E-bike is to Bike what Trolling Motor is to Rowboat

Last week the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) released a position paper (PDF) on how electric bikes should be regulated when off-road.

And predictably, the pedal-power purists flipped out without absorbing the nuances of IMBA’s position — even though the second paragraph is all reasonable and stuff.

IMBA believes all recreational uses of public lands should be managed on an individual use and trail- ­by- ­trail basis through the diligent application of benefits based management, preferred use and environmental impact assessment. These land management principles work together to give people the outdoor experiences they seek in a way that mitigates the effects associated with their use so that future generations can enjoy similar experiences.

Here on Commute by Bike, we’ve encountered people before who think they’re clever by making a false equivalency between e-bikes and scooters, e-bikes and mopeds, or even e-bikes and dirt bikes.

E-bike Does Not Equal Dirt Bike

E-bikes are not any of those things.

These people think that anything but pure pedal power puts cycling on a slippery slope towards something. Towards what?

For some pedal-power purists the “outdoor experience” they want to defend is one where they’re never reminded that motorized power exists.

I can understand and respect that.

But if these anti-e-bike people really understood what quiet weaklings e-bikes are, they’d understand that opposing e-bikes on trails makes about as much sense as me not wanting to be reminded that hydration packs exist.

You nipple-biting cheaters sucking water out of a plastic bladder! Tin canteens are the only pure way of carrying water on a hike.

So as I skimmed the comments on the IMBA page, I realized that this a teachable moment.

Prohibiting e-bikes off road because they’re heavy is like opposing fat people from riding regular bikes off road. E-bikes just aren’t that much heavier than a regular bike.

Prohibiting e-bikes off road because their little motors give a rider more torque is like opposing strong riders off road. The motors just aren’t that powerful. E-bikes are regulated in such a manner that by law they have to be weak and slow.

I’ve been testing e-bikes for a few months, and I’ve even written about them using the words “powerful motor.” But that’s relative to other e-bikes — not relative to the 1000cc Honda Gold Wing motorcycle I used to own.

I propose to all the bike reviewers in the world, that the word powerful, when referring to a legal e-bike, should always be accompanied by a snickering emoticon, like this:

…the ElectroGlide models have the components of the ideal E-Bike. With a powerful planetary gear motor,snicker long lasting lithium ion battery, Shimano Nexus 7 rear hub, and Tektro front disk brakes, this bike created the buzz…”

(Quote taken from ElectricBikeWorks)

When I commute home with an e-bike, I have a decent hill the last quarter mile before I reach my house. Without an e-bike, I probably average seven miles per hour up that hill. With an e-bike, I might average 13 miles per hour up that same hill — and with me huffing and puffing the whole time.

I imagine that rowboat fishermen were concerned when electric trolling motors first came out. They probably imagined their quiet fishing holes being invaded by electrified speedboats. Eventually this reality sunk in:

Rowboat with Trolling Motor Does Not Equal Speedboat

But trolling motors are popular among fishermen for the same reason e-bikes ought to be popular among bike commuters: You do a little less of the work which allows you to enjoy your commute in a different way. You get where you’re going a little faster, and arrive without a bunch of sweat.

Sure, trolling motors allow out-of-shape, beer-guzzling trout warriors to go toe-to-toe with oar-power purists. But it didn’t mean the end of trout fishing. It meant a new opportunity for people who might not get out on the water at all. It meant dedicated fishermen could overcome the motivational obstacles to get out and enjoy themselves even more.

An e-bike is to a bike what a trolling motor is to rowboat.

Here it is in a visual aid:

Ebike Is To Bike What Trolling Motor Is To Rowboat

We bike commuters are not all urban cyclists with tattoos and ironic t-shirts. For many of us, our route involves single-track dirt paths on public land. For the pedal-power purists to crow about e-bikes really bespeaks a misunderstanding of what e-bikes are.

Or maybe they’re just elitist jerks.

Was that helpful?

Class dismissed.

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