So, you know how it is, getting on a bit, you realize you’re lagging behind the rest of the bunch on rides, hill climb times are longer, average speed isn’t what it once was. That’s just life isn’t it? Or is it? What if there were some way to keep up with the others? Some way to ride the harder climbs as before… Or, maybe even faster than before. What if there were a way to do that, would it feel legitimate in one’s mind? Or would it seem as if we were just engaging in a form of cheating? And I don’t mean cheating the stats or mechanical doping. I mean cheating our self out of something? That’s what I want to ask here!
Hello, Dear Reader, it’s great to have you here, welcome along to some open thoughts and questions from an averagely fit 50+ cyclist considering how things might be switching to a road e-bike. Do you have your own thoughts on the matter? As a cyclist, I’m sure you do. Please consider sharing your view in the comments, or over on CyclingQuestions YouTube channel (click to subscribe for all the content. The vid to accompany this article is linked below.
A here-today-gone-tomorrow fad, or…?
So I’ve been looking into the merits of e-bikes or more specifically electric road bikes. At the time of writing, I think most of the decent ones are still a bit out of my price range, but as I’ve been monitoring things, that figure seems to be dropping with a gain popularity. Is it just a flash-in-the-pan fad? It’s hard to say with so many bike trends coming and going quickly, some leaving an impression and some not so much. Certainly it seems the marketeers and retailers are bankrolling the trend so it seems electric bikes are being pushed as part of the cycling agenda.
Lifelong cyclist > e-biker (not driver > e-biker)
Purely for this article, I’m looking at how it might be switching from a standard leg-power only bicycle to an e-bike. I can certainly appreciate the health advantages both for folk themselves and clean-air advantages for the environment when drivers get out of their vehicles and onto electric bikes. I think that’s a complete no-brainer. If that’s you, I totally applaud you. One less car or vehicle is always a good thing for us all on the planet! So well done indeed for making the change! I think as a means of transport, any kind of bike outweighs motorized counterparts significantly.
However, that’s not what I want to look at here. As a lifelong cyclist myself, for simple outdoor enjoyable recreation and for health benefits, I’m interested in exploring here what might differ were I – or any of you road cyclists out there in the same position – to switch over to electrically-assisted bikes.
I’m a big ol’ marketing soft sell!
Having looked around at a bunch of the e-bike advertising, I think had I the spare cash, I’d probably be an easy sell for an electric road bike – a warm lead isn’t that what the sales term might be? 😮 But the marketing surrounding electric bikes says it all…
Just as one example (and note I’m not affiliated to anybody or anything) but Ribble Cycles, who, in my opinion, happen to have one of the nicest road e-bikes out there at the minute, suggest of their SLe electric road bike that “Whatever your level of riding the SLe will give you a significant performance boost to get you over previously unimaginable mountain passes, keep up on hilly group rides and smash the ride that took you way outside your comfort zone.” Now, I have to admit, I’m not at all averse to that picture they’ve painted there! I can see myself tackling local hills on a road e-bike that – while I might be conquering them, I’m doing so at the expense of ride duration. It’d be a nice idea to ride hills at a decent rate and also have some remaining energy levels in my legs to continue on a longer ride too.
Orbea are another brand I’ve noted with respect to road e-bikes. I reckon at the time of writing, the Orbea Gain wins the most-like-a-normal-road-bike e-bike award. They’ve pre-empted some of my own concerns here, and maybe so too yours, with their language. Get this, it’s carefully worded to allay the kinds of issues someone like me, or yourself, an existing road cyclist, might have. They say of their Gain range… “Gain was designed to enhance your ride, not dominate it” Clever, eh? You can see they’ve thought about possible objections, right? They say: “Gain embraces your sweat and hard work and works in unison with your efforts to tick off the kilometers. System interfaces are modern, integrated and sleek. There are no bulky components to reduce the riding experience, distractions have been minimized so it’s just you, Gain and the hours ahead.” Okay maybe touching on the twee, but they’ve put in the effort to mitigate against potentially die hard, a bike ought to be a bike old farts like me haha.
For me, one issue is the high price. I’m not saying they’re over-priced in general, no. Though some of the extreme high-end models (I’m thinking the £6K Nytro from Pinarello) possibly are. So not necessarily over-priced, just out of my own range. Then again, I’m probably not the target demographic as I’m happily counting off the miles on my bottom of the range Specialized Allez. I have no complaints with it either beyond the bottom of the range groupset as I mentioned in the accompanying vid for my minimum price for a beginner road bike article here a while ago. I can’t envision exactly what way the manufacturers are setting out the market for road versions of electric bikes. I hope they’re not planning some kind of wealthiest-only target demographic. I don’t believe so – there’d be too much revenue missed in bypassing ol’ cheapskates like me haha 🙂
My biggest personal issue with the idea of a road e-bike
The thing is, my opinion is somewhat speculative because I haven’t had the chance to even try one. But I suspect I’d like it a lot. I think, quite frankly, it’d be a huge amount of fun. Like who doesn’t want to go faster on the flat or uphill if they had the chance? Personally I believe I’d get to ride stuff I wouldn’t normally ride at speeds I wouldn’t normally be able to ride at.
But you see, therein lies my quandry. Who is it that’s actually achieved that climb? Me or the bike? Yes, I’m always going to have to pedal – these bikes are pedal assist after all. And I know there’s a weight penalty and I’ve read about motor drag when pedalling too. So it’s not all the bike, I get that. But with up to an extra 250W on tap (and in some cases up to 750W with extra batteries) a substantial proportion of any assisted ride wouldn’t be me. Am I wrong about that? I’m a novice when it comes to the tech so I don’t know for sure. Any thoughts enlightening me welcome! 🙂
And here’s the thing: for me it’s not a major disadvantage that I struggle on climbs. Oddly maybe – though I don’t believe I’m alone in this – but actually that’s the whole thing of it. I like cycling because I struggle, but I persist. And I make it to the top. I have the assurance in cycling that translates over to life in general that I’ll always get there in the end. I’ll never be the fastest but for me that’s not the point. I make it. And more importantly, I make it under my own steam.
When I’m at the top, I congratulate myself. Well done man, you made it, be proud 🙂 Would I feel the same on a road e-bike? Well done man, you made it… Though actually, at best it was what you might euphemistically call “a team effort”. The big question for me is: would I be thanking the bike for getting me there? I think I might have the lingering question of which agency took the lion’s share of the effort, me or the bike? I’m not a data-rider so I’ve no notion what my power output on a decent climb might be, but a free 250W sounds like a sizeable amount, no?
That’s just the wrong way to look at e-bikes is it not?
Maybe. But if I had the option to just lighten that load, like the ol’ sticky bottles we see in the major cycling tours 😉 #winks, I suspect I may take that option. An electric pedal-assisted road bike would almost be too much of a temptation not to take the helping hand.
Here’s the rub. For me personally and within my work as a counsellor, I find we’re all driven by a goal-setting > goal-achievement > reward cycle. We don’t even have to explicitly set goals though as I’ve mentioned many times before here, reasonable goals, recognising success in achieving those goals, and rewarding our success, are key factors in maintaining motivation.
This works both ways too. One of the nine markers in diagnosing major depressive disorder (per the DSM-5) is a markedly diminished interest or pleasure in activities most of the day. You can appreciate how, from this, one of the most commonly observed traits in folk under the symptoms of depression as I mentioned in my previous series on a CBT-based cycling plan for depression is that with symptoms of depression often we experience a complete lack of achievement and success. And the less success we feel, the less of anything we’re inclined to do. Because we’ve no motivation to. And that means the feeling of success gradually, via this negative cycle, slips away from us. And alas, that leaves us in a very low place indeed. Potentially the lowest place. The protocol for breaking free of this is to simply activate our selves. And we do this necessarily with very small easily-achievable goals (such as riding our bike!) This gives us a gentle sense of achievement that we can build upon to both brighten our mood (which exercise is proven to do) and further grow our motivation to do more and to gradually gain back our missing sense of success.
What’s that got to do with the road e-bike?
Well for me, it goes back to riding my bike up a hefty climb. Or seeing improvements in my speed over a flat section. Maybe this applies to you too. But I know who’s done that effort. It’s me who deserves self-recognition for achieving that success, nobody else did that except me. I did it, I deserve the acknowledgement of that success (even though it’ll only be me who acknowledges it – man you better believe I always do! haha) but it’s me who earned the reward.
Conversely, on an electric road bike, at best I can convince myself that at least I had a hand in it. At best it was a team effort. The team (me + the bike) did well. And I guess maybe that’s good enough for some, many or most of you out there, Dear Readers. And I have no beef with that, nor axe to grind. Especially if you’re able to see that achievement as your achievement because a sense of success and achievement is one thing that helps stave off depressive symptoms in those of us predisposed to it. So all good! 🙂
I just reckon on balance it’s not for me personally despite how much I love the idea of riding further and faster! 😮 #nobrainer
An age-old thought
Likewise, a counter argument to this is that an electric road bike helps us to keep up with the group. And isn’t that in itself motivating? Sure, I’d not disagree with that. But behind that lies something else… I think presenting the road e-bike this way is to seemingly offer an instantly-gratifying fix to an age-old thought (pardon the pun). And that thought is am I too old, or am I becoming obsolete or incapable as I get older?
Well, in this case, I see road e-bikes not as offering a fix to this at all, but rather as being nothing more than a suppressor of that age-old thought. Look Ma, with this new e-bike, that thought’s no longer there! Now I can keep up with them guys and gals more capable / younger / fitter than me, Ma!
Okay apologies, I’m being facetious, haha. But nevertheless, if you’re having that thought “I’m too old” etc, then that thought isn’t addressed by the e-bike. It’s only temporarily hidden, neither addressed nor confronted. If you’re having that thought, and yeah, me too! Consider having a quick look at some of the thinking in my article about feeling too old for cycling!
But in the end it ain’t what you do…
Ultimately we all do what we do. If a road e-bike makes you happy then it’s all good. As I say I have no issues with any electric bike riders. It’s all cycling and it’s so much to the better. Well no issue with anyone besides some of the monkeys riding, it seems, non-limited electric speedbikes riding at 70mph!! on public cyclepaths and whose clickbait videos use terms such as “insanely fast” and “dangerous” I got literally no time for that. Haha, can you tell? 😀 The world can be dangerous enough for cyclists without idiots who are actually on bikes making it worse!
As for folk using electric assistance to cheat on Strava and Zwift, well if they’re gonna, they’re gonna anyway e-bikes or not. It is what it is I say.
And as for hardcore cycling brethren who might lament those gaining an advantage on them with e-bikes, sure I get that. If it’s done unfairly as a mechanical doping advantage then that’s un-condonable.
As ever, here’s the accompanying vid. Was a misty morning with all the usual huffing and puffing haha – as though to illustrate my point! 😀
But I guess we all have to make whatever peace we have to make with e-bikes. Like disc brakes – yeah, remember the outcry over that haha – like discs and now we’re onto the push for single front ring gearing too. But I reckon of the electric bikes, they’re here to stay. And I think that’s a good thing. They’re doing a lot of good particularly to facilitate cycling in those not active at all, in encouraging motor vehicle drivers out into the fresh air, helping folk with mobility issues, and in interesting people in the idea of cycling who wouldn’t otherwise. They’re a good thing.
For me, if I had the chance, I’d love to try one out! In particular, I’d love to evaluate what’s gained in the fun factor against what’s lost in that sense of achievement and success. Now that’d be a good experiment! Anyone wants to loan me one?? Haha 🙂
Love to know what you think of this, Dear Reader as these are just results of my own thoughts and research. But meantime whatever way you do your thing, and however you’re riding, ride safe and have fun! And kindest warmest regards as ever to you, Dear Reader, David.