By Alex Strickland
For the past few years, the cycling industry’s annual North American tradeshow, Interbike, has taken on a decidedly electrified feel. Not a cultural buzz per se — attendance has been dropping — but a steady rise of eBikes washing up on our shores as the category continues to explode in Europe and bike makers are hoping to revive stagnant sales in the U.S. with a new take on cycling.
That influx has led to some inevitable grousing as manufacturers breathlessly tout their new motorized machines, with eMTBs taking the brunt of the blowback. But as more and more riders (especially those in the industry) have had a chance to actually ride the dreaded steeds over the years, the roar of discontent has been muffled to a low din — perhaps just resignation? Combined with the reception Adventure Cyclist stories on eBikes have received (almost uniformly positive, somewhat to my surprise), I’d begun thinking the matter was settled, at least as far as riding on tarmac was concerned.
Oh, how wrong I was.
During the show, I posted a close-up shot of the power button cleanly integrated into a new Focus bikes top tube with a caption asking if your next bike would include a power button. The resounding answer was “#!@&$* no.” (See for yourself, but beware course language in the comments).
Well, that was ... unambiguous. Now perhaps our Instagram followers are eagle-eyed enough to see that the bike in question was of the knobby-tired variety, though I didn’t get the impression that the reaction had anything to do with the trails vs. road debate (which I will avoid here because there truly are some unique issues related to access on dirt that muddy the waters). It was simply a visceral reaction to eBikes and a sound rejection of them even being considered bicycles at all.
As we plan the details of 2018’s editorial calendar for Adventure Cyclist we absolutely have an increase in eBike coverage in the mix. That’s not an endorsement of eBikes — it’s an endorsement of reality, and the reality is that our readers are at least eBike curious, if not already customers.
Before I ask for your opinion, and in the interest of full disclosure, here’s what I think about electric bikes: the one’s I’ve ridden have been extremely fun, well made, and I can easily envision using one in a variety of applications. However, none of those applications fits with my current cycling life, and so an eBike rider I probably won’t soon be.
Besides, at the end of Interbike’s OutdoorDemo day, I was given a reminder that feels appropriate in the eBike debate. Feeling good on a high-end (non-motorized) mountain bike, I was pushing hard to keep up with an eBike rider a few turns ahead. I’d catch up on the descents and flats only to see him pull away when things turned uphill. I finally passed when he stopped for water, silently congratulating myself for notching a win for the old school. Not long after, I was mid-way up a steep climb when I heard riders approaching from behind. They passed me with great prejudice and I mumbled something obscene about eBikes under my breath as their bloated bottom brackets sped past. It was then that I noticed they were riding gearbox-equipped bikes with no motor in sight, I’d simply been dusted. It was still, even at this eBike mecca, the rider that mattered.
So what about you, when you’re shopping for your next bike will you consider one with a power button?
Alex Strickland is the Editor-in-Chief of Adventure Cyclist magazine.