either replace it completely with 100% electro-assist, or replace it in tiny watt-increments for very short periods of time, allowing you to hang on just long enough to get over the climb. And since no one knows whether you have the bike motor on the group ride, you might as well go big, right? Go big or go home. Isn’t that a saying somewhere?
We can also expect that technology will continue to make smaller motors that are even more powerful. Eventually the cranks and pedals will be part of an illusion that masks what’s really happening underneath. People who genuinely suck on a bike in every conceivable parameter will be able to go as fast as Phil Gaimon.
Of course they won’t actually be able to descend safely at speed, or navigate a pace line at speed, or thread a peloton at speed, or do any of the things that keep really good riders from falling and getting hurt/killed. And of course they will, with their miserable skills, endanger others. But none of that matters because they will be able to GO FAST while LOOKING LIKE A CYCLIST.
We are quickly reaching that point of perfect destruction, where racing fails because no one wants hard races, where cycling becomes a fashion competition of clothing and equipment, and where performance has more to do with motors than it does with your bodily engine.
Hey, it’s motor sports for slow people, and by the way, go ahead and have that second bacon cheeseburger.
The positives abound. We’ll be able to wear actual protective gear because the weight and comfort penalty of thick padding and legitimate helmets that truly protect your skull will be zero. That will save countless collarbones, hips, wrists, concussions, and especially lives.
Motorized fake cycling will push bike speeds to the point that the rider can absolutely hold the speed of traffic. No more edge riding, no more silly fights about “Bikes May Use Full Lane,” no more assholes screaming at you to “Ride on the sidewalk!”
Distances will melt. Instead of being limited to the same 50-mile route, you’ll be able to throttle it for the first 80 miles until you get to where you really want to ride, then do your motor-assisted “workout,” then motor back home, all for the price of a single battery charge.
Racing (it’s already happening) will become the equivalent of 50cc competitions. The really good riders will have phenomenal high-speed handling skills and will judiciously know when to add in a huge effort for the last 3-km sprint (forget the 200m-to-go marker), and they’ll know just when to combine motor with legs to initiate the break, bridge, or surge.
Group rides will likewise boil down to informal contests that involve ballsy, high speed moves, some degree of fitness, top-notch motors, and skilled use of legs at just the right time in just the right amount. Power meters and battery life will no longer be training tools, they will be absolute outcome determinants. Just as car racers win by managing power output, fuel reserves, and tire tread, cyclists will have one eye on the power meter and one eye on the battery level. Charging devices aren’t far behind, either, where descents will power your battery back up as you ride.
Best of all, the pathetic egos of old men will be massaged by finally being able to buy their way into the head of the peloton–not the peloton of weekend hackers, but the head of the field with actual professionals. As with the existing masters racer who owns the lightest bike and the best equipment, purchasing power will now catapult the lamest, most over-the-hill, delusional old farts to la course en tete.
I’d argue, in fact, that we’re already there. Electronic shifting has changed the game in so many respects. By removing all physical and mental penalties to changing gears, battery powered components give you an edge. You can try two or three gears in a split second to find the right one. Imagine doing that with down tube shifters and six cogs.
Battery powered components will increasingly provide an energy supply for other drive train and braking components. As mental and physical energy is no longer devoted to the workings of the bike, more is left over to pedal hard and to race. You’ll go faster, farther, and use less energy to do it.
The only casualty is bicycling. Power meters and onboard computers have meant for years now that no ride really happens until the microprocessor begins recording. Strava increasingly defines the significance of your ride. Was it viewed? Was it liked? Did it reflect various amazing trinket-worthy milestones?
If today you can’t throw a leg over without a charged derailleur battery, charged lights, a functioning power meter, and a charged personal tracking device, how much of a qualitative change is it, really, to add in a tiny motor? Or a large one? It’s better than sitting on the couch, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
The bicycle is no longer an inert lump of rubber and metal, dead until a person mounts it and presses down on the pedal. It’s no longer a measure of strength, a promise of improvement, or a hammer to smash the fetters of daily life and spring you into the freedom of your dreams.
It’s just another appliance. So don’t forget to plug it in.
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