Two years ago I started writing an article called “Why do they hate us ? Ebikes vs Bikers” but I never finished it. Several weeks ago I stumbled across this article on Singletracks.com entitled “Ebikes are the spawn of Satan, mostly“. The article is extremely divisive and I finally decided it was about time that I wrote some kind of response to all the ebike haters out there. As an ebike promoter I’ve been subject to a nearly never-ending stream of internet negativity, including insults, harassment and several death threats. This article will explain in as few words as I can possibly muster why this attitude is total BS, and if you actually care about the environment and the future of humanity then there really is only one position to take when it comes to ebikes.
It’s all about climate change
There are climate deniers out there still, but they are just disillusioned people living in serious denial about the severity of the issue. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the weather is getting nastier every single year, I mean how bad does it have to get before the public and our beloved pussy-grabber-in-chief wake up and smell the coffee? An electric bike takes thousands of times less energy to cart your fat ass around town than your giant steel automobile, truck or SUV. That energy can be easily gotten from the sun for absolutely free and will not contribute at all to existing greenhouse gasses. Anyone who fights against ebike access fights is firmly on the side of climate deniers and the ignorant huddled masses of ‘Merika’.
The whole ebike argument is based around the definition of : What is a bicycle?
Although it seems like a straightforward idea that a bicycle with a motor on it should be considered an ebike the Federal law HR 727 defines an ebike as a bicycle with an electric motor that goes less than 20mph with a 170lb person and puts out less than 750 Watts. It then goes on to say that any ebike with those specs can basically have the same access that any non-motorized bicycle has access unless the local laws specifically say otherwise. This muddying of the waters on what it means to be an ebike, is where a lot of the confusion about the legality of e-bikes comes from. It’s easy to say that anything with a motor on it is a ‘motorized vehicle’, but the laws may be different in your area.
I live near a state park that brings 50-100 mountain bikers any sunny warm day in from all over central NY. I’ve only seen a DEC ranger in the woods twice in the 17 years I’ve lived there, and I’ve been in the woods almost every day. This means that the enforcing of the laws is basically left up to the public, so you have MTB riders policing themselves. The system works pretty well, and so everyone leaves it alone. I would bet that most single track trail riding spots around the world are the same way with riders policing themselves. My hope is that states will adopt common sense laws about ebikes like California did last year, that will create more clarity about ebikes where before there was only confusion.
Electric Cars just suck for urban transportation, ebikes make way more sense
Electric cars are designed for a market which has little or no interest in them, which is the main reason they have had a very slow adoption. Historically they have been built with limited range (<75miles Tesla excluded) and intended to be bought by city dwellers. The problem is that a large percentage of city dwellers RENT their apartments or homes, and even those with homes often do not have off street parking or garages. If you have no place to charge your car then you’re not even going to consider buying an electric car.
By comparison an ebike is pretty tiny and most people can carry them into their apt even if their apt is in the basement or on the second floor. If you hang it by one wheel from the ceiling it takes up about 2 square feet of floor space. When compared with an electric car, an ebike is a great solution to the urban ‘transportation problem’. As soon as people living in big cities start to figure this out, the US market will explode just like the Chinese and European markets already have.
Want to ride in the snow? It’s get an electric motor or just find another winter sport
About three years ago I completed my first ebike build of an electric fatbike. I was so excited and having so much fun riding it every day in the deep snow that I decided to take it to the nearest city (Syracuse, NY) for a big Fatbike race event. I contacted the woman running the event and explained that I wasn’t selling anything I just had built this really cool electric fatbike and wanted to give other people a chance to ride it. I decided to stop by after the race event was over, but the reception that I received was nothing at all what I expected.
The event was being held on a day that was unseasonably warm which meant that the racing track had essentially turned into a giant slushie. I brought out the electric bike and showed it to a couple of people who were drinking. They weren’t interested in it and turned their backs to me and continued drinking their beers. I showed it to some other people who had the same sort of reaction “Motor on a fatbike, why would you want to do that?” I gave up and just hopped on the bike and started riding around.
As I was running the track at a decent clip other people were struggling just to get moving and a woman came barreling down the trail and wiped out at my feet. She seemed really friendly and had a very expensive carbon fiber fat bike. She seemed interested in the electric fatbike so she took it for a spin. She really loved it so her boyfriend tried it out too and he was really impressed. Both of them said a lot of nice things and then rode off. I talked to several other people that day and none of them had any interest in trying the bike or really interacting with me at all. What I realized later was that people just didn’t want to associate with someone who puts any kind of motor on a fatbike. Sucks to be them because where I live 80% of the time in the winter it just sucks riding fatbikes as there is no grooming and you are severely limited by the depth and consistency of the snow. Slogging along with a non powered fatbike at <5 mph is just not my idea of fun.
- Fatbiking in the snow without a motor : 95% slogging 5% fun
- Single track on dirt without a motor : 50% slogging 50% fun
- Riding singletrack in snow or dirt with a small electric motor : 5% slogging 95% fun
Cycling as a religion
People just need something to believe in. I’ve been obsessed with plenty of sports in my time, Whitewater Kayaking, Skiing, Skateboarding, Snowboarding, Kiting, Skydiving & Mountain Unicycling just to name a few. Everyone in their sport thinks that everyone who does some other sport is going to mess up their good time. I heard it time and again with the windsurfers when water based kiting first went mainstream at the turn of the century. Did any of the horrible stuff that the windsurfers were convinced would happen ever come to pass? Not really. It’s the same thing with Mountain Bikers. They are convinced that eMTB on their trails is going to lead to serious trail erosion and access issues when independent studies by IMBA have shown no connection at all for legal (<750 Watts) ebikes and trail erosion. I find the irony troubling when mountain bikers use the exact same arguments (safety, erosion, access) that are most commonly used against them by other trail users to prevent their access.
Maybe if everyone just takes a deep breath and steps back we can see that a few eMTBs on the trails is not going to be the huge problem it’s being made out to be. When you make broad sweeping claims like ‘These Satan-Spawn Contraptions will Destroy the Soul of Mountain Biking‘ you end up sounding like a religious zealot on your own personal jihad against ebikes. I’ve ridden intermediate MTB trails for 15 years almost every day and eMTB for the last 3 years every winter and I can say with some certainty that whether you’re using a motor or not MTB and eMTB is fundamentally the exact same experience. With an eMTB you can decide how much exercise you want to get in your session, 9 months out of the year I prefer MTB as if I get too fat and lazy then my wife has promised that she won’t make love to me anymore.
eMTB’s as a gateway drug
My 69 year old friend Eric (from Shred Till You’re Dead) who learned to ride last year finally broke down and bought his first non-motorized bike (a $6000 retail Transition full suspension). Although he was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with my on his first ride without a motor, he did great. All the training on his KHS 3000 electric fat-bike prepared him for having to actually push pedals with me without a motor. I’m not even going to bring up the argument that ebikes allow handicapped people access to singletrack trails because I feel like that argument is overused and just not really appropriate. I will argue that as you get old and less fit an eMTB will allow you to ride at the same level that you’ve always ridden even though you can’t put out the raw power that you once could.
The Internet and Trolls
There are so many people on the internet that will say stuff to you online that they would never ever say to your face. Cowards behind keyboards that are profoundly unhappy with their own lives. If you are centered and have peace in your heart then there is nothing that they can say or do that can affect you. Anger is like a toxic poison, but it doesn’t affect the person that it’s directed at unless you let it. More often it consumes the hater, making them unpleasant to be around and karmically indebted to the universe. The best practice when someone talks shit on the Internet to you is to imagine how miserable their life probably is if they are taking the time and energy to lambast you and try to offer some compassion instead of just reacting. I’ve had people say the craziest stuff to me on the internet, but I just chalk it up to temporary insanity caused by too much time on the computer, which happens to all of us. Get away from the screen and get out and ride.
Ebikes really can be dangerous
Many people (myself included) find the power of ebikes incredibly addicting. The nice thing with ebikes is that you can easily build an ebike that will put out 5,000 watts, but then just run it at 750 Watts. When I ride my 2500 Watt Ludicrous motor fatbikes I rarely go over 750 Watts unless the snow is really deep. When I need the power its great to have it, but unlike internal combustion engines being able to move more watts through your setup does not necessarily mean that your motor or battery has to be that much bigger or heavier. Matthew Petzel recently was killed in an automobile collision (donate to his family here) and I’m not going to argue that ebikes are not more dangerous than regular bicycles because I think that they absolutely are.
In the Netherlands where almost everyone bicycles during the last 3 years there were 79 people killed on ebikes and 87% were over the age of 60. If you’re willing to accept the risks associated with riding an ebike in traffic, then you should totally be free to do so. Personally I’ve been hit 3 times by cars while on a bike, twice it was hit and run and both times with the hit and run I ended up in the hospital. I feel much safer in the woods where all I have to worry about is the other riders and the trees. In the last 3 years I’ve only had one near collision in the woods and that was with someone riding down a trail at over 30mph on a normal MTB and I was going up the hill at about 10 mph. Even if I was walking there would have been a near collision because this guy was just riding way too fast and completely out of control. If you ride an ebike in the woods, then I implore you to ride with some common sense and don’t go screaming up or down hills in the woods at high rates of speed.
Ebikes are just plain awesome to ride
I’ve met a lot of haters over the last several years. There is one thing that always changes people’s hearts and minds : get them on an ebike. It can be hard to loan your ebike to someone who treats you like they would like to skewer you and roast you over an open flame, but I assure you that friendship and courteousness is the best weapon against ignorance and hatred. Once the haters get a chance to actually try what they have been hating on, often they realize that it’s not all that bad and sometimes they will even *gasp* have a good time. Ebikes are really fun to ride and allow you to shred in conditions like deep sand and snow that otherwise you would just never be able to ride in. If you can do it safely, without hurting anyone else and help save the planet at the same time, what’s not to like?
Can’t we all just get along?