The electric bicycle acid test

May 7, 2018 § 17 Comments

It had to happen.

I stomped hard at the beginning of the Donut Ride on Saturday coming out of Malaga Cove Plaza, and they let me go. At the top I glanced back and there was no one, which kind of sucked. I had fallen into the overtrained-tired hole, and didn’t have the legs to stay out there by myself for very long, but with a gap this big I’d be alone until Hawthorne unless one or two riders bridged up.

I hunched down a little more and kept the gear rolling.

As I whipped down Paseo del Mar I saw a shadow on my right and a shadow on my left, and knew that these would be my breakaway companions for a couple of more miles until we got caught. After having done this ride a million times, there are only a couple of variations, and this was one of them.

Then I heard the noise of many bikes and glanced back. The entire peloton was there, and the rider whose shadow I’d seen in front was a guy who, as far as I know, has never chased down anything. He had brought me back instantaneously and wasn’t even breathing hard. I sat up confused, but glad that I could soft pedal and wait for the right moment to pull the plug and go home.

Meet the new boss

The PV Estates police, with their new lease on life, have been staffing every stop sign along the Donut route every Saturday, and they were out in force again. The group mostly put a foot down, got through, and started rolling again.

That’s when I noticed.

The dude who had brought me back was up at the front again, and he had a happy grin on his face, the grin of someone who was about to do some damage. I know that look. But what I didn’t know, and couldn’t believe even though I was staring right at it, was that he had shown up on the Donut and led the charge on an electric bike, or, as I like to call them, electric motorcycles with goofy footpegs.

So I said a few things to him, among which were phrases like, “Excuse me good sir but would you please be so kind as to remove yourself to the rear of the peloton?” and “Are you aware, good sir, that riding an electric motorcycle at the front of a group ride like this is ungentlemanly?”

To make sure he understood, some other vocabulary was also used, including references to various acts of reproduction, as well as references to individuals who do not play by the rules and the various parts of their anatomy in which their electric motorcycles should be stored.

To make extra sure, I said all of this several times in a rather loud voice. The dude slunk to the back, and even though I quit soon after to help mediate for a couple of riders who had been stopped by the cops, he apparently got the message and didn’t do any more chasing at the front.

Build it, and they will cheat

I continued on after the police dragnet and passed a friend going up the Switchbacks. “How’s it going, Mike?” I asked as I rode by.

“I may be last but at least I’m not riding an electric bike,” he said.

At the college several other riders expressed their contempt for the electric biker.

“He’s a good guy,” I said. “He’s been doing this ride for years.”

“Fuck that,” said one rider. “This has nothing to do with good guy/bad guy. That was a total douche move. He flipped the switch going up that hill and dragged the whole peloton up to you.”

“I was going to quit anyway.”

“Fuck that,” said another. “He’s giving everyone else the message: E-bikes are not only welcome on the Donut, they’re welcome to chase breaks. Why don’t we all just show up on motorcycles?”

When I got home, the dude had written me a very apologetic text message, promising to never do it again. And while I believe him, his rationale for doing it in the first place will likely occur to others.

  1. I want to give my friends a draft.
  2. I want to run interference to alert the riders about the cops.
  3. I want to carry snacks to hungry riders so they can eat if they get hungry.

Number one? Yeah, buddy, don’t we all? Problem is, to do it you have to have the legs, and once you do it, you’re done.

Number two? Please. We still got pulled over.

Number three? You’re kidding me. What’s next? Bringing a stash of clean diapers?

The real problem with cheating

When you bring an electric motorcycle with goofy footpegs to the Donut Ride, it’s my opinion that you are cheating. Why do I consider it cheating? Because you are using an electric motor to pedal your bike while everyone else is using their legs, and as the steam drill showed John Henry, the machine is stronger than the man.

The problem with cheating is that it is unfair. But that’s not the only problem. Once you cheat, other people will imitate you, and they will cheat, too. Soon, it won’t be cheating anymore, it will be the new rule. And in one fell stroke you will have killed a ride that has been around for more than forty years. How many of the people who were there on Saturday will show up when it’s a pack of e-bikes?

What’s so brazenly bad about this is that you, dude, have enjoyed this ride for at least two decades, being the beneficiary of participating in what is surely one of the best hard group rides in the country. And now, because you’re older and your nutsack is droopy, instead of bowing to physics and physiology like thousands have done before you, you are bringing a motorized cycle to a bike ride, and what’s more, using it to kick everyone’s ass.

If you doubt that cheating changes the rules, look at the President. By lying multiple times every single day about every matter big and small, people have gotten used to lying. And once they get accustomed to lying, they stop insisting on facts, because the liar is never held to account. And once they stop insisting on facts, it becomes a contest of who can lie the biggest, the boldest, the most outrageously. After the shouting contest? Of course, disagreements are settled with fists, because without facts it becomes the rule of might makes right. Do away with laws, and you’re left with the law of the jungle.

Which is what will happen on the Donut, and every ride like it where electric motorcycles with goofy footpegs are allowed to drive the front, chase the break, and lead the charge up the climb. You’ll win, all right. But when you get to the top to celebrate your awesome purchasing skills, you won’t find that special thing inside you, the residue of having given it your all called satisfaction. You’ll find something entirely different.

You’ll find that you’re empty, and that you’re all alone.



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§ 17 Responses to The electric bicycle acid test

  • Tony Donaldson says:

    Love the blog, but perhaps not this post. Have you ridden an e-bike? They’re hardly motorcycles. And a capable, fit rider can smoke an e-bike ridden by a lesser rider. E-bikes are (currently) heavy and once you get above 20 mph (or 25 on a class 3, which describes most drop-bar e-bikes), they’re a bitch because of the motor gearing you’re pushing through. FWIW, I was brought to your blog via another e-bike post, I’ve stayed for how good it is!

    I’m in Santa Monica. If you’d ever like to actually throw a leg over one to see what it’s really like, I’ll bring you one to try.

    • fsethd says:

      This is not an anti-ebike post. It’s an anti-e-bike on the Donut Ride post. I am going to get an e-bike eventually. But it will be a cold day in hell before I use one to chase down breaks and lead a competitive group ride. That is just wrong. Bullshit and wrong.

    • LesB says:

      They’re hardly bicycles.

      • fsethd says:

        Whatever they are, they don’t belong at the head of the peloton when everyone else is pushing with their legs.

    • Sorry Tony, but if an e-bike didn’t make the rider go faster, no one would buy them. So they do make you go faster. Because lots and lots of people are buying them. And there is a place for them. Just not in group rides.

      I suck and can only do ~300W for the 20 minutes or so it takes me to do the first Donut climb. But add 250W from an e-bike and now I can chill, pedaling at 250W from my own effort but the bike is now putting down 500W. Sure the bike is a little heavier, but that just puts me at my winter holiday weight. And even my chunky holiday self can drop all comers if he’s putting out 500W for the climb – and it will now probably only take me 15 minutes or so, and I will unplug my bike and plug into my Strava and revel in all my KOMs.

      • fsethd says:

        In wholly unrelated news, sanctioned amateur road racing is mostly dead.

  • The definitive argument against e-bikes on a group ride.

    • fsethd says:

      So wrong in so many ways. I told a friend later that I didn’t care if e-bikes hung out at the back on the Donut, but that is a minority opinion. DOUCHE MOVE was what he kept repeating.

  • Tamar T. says:

    He deserved whatever tongue lashing he got. Hanging out at the front of the peloton on an electric assisted bike is beyond douche. Can I show up on an electric assisted bike too? Maybe race some guys up the Switchbacks?

  • I hate to tell you that eBikes are here to stay whether you or I like it or not. I say civilly work with these eBikers to make cycling available to all, whether based by skill, age and health issues…

    And per the CPSC and CA Vehicle Code (312.5(a)) an “electric bicycle” is defined and regulated as a “bicycle.” END

    • fsethd says:

      It would be nice if you could end discussions by typing END and always getting in the last word.

      I hate to tell you that I accept e-bikes a/k/a electric motorcyles with goofy footpegs, and I will someday buy one.

      I also hate to tell you that if you show up on your motorcycle and fuck up our group ride I will “work with you” until you get your ass back to the back. If you think that racing an electric motorcycle against bicycles is fair, fun, or something we can compromise on, you are at what is known as the BEGINNING.

  • dangerstu says:

    I like e-bikes anything that get’s more people on bikes is a good thing by me. Recently some one has started taking all the stava wanker KOM’s around my house, said person passed me this weekend on his e-bike while I was about to emit my internal organs on a short climb, so I flag his ride. Stava makes it easy to mark your ride as assisted and it was nice to see they pulled all his rides, wanker did even say hi.

    • fsethd says:

      The Stravver is its own Wild, Wilder West. Tainted algorithms, tainted e-bike KOMs, tainted taints. But as long as the e-wankers show up on the Donut and ride anywhere besides the very back, they will be spoken to. Not sweetly.

  • darelldd says:

    Hi. My name is Darell. And I ride an pedal-assist e-bike. Every day. To get to meetings and to complete my daily errands efficiently, the way most Americans would use a car.

    There are people who simply “hate” e-bikes. Generally, these are people who rarely if ever use cycling for transportation (meaning the bike is used only for recreation and/or racing, so e-bikes make no sense and are the enemy of all that is pure and true… to the *sport* of cycling. They should be banned from the world). Obviously this blog isn’t about that.

    And then you have some e-bike folks who think that e-bikes belong everywhere a bicycle belongs, even when it is *clearly* the wrong tool for the job. And that’s where this message appropriately went.

    It is unfortunate when people see only black and white… and claim that e-bikes are perfect for everything, or terrible for everything. Because just like every other mode of transportation available to us, an e-bike is *fantastic* for what it does best (hint: It isn’t participating in any human-powered race-ride).

    Nobody will ever see my e-bike on any even remotely competitive ride, any more than you’d see me take a beach cruiser to the same. Yet when I’m on my e-bike doing errands, I sure see a lot of these cycling purists driving cars to cover a few miles….

    • fsethd says:

      Thankfully, that world-infamous blog Cycling in the South Bay has written extensively about the benefits of e-bikes. And you forgot to mention the cyclists who drive an hour to ride an hour.

      • darelldd says:

        Oh, I “forgot” to mention a bunch of stuff when I realized that my comment was becoming an essay! Don’t encourage me.

        I’ll track down that blog owner one of these days and bake him some bread.

        In the minds of too many people, bikes = recreation/entertainment, and cars = transportation. With zero crossover (again, only in the mind). Driving to dinner or the beach, or a movie is apparently “transportation,” where riding my bike to a meeting is recreation.

        There is at least one member of our club who has stated (literally) that the *point* of cycling is exercise, so why would anybody want e-assist that takes away from the workout? Never-mind the part where said member rides an uber-light and -expensive 100%, all-carbon bike for his big workouts. (and never-mind that I ride my 60-pound e-bike several times per week UN-powered, when I’m in no hurry.)

        Everybody in a car, of course, is in a hurry.

        Thanks for the great post, Wanky.

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