Taming El Diablo: getting to know your new e-bike
I got an ebike (Trek Fuel ex-e) about a year ago, and it has taken time, nearly that entire year, and a considerable mental adjustment to feel comfortable riding it. All of my bikes are named after monsters, and I thought El Diablo was a great name for a bike that scared me more than just a little. What was holding me back, and what things have I learned from/about my ebike during this adjustment time? I tell customers who come into the shop that an ebike is just a bike first and an ebike second. I talk to them about the benefits of an ebike and how they will still be getting great exercise on an ebike, still getting outdoors enjoying nature and still getting to take part in group rides with friends, but now being able to comfortably keep up. I did a great job talking the talk but the mental part of riding the ride was a whole different story. Something was holding me back from really enjoying my ebike and letting myself ride it…something significant in my brain and something that I think many people in my shoes also experience. You are cheating! The main thing that was preventing me from enjoying my ebike was the notion that I would be “cheating” and that somehow, I would be a weaker person if I used an ebike. I was brought up to be strong, tough it out and “put on your big-boy pants” and many times this has served me well, other times it has just made me a stubborn old lady. First of all, when did I get in a competition with the rest of the world? Unless you are in a race with like-age/gender/experience competitors, there is no comparison between riders that would necessitate “cheating”. The only person you should be competing against is yourself, and when you change your mindset in that direction you release a lot of pressure in life. I actually think I perform better when competing against myself rather than worrying about what others might think because, I have to say, I’m pretty good competition, so rather than just settling for what ever is better, I strive for what is best. An ebike helps you strive for what is best. In my case, I have found that when I push the envelope on the ebike, I discover that with a bit more confidence in my power, I am able to conquer obstacles on the trail that I previously might have had trepidation about. Once I conquer that troubling obstacle on the ebike and see that it is a doable thing, I feel able to do it again with or without the assistance. This is making me a better and stronger rider and is definitely not cheating anyone, including myself. It'll make you reckless and you’ll get hurt! I have heard the argument that ebikes will allow riders to try to do things past their skill level and in the next breath, those same people will say “push yourself”, “stretch the envelope”, “get out of your comfort zone”. So which is it? Do I push myself or not? Why is pushing myself on an ebike and learning new skills somehow “cheating”, while not pushing myself on a standard bike is being too cautious and not allowing myself to grow? My suggestion for new ebike riders is to start out well within your comfort zone and learn the trail before trying more technical obstacles. Why wouldn’t anyone do that? We all have a strong drive towards self-preservation and no one but a really experienced rider would feel comfortable on a tough trail right off the bat, just because they are riding an ebike. We often ride the Land of Pioneers trail, and no matter what bike you are on, there are technical sections that will challenge anyone. Nobody is going to go out and fearlessly bale down these rocky descents without a strong base of experience. An ebike will not cause me to risk myself unnecessarily; in fact, my first rides on my new ebike were considerably slower and more cautious that I previously was on my regular full suspension bike! Ebikes feel somewhat different than regular bikes and beginning to ride one actually took me backwards several steps in confidence and control. Over a hundred miles later, I am now able to control the bike with about as much ease as I control my regular bikes. Mentally, an ebike requires you to consider both shifting and assist levels and control both simultaneously as you ride. It takes a while to be able to coordinate both of these factors effectively- people who complain that ebikes will encourage people to immediately ride past their experience level have never ridden an ebike as the learning curve is steep and not something that most people will be able to immediately overcome. You will get lazy! One of the most common things I hear people state when arguing against ebikes relates to the “cheating” part of it. People state, I don’t want to ride an ebike because I want to get exercise. I also had the mistaken idea that an ebike would somehow just float along with the rider doing little work. This may be true for those class-two bikes with throttles (really, electric motorcycles) that are not allowed on trails anywhere, but not for class-one ebikes. Class-one ebikes are pedal assist which means…you have to pedal. The pedaling motion takes energy and muscle recruitment which burns calories, builds muscle, and lubricates joints. The amount of exercise you get doing any type of activity depends on what you put into it and what you want out of it. I can tell you from experience that 10 miles on a mountain bike is quite different from 10 miles on a gravel bike, 10 miles on an indoor trainer or 10 miles on an ebike. The e-bike, gravel bike and trainer miles require more evenly sustained high cadence peddling while the mountain bike often requires short bursts of power on uphills and the descents involve more focus and control than power. Ebikes do amplify the power put in by the rider, which requires the rider to put in the initial effort. Ebikes flatten the power differential between climbing and descending and often provide a longer sustained heartrate increase while non-ebikes may provide higher heartrates at peak power and more variability over an entire ride, but either way, exercise is exercise and is better than riding a couch. You’ll look old! People often tell us that they won’t ride an ebike until they can’t ride a regular bike anymore. It’s a matter of pride, it’s a matter of not wanting to acknowledge aging, it’s a matter of wanting to stay young and strong. We all want to stay young and strong, but I have nothing against being older and strong too. If, as you gradually age, you start being less active and limiting riding because of longer recovery, inability to keep up with a group, or other reasons, your muscle tone will gradually decline until you get to a point where it is hard to recover and/or rebuild. If you begin to use an ebike to continue stay active before you start declining, you will be able to easily transition more and more toward the ebike as feels appropriate. The main reason I got an ebike was for this reason. I wanted to be comfortable with the operation and extra weight of the bike before it became a problem for me. If I look old because I’m on an ebike, I’m sure I look old on any bike so why worry? You know what makes someone look old on a group ride? Not being able to keep up and holding a group back makes you look old…an ebike just makes you look like a rider in a group of awesome mountain bikers. E-bikes destroy trails! We have all heard that ebikes are somehow bad for the trails and bad for the environment. I have to call foul on those assertions. There is no evidence in any way that a class one ebike, ridden by a normal human being, is going to tear up trails or ruin the environment any more than a person on any other type of bike. The combined weight of my ebike and myself will never be more than the hiking weight of my husband, no bike included. The torque I can put down with my single-speed is probably greater than any torque I have put down with the ebike and unless someone is riding very aggressively on any kind of bike, the damage to a trail is negligible. A trail is built to handle all sorts of riders and the key word for any rider is respect. Ebikes allow volunteers to get into work areas for trail improvements easily and effectively and around here, many of the folks who work on the trails, do so off an ebike. E-bikes will ruin the outdoor experience! A final argument against ebikes is that they allow more people to have access to trails and wild places where they might have to be rescued. What? Isn’t it a good thing that people are getting out and enjoying their trails and National Forests? Having more dedicated appreciative users of wild places allows these wild places to remain funded and cared for. How selfish does a person have to be to try to say that only elite riders like themselves should be able to go to these places? I have heard that there will be an increase in trash, increase in wildfires, increase in noise and all sorts of other nonsense. Is someone going to pack in a case of beer down a technical trail on an ebike and then have a crazy party all night? Riding a bike of any kind on a singletrack trail requires two hands, focus and some sort of respect for the area you are in. People have accidents on the trail, it happens. Ebike or not, you are engaging in a sport that is inherently risky and just maybe, that person in the group who has an ebike, will be able to get back to the trailhead more quickly to retrieve a rescue vehicle for someone else who has gotten into trouble. I actually think that having a rider on an ebike does give the group a bit of a safety valve in case of an accident. El Diablo tamed So…El Diablo sat in the corner for months, excuses piled up and rides didn’t happen. The voices in my conscience told me that I was cheating if I rode it, that I would let myself get too lazy, that I was admitting I was old, that others would think less of me…so many excuses. I decided to give it a chance, one ride at a time. I took it out to examine the prescribed burn around the house (so nice to be able to get there and back before I needed to leave for work), I took it out to ride and explore cross-country off trail (well that was awesome!), I took it out and rode the same trail I often ride near my house and tackled some technical sections that I normally walk over (how about that, I really can ride over this!), I examined heartrate and calorie expenditure graphs on STRAVA (hmm…having to keep a higher cadence really is making my heartrate stay at an elevated sustained level longer) and I rode it as a recovery ride after another 100+mile week on my trainer bike (Yay! Legs were tired today but after a bit of peddle assist, they felt better, and I did a really nice long ride). Now… El Diablo sits and waits for its next turn and the accusing voices in my head have quieted. I no longer fear El Diablo, but look forward to the next adventure. Talk to your local bike shop about how an ebike can add to your cycling experience, get rid of those lame excuses and be all that you can be. Keep on peddling.