Thursday, August 06, 2015

You all knew it was coming: the E-bike rant

Human power!
Nobody has actually ever pulled the trigger on having me build an electric-assist bike, but I imagine sooner or later it'll happen (despite the amount of weird stuff I do, I'll probably say no). There's a lot of controversy about the whole concept right now as the bikes get better and more capable and start (you'll see one in the next year or two, trust me) on trails, whether legally or not.

I'll say up front that I'm against motorized devices in the woods in general (though I used to race enduros on my trusty KTM). The impacts on other users and the terrain tend to be pretty high and there's an unfortunate tendency for some moto/quad folks to act like buffoons in the outdoors (ie, trash everywhere, shooting and leaving spent brass all over, requiring rescues because of their poor judgement and refusal to wear helmets, riding/driving drunk, etc).

E-bikes, on their faces, are a bit different. They are mostly pedal-assist - so the motor just adds some power when you are already pedaling. They're much lighter than a dirtbike and they use conventional mountain bike/hybrid parts and tires.

Obviously marketed to old folks!
The most commonly cited argument for letting e-bikes on trails is that it'll open up access to a variety of potential user groups who otherwise couldn't ride bikes - elderly or infirm folks who aren't fit enough to pedal up a decent hill are commonly cited examples. The "you just aren't thinking of grandpa" argument, though, is ridiculous to me. How many folks who are too feeble to pedal a bike are simultaneously fit and capable enough to steer and handle said bike? Almost none, I'd wager.

Furthermore, if you're that far gone (and yes, I'm aware that someday I'll be in the same boat) I have a hard time believing you could have even a minor crash on your e-bike without ending up in the hospital. There aren't a lot of folks in the world with wasted stick legs and muscular upper bodies who would be able to actually use these things.

No, e-bikes are basically aimed at lazy people. And I say screw that - if you're too lazy to get in shape to ride, do something else. If you're too feeble to ride, you have my sympathies, but you really don't need to ride your e-bike on trails if you value your own health or our trail access. E-bikes are motorcycles - and while I love the idea of electric MX bikes, I don't want motos on my mountain bike trails if they're gas, electric, or mutant hamster powered.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

So grandpa wants to do some donuts in the tundra on his E-bike after he's thrown back a few, plunked reindeer, and loaded the bike onto his 690 Adventure to head back to the trailer. Lighten up! Though it does seem adolescent masturbation training would be far less labor intensive and far more environmentally friendly.

Anonymous said...

A good friend of mine just came back from the national Specialized (yes, I know, the big ugly S) dealer meeting in California. During test riding he and a friend pushed some non-E bikes through their paces up the hill. Next thing that happens is that an E-bike (remember, going UPhill) catches some air of a little bump in the trail and jumps between the two of them missing each of them by a foot or so.

The rider of said Ebike was another Specialized dealer (and presumably a regular mountain biker) who was turned into a complete douche by an Ebike. Imagine such an Ebike in the hands of non mountain bikers...

Felix

PS: Walt, the Wombat(Walt)works bike we built still feels like flying!

Giff Holmquist said...

Walt, the use I really see for these is the Shimano Steps system for folks like my kiddo who have special needs. My son LOVES to ride bikes, but can't always keep up and definitely doesn't understand gears. the combination of electric assist with easy/automatic shifting means that he could even ride road bikes with me, something I never thought I'd ever see.

Walt said...

I don't have a problem with using power assist on the road - heck, there are cars on the road! And you could talk me into bike path stuff too, maybe. But not on singletrack.

Offroad tandems are a great way to hit the singletrack with your kids, no extra motor or ability to shift (on the part of the stoker anyway) required.

eddie said...

I can't wait to get my new S-works E-MTB and blow away all of the dirt Strava KOMs on the front range!!

Rob Robideau said...

I know it's an unusual use case, but I can't help thinking this would be perfect for Martyn Ashton

Anonymous said...

Rob, the guy can't pedal... how would an e-bike be of any use for him ?? I think what he needs is something looking more like a motorbike (or e-motorbike if that even exists)

Rob Robideau said...

I'm not saying that he couldn't learn to use a motorcycle, but the e-bike is much smaller and closer to what he has been using and riding all his life. Plus, an accident on a motorbike is normally a much bigger deal than on a smaller MTB.

Tony said...

I for one, think this is a very well reasoned and written post, and I couldn't agree more. It echoes my sentiments exactly.

I've been fuming since the co-founder of the IMBA (Michael Kelly) came out in favor of E-Bikes on trails. Even the IMBA itself seems to take a pretty positive view for my taste.

I mean, can you imagine seeing the 25K Trifecta DRT rolling down your local trail at you? Sure it has pedals, but it's ridiculous.
Gizmag Trefecta DRT first look

Tony said...

I for one, think this is a very well reasoned and written post, and I couldn't agree more. It echoes my sentiments exactly.

I've been fuming since the co-founder of the IMBA (Michael Kelly) came out in favor of E-Bikes on trails. Even the IMBA itself seems to take a pretty positive view for my taste.

I mean, can you imagine seeing the 25K Trifecta DRT rolling down your local trail at you? Sure it has pedals, but it's ridiculous.
Gizmag Trefecta DRT first look

Tony said...

...and while I'm talking about the Trifecta DRT, let's talk Mopeds. Remember Mopeds? They've been around since 1912!

Anyways, I've decided from now on to stop using the term "E-bike" and instead say "Electric Moped". Because that's what it is. And when the signs at the trailhead say "no motorized vehicles", that includes Mopeds, whether they have gas or electric motors!

mike said...

I came to the comments just to confirm my belief that Walt is not anti ebike on the street! Amen. Nothing lazy about going 45mph behind a FedEx truck!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww6Lb5e526Q

TTU alumni said...

I have no issues with ebikes anywhere. A bike is a bike, better for people to be out on those than not at all, and it very well could bridge them into standard bikes as their fitness and/or confidence improves! Inclusiveness is always a good thing when getting people out and moving in my eyes :)

Chris said...

Do people on regular bikes somehow earn the right to be jerks to other trail users by peddaling up hils themselves? Should we condemn suspension and 29ers and good tires as well because they all make it easier to ride so much faster?

I think the real problem is lrobably public trails and their susceptibility to the tragedy of the commons.

Tony said...

@TTU alumni -- ebikes aren't going to "bridge" in to *normal* bikes, they are going to bridge in to electric motorcycles as they get more powerful

@Chris -- by your logic we should definitely allow the FX Bikes FX5 on all mountain-bike trails because "do people on bikes somehow earn the right to be jerks to other trail users by peddling up themselves?!?"

Chris said...

@Tony

Yes, as long as they're ridden responsibly and there's nothing inherent in their operation that requires that they harass other trail users or damage trails, I'll happily tolerate them on the trails with me. Do you have an actual argument against them beyond your pearl-clutching?

Walt said...

Wow, we've got someone who will go for full-on motos on mountain bike/hiking trails?

Didn't think we'd get that far. How about ATVS? Bulldozers? I just want to get out in the woods, how dare you judge me!

Chris said...

@Walt,

Sure. Don't block the trails for other users or cause unreasonable damage and you can take a Bagger 288 for all I care. It's not what you ride, as far as I'm concerned, but how.

I could just as easily spook horses on my rigid single speed or trash a muddy section with my hiking boots. Would that be okay if SS machines and hikers were allowed on the trail?

Walt said...

Sure, but it's been extensively studied and motos do a TON of damage. Horses do a lot, and bikes do a little, and hikers do very little in some cases and a lot in others.

Motorized stuff was excluded from lots of places for an objective reason - everyone hates the noise and speed differential (true of bikes to a lesser extent, to be fair) and they *wreck* the trail surface because of their speed/weight.

You also really need to make a *positive* argument for why motorized stuff *should* be allowed - who will benefit, and how? An example is the "grandpa" argument that I was originally contesting.

Anonymous said...

Humans are also internal combustion and electrical (neural) motors. Bring on the legislators and lobbyists! Do mountain bikers feel threatened by E-bikes in the same way that hikers feel threatened by mountain bikers? Why not just put an electrical power and/or weight limit on bike trails except in licensed circumstances where the human motor has demonstrated itself ineffective? Corporations want to sell them & people want to buy them, so they are coming. With an upper power limit they shouldn't be any more damaging than mountain bikes. Environmental impact studies await. There should be speed limits on trails, but there are few fatalities and enforcement is difficult. I'm convinced that hikers on my local trails occasionally enforce limits by placing obstacles in the trail, in spots where reaction time is likely to be limited! E-bikers should expect no less.

Chris said...

@Walt,

Freedom *is* a positive argument in and of itself, but you should also be able to appreciate the lack of incentive to make quieter, lighter, slower motorized trail bikes, like, say, oh, I don't know, e-bikes, that comes from banning all motorized vehicles from trails. Further, why cite a study about how people use vehicles when the topic is clearly how people *can* use them? Further still, why don't your notions of how trails ought to be used include who ought to be paying for the damage caused? I already brought up the tragedy of the commons, and I think you ought actually to address that point this time 'round.

So, where's *your* positive argument saying the line you want to draw in the sand is anything but an arbitrary kludge to compensate for the lazy thinking done by you and the people who are regulate trail use? Right now you're on the level of, "I don't know how to do it, therefore it cannot be done," which is not an argumwnt.

Walt said...

If you can explain what you want addressed regarding the tragedy of the commons, I'd be happy to oblige. I'm not clear how that applies here, since if anything, banning destructive behavior/devices is a direct response to the tragedy of the commons problem. What good things would we get from allowing motorized vehicles on trails that are currently closed to them?

Maybe I don't understand your arguments here. "Freedom" never works as an argument unless the positive freedom you get outweighs my freedom *from* your behavior impacting me. In this case I think it's quite clear that heavy, loud, high-speed machines on nonmotorized trails would have a significant impact on other users. I rode and raced motos all over the western US for a decade and I can tell you how many hikers/bikers/equestrians feel they can share the trail with them... about zero. So I've been there, done that, been on both sides of the fence, and can say definitively that motos have a terrible impact on other users. On the other hand I see hikers and equestrians happily sharing my local trails with mountain bikers every day.

So it's not arbitrary at all, really. Motorized stuff is just very different in terms of impacts than nonmotorized stuff, just like bicycles are different than foot traffic (and in some places don't belong on the trail either).

Tony said...

What's happened here is that the conversation has shifted from talking specifically about Electric Mopeds, in to a conversation about whether motorcycles and 4-wheelers should be able to drive wherever they want, whenever they want. And then a lot of the argument in favor of letting everyone drive wherever they want, whenever they want is simply: "well why shouldn't I? Give me one good reason".

The thing about the "wherever, whenever" viewpoint is it's actually pretty extreme, and doesn't hold any water. It's not about "freedom" or other these other rhetorical words. The moto racers and 4x4ers that I know say, "man, I wouldn't want a bunch of mountain bikers trying to get past me when I'm rock climbing up some technical boulders in my Jeep". So, this has become an extreme argument now. There's no measure by which it's practical to have everyone share all the same trails, as Walt has enumerated in many ways above.

So anyway, returning to the original argument: the idea of having someone ride a power assisted bicycle, where it has a little motor in the seat tube that interfaces directly with some special BB, seems like it would be fine, and so the proposal of limiting the electric motors by size may hold some water. My problem with that is the idea of escalation in to electric motorcycles, because then you get back to the same problems with users of very different speeds sharing trails, and of quicker distraction of said trails.

Tony said...

....oh, and about the "human's are combustion engines" argument... talk about spurious. What do you think the maximum horsepower of a typical human is? Someone in really good shape MAY get 100 watts (uphill, on a mountain bike trail.... that would be A LOT). That's under 1/7th horsepower. I mean, a typical model airplane motor (MODEL airplane) generates 1 horsepower with about .40 cubic inches.

So, jump up to a "mere" 1 horsepower Electric Moped, and you've got eight people's horsepower in one device (if that's how you insist on looking at things).

Wikipedia entry on human power: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_power

Walt said...

I'm trying to decide if the "strip mine the trails" crowd are just undergrad libertarian trolls, or e-bike industry shills. I didn't think anyone would go that far, but apparently freedom to just do whatever the hell you want, anywhere you want, is a big deal to some folks, no matter the consequences?

I don't know any grownups that think that way who aren't already incarcerated, though, so hopefully we won't see these folks out on the trails!

Giff Holmquist said...

Here is an example of an eBike I think we can all agree on:

Martyn Ashton gets a new bike!

https://video.xx.fbcdn.net/hvideo-xft1/v/t43.1792-2/11729744_894123124001872_451867652_n.mp4?efg=eyJybHIiOjE1MDAsInJsYSI6MTAyNH0%3D&rl=1500&vabr=706&oh=92e4505da51b096a753e8b79eb8b07e8&oe=55CCB554

Anonymous said...

Electric bikes done right will have no more impact on trails than regular pedal bikes and allow one to ride much farther and cover more ground on the same amount of physical effort. Not just for lazy people but for riders/adventurers interested in going further and more efficiently, you can get just as much of a workout on an ebike as long as you pedal. Low wattage, power assist only ebikes should be allowed anywhere regular bikes are.