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?
24 thoughts on “Ebikes Are Not The Spawn Of Satan : Better Get Used To Us, Soon We Will Be Everywhere”
Emile’s For and older man of 58 where the legs heart and sweat factor hinder me to commute to work …Workes for Me
All you are saying is garbage.
At 65 my knees were starting to get the better of me. I’d just about accepted the fact my cycling days were just about over. (We got a lot of hills in CO.) Then, I stumbled across Luna Cycle and the next thing I knew, I was riding a converted hybrid and loving it. Riding responsibly, I’ve had no issues or run-ins. I think, the overall riding etiquette of the e-bike community will determine how and what future regulations will be implemented. I know e-bikes are the new kid on the block; but you might as well get over it, they’re not going away any time soon.
Pedaling people that think its their world and your just living in it, but whine constant about no infrastructure or bike ways are close minded loosers. It will take all pedals in usa to have a chance at infrastructure. So get your brain working or have nothing 10 years from now.
I live in the over regulated nanny state of Australia, for a country with the tough guy reputation everything will kill you here sorta thing, we have the most restricted European girly girl (please don’t hit me ladies) laws that cripple an ebike into a toy. So like everyone here who ebikes I de-regulated and built a truly frightening speed demon of a ebike and used most of your ideas (Karl) like using steel cassettes etc to make my ebike robust and last a long time, thanks for the advice. They really silly thing is that everyone here who rides an ebike the first time wants it deregulated, even Juiced bikes sell here but under our laws they are illegal because they are too powerful. My illegal ebike is ridden in a responsible way and is an expression against the Petrochemical Monopoly.
People don’t like change. But we need change, it is part of our evolution. On July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival and plugged in his electric guitar for what many consider to be the first time. The electric guitar was considered to be reckless and flashy during the time, and when Dylan went electric, many folk fans called him a sell-out. Now the electric guitar is standard in any type of band. Same thing is happening with bikes and ebikes.
Very good article Karl!
I own, ride and build traditional bikes and electrically assisted bikes which I like to call an evolved bicycle. We put electric motors on tooth brushes, garage doors, can openers and many other things. Putting an electric motor on a bicycle is simply brilliant. Just go ride one and then tell me I am wrong.
There is room in the general world for both kinds of bicycles, especially in the woods. Up here in the Pacific North West I am an avid hiker, camper, bike-packer and own kayaks too. For example while paddling in the silent glassy calm cool of the morning before breakfast with my coffee still warm. I hate, and I mean hate being buzzed by loud pollution spewing idiots in boats who think beating a fish to death with a hammer is a sport. But I would never say those people could not also enjoy the lake too, because it is public property and I am a guest there too. In the woods on two wheels, it is a majorly different thing experiencing a motorcycle and quite non-polluting eMBT traveling nearly at normal MTB speeds. The GD motorcycle starts wrecking your day 1/2 mile before he passes you and many hundreds of feet after he smokes up the air. Again I would not say motorcycles has to go either.
Ebikes are belong everywhere where bicycles are legal to ride! Riding an eMTB with Motocross bikes on motorized trails is dangerous and would be a real hassle to the motocross riders.
If Ebikes are the spawn of Satan then Satan must be a very talented electrical/mechanical engineer doing a big part to save the planet. I will only admit when I pass other rides on steep hills it does feel like there has to be some kind of sinning going on. But no one is perfect are we?
I love my two ebikes. I found an old original Ebike that my neighbor gave to me and rebuilt it. I found another Ebike frame and built an off-road bike.
Cube Reacton 500 with Bosch deregulated by “bad ass device” from Germany
Sold my Specialized Roubaix and Giant Perigee
Never look back
Carry a spare battery gives 100mile range
Age 73 and looking at 80 on an “e-volved bike”
Agreed, they are NOT going away anytime soon, and things will all shake out in the end. I’m reminded of snowboarding “being the end of skiing, and ruining the hill!” I am lucky enough to do the majority of my riding here in Idaho away from the local popular mtb trails, but when I do, I ride at similar speeds (or slower) and no one has a problem. The motor guys I meet (few) on the other trails are uniformly also no problem, it seems to be ONLY on the internet there is a so called problem. So, I quite butting heads there, trying to convince others they were a good thing, best thing I ever did! The main thing I do is ride a lot, in town and elsewhere, and turn people onto to how cool they are.
I sometimes fail to make the point though, that mine are also being recharged using solar, wind, and hydro power (I have all three, grid tied), as I take it for granted. Calling my rides “solar powered” does get someone’s attention though, I need to do it more. So, ride a lot, be safe and courteous to other’s, and let the naysayers suck wind.
The battery of Luna ebike looks like not good fit.. Do you see?
At one point, I decided to never own a car and commute to work on an ebike. With the money that I would have spent on a car, I built exactly the ebike I wanted for my commute. The result is no parking grief, gobs of money saved, and a very fun commute. How many other people look forward to the ride to and from work?
In addition to the riding fun, repair and maintenance of ebikes are a fun and challenging hobby.
There are fundamental and misleading arguments on both sides of the eBike issue —including this one—that willl continue to divide the bicycle community which, if anybody is paying attention, is really less a community than an assortment of bickering feudal states. “Roadies” versus “mountain bikers” anybody? Too nuanced? How about everybody versus “recumbents,” in which the primary contention seems to be how one sits on a bike? Even those that ostensibly fly the same flag —racing roadies—are full of spleen and vitriol when it comes to the topic of disc brakes. We all, emphatically, do not just get along.
So let’s agree on this, if we can: many different kinds of bikes. Many different kinds of bikers. Many different agendas, often competing.
Next: each one of our feudal kingdoms is going to have a different set of issues on the topic of ebikes. Some will drop their drawbridges and welcome ebikes. Others will heat boiling cauldrons of chain oil and fight eBike encroachment every assisted pedal stroke of the way.
Two examples, one pro and one con.
City bikers: Commuters. Errand runners. Kid haulers. Grocery getters. Swap the SUV for an eBike? Sure. Makes all kinds of sense. Cheaper, easier to park, less polluting, less wear and tear on roads, yada yada. Plug us in.
Mountain bikers. Not so simple. The crux of the problem is trail access to public lands, and as an issue this one, which you pointed out, has all the clarity and suck of a mud bog. Who gets access to where on what?
While HR 727 does not designate ebikes under 750 watts as motor vehicles, non e-mountain bikers will point out—logically—that if it’s got a motor it’s a motor vehicle, and thus falls under the state-level jurisdictions regarding trail access. And enforcement.
Didn’t you mention that its easy to build an eBike that puts out 5,000 watts? And didn’t you also mention all that electric power is—shocker—addictive? Now, how many DEC rangers did you say you’ve seen in the woods in the last 17 years? Two was it? So how realistic is it to think that our budget strapped communities are going to equip thousands of rangers with eticket books—like off-road highway patrol officers—to stop ebikes on trails to check that their output is pegged at the Federally-mandated 750 watts? Option B: How realistic is it assume they’ll just ban anything with a motor instead? Or worse, all bikes instead?
I know which way I’m betting.
So ebikers can make all the pronouncements they want, but until you can unify the feudal system of bicycle enthusiasts unites behind a common goal, or the Government paves over its legislative mud bog, in this country ebikes probably aren’t going to very far very fast. At least not off road.
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@chilican – You have some interesting points and I don’t necessarily disagree. However, there are many reasons each sub-group of bikers need to get over their own personal agenda and embrace all the other sub-genres.
Example one: I live in an area that is divided by a river. There are only a few bridges for many miles. These bridges are controlled by a “public benefit organization” which decides on tolls and bridge access. All the bridges have a pedestrian/bike walkway. But they close these walkways at an obscenely early time – like right at sunset, and then don’t open them until well into the commute time the next morning. And riding on the roadway is illegal – ebike or otherwise. It would take a huge effort to legislate access for all during all hours. And that requires everyone cooperating toward a common goal. Pedestrians included.
Example two: as an avid hiker I do not particularly care to share trails with either bikes or horses. However, I’d like both the MTB and equestrian communities on my side when it comes to getting additional access to lands. Or closing off little or unused roadways.
I don’t really understand the animosity some in the MTB community have for eMTB. It seems silly. An eMTB is not an ATV or dirt bike, doesn’t make noise, and uses the trail in the same way as a conventional MTB. There are purists that say “it’s cheating” or “too easy” on an eMTB. So to take that a step farther; then why have gears at all? Or brakes? Suck it up and MTB on a fixie. Or walk.
Personally, I don’t want to be any part of any group or club. And maybe that’s how a lot of bikers feel. Which is why it’s so easy to disparage another group of bikers. But when it comes to legislation we all do need to come together.
“So how realistic is it to think that our budget strapped communities are going to equip thousands of rangers with eticket books—like off-road highway patrol officers—to stop ebikes on trails to check that their output is pegged at the Federally-mandated 750 watts?”
Not realistic and also not needed. The assumption built into this question is that we need laws and we need enforcement. Neither of these things has been justified.
FYI, ebikes are NOT “Federally-mandated” to 750 watts.
“non e-mountain bikers will point out—logically—that if it’s got a motor it’s a motor vehicle”
Logical, perhaps, but wrong. The term “motor vehicle” has a specific definition that e-bikes usually don’t meet. These “non e-mountain bikers” get around this by using the term “motorized vehicle” which displays their intentional dishonesty in the matter.
“So ebikers can make all the pronouncements they want, but until you can unify the feudal system of bicycle enthusiasts unites behind a common goal…”
Built into this statement is the assumption that it is up to ebikers to get along with existing groups who wrongly wage war with them, frequently dominating local political discussion to prevent others access to privileges they enjoy. How quickly they’ve forgotten that it was them on the wrong side of that issue not long ago.
Public lands are for public use. The problem is that certain interest groups, once they’ve obtained a privilege, actively seek to prevent others from gaining the same privilege. There is no reason why bike trails shouldn’t, instead, be for the exclusive use of ebikers and non-assisted bikes should be banned. It makes just as much sense. The problem is simply that people think and act selfishly, including cyclists. People need to get over themselves.
Global Warming. You could probably stop there.
The country has real problems. A middle class income increasingly buys nothing we would associate with an American lifestyle. Rent a one bedroom in a complex in LA, and it’s $2200 a month. Target wants to up the base pay to $15 per hour, but how many of those jobs do you need to cover that rent payment?
So ebikes could work for people, but the people may end up living in vans. I think Court Rye lives in a Prius, which is to his credit, but is also a little scary. I bought a Promaster City van, which isn’t a lot of money. (It’s made by Fiat, in Turkey, so what could go wrong?) I can see how you set it up as a ‘home’, but I’m not aiming for more than weeks. Some people in cities are going to end up in something like #vanlife. People who do it say “Yeah, it’s not great, but that extra $1500 a month comes in handy”. Or maybe they don’t work themselves to death. Can people afford the current housing and, moving down, transportation? The answer is “No”. More extreme weather won’t help.
My gripe with the ebike industry is that it is all too upscale. Sell your $4k ebikes, but don’t be shocked when Yamaha or some Chinese company makes a $3k motorcycle, city speeds, that blows your ebike out of the water as transportation. It’s hard to predict where ebikes end up, in the scheme of things. They are the better rec bike, but that’s often a ‘toy’ function. They are great for real rehab. I got better from a serious illness because I had an ebike. For transportation, you need bike infrastructure or you need a street vehicle. I don’t see the current political situation as helpful to bike infrastructure. In the end you are going to be selling a lot of whatever is selling to people with very marginal incomes.
Maybe the vision of America, 2025, is a van with a Sondors hanging off the back.
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just to add to what you were saying about global warming, the dire reality is that contrary to the oil and car corporation owned IPCC, which propagates the meme we still have a significant carbon budget to remain under 2 degrees warming, what we actually have is zero carbon budget for 3 degrees guaranteed warming! this is due to three known, but generally ignored factors; the 30 year systemic lag, masking from global dimming, and multiple positive feedback accelerators. the IPCC are forced to leave these powerful, game changing factors out because they are politically inconvenient and bad for business, but added up they could easily amount to over 1.5c warming or more. as we have 1.5c already, thats 3c. with the best will in the world its unlikely any reductions to c02 output will be made in the next 10 years. it may even double with all the dirty coal being burnt and forest fires etc. so what will we be guaranteed by mid century. surely less than 4c warming is incredibly unlikely. the IPCC is clearly delusional at best, and criminally negligent at worst in suggesting we have a carbon budget to play with in any shape or form. we actually have a negative budget, ie we have gone way over budget already for 2 degrees given the factors they ignore. and 2c is now considered extremely dangerous anyway. a lot of scientists are now saying 1.5c might well prove fatal, mixed as it is with peak oil economic collapse and overpopulation.
so in the light of the above, anyone complaining about ebikes needs to get their priorities right. trivial qualms about speeding or damage to bike paths etc are simply swamped by the practicalities of stopping global warming. due to their relatively miniscule energy requirements, ebikes and mopeds are obviously a scaleably sustainable replacement for cars in the way ecars simply can never be.
Another great thing about ebikes is that if you’re out for the day on a long trip, you can take as much weight as you like. I often go off road in the middle of nowhere and am able to take tools, plenty of food and drink, my camera and anything else I need. You couldn’t do this easily with a normal bike. Sometimes you’re following a trail and find that the local farmer has ploughed over it. This happened to me the other day. Suddenly I had to cross a big field with knee high grass. I just stood up on the pedals and rode across using the throttle, then picked up the trail on the other side. You would have really struggled to get across on an unassisted bike.
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I was reading another article of yours where you said that you will not ride a motorcycle because of how dangerous it is and in another article you said that the 3 wheeled encapsulated cars are also dangerous. I understand your frustration and if someone like you will not ride a 2/3 wheeler on the streets, what hope is there in making it common place in USA?
I’m hoping in the future that bikes and encapsulated trikes will become abundant. I think cars like the Solo Electra Mechanica and Fiat 500e are a step in the right direction.
2/3 wheelers are dangerous. But do you know what is even more dangerous? A 3500+ pound vehicle engineered to not care if it is struck.
Our entire vehicle fleet needs to go on a diet. More people would actually consider riding a motorcycle in the streets if it was full of cars like Mini Coopers, Miatas, Fortwos and Fiat 500s. It’ll be a self-feeding cycle.
How does the government enact such a change in culture? Enacting a special sales tax or registration fee that is calculated on the weight of the car is the best option. Use that tax money to make special bike lanes or use it to make green spaces that promote pedestrian foot traffic.