OhMyGod! Did he just punch that baby?
My daughter is stunned. If I’ve taught my kids one thing in life, it’s this—you never, ever punch babies.
Or play with Daddy’s chainsaw.
Or try to make the chickens fly by throwing them out the second-story window.
Well, I guess there are a lot of very obvious things that you have to repeatedly teach kids. None of them things you ever suspect you’d have
to teach anyone. Not back in those halcyon, pre-child rearing days when you envision parenting as this grand, nurturing journey where you march hand in hand with your little angel towards enlightenment and self-realization. Ultimately, as a parent, I’ve spent a lot of time just trying to convince the kids to stop Krazy Gluing their body parts together. And, no, my children don’t eat paint chips. Thanks for asking though. But the baby-punching thing? I’ve never had to teach my kids that one. The hellions, mercifully, understood that one implicitly. So, you know, win for me on that score.
But this other kid at last Saturday’s soccer game? He’s struggling to grasp the finer points of the golden rule. He just walked up to his little brother (who is more of a toddler, really) and socked him one. His mom is rightfully mortified. How could her child do such a thing? Hadn’t she raised him on non-violent cartoons? Isn’t he in the advanced pre-school program? Didn’t she refrain from buying him that toy AR-15 for Christmas?
Sure. You can do all that, but if you learn one thing as a parent, it’s this: You have a lot less control over your progeny than you might imagine.Sometimes an older sibling just gets pissed, walks up and lays the pimp hand on his little brother. Shit happens. Or, as the parenting books solemnly intone; sometimes a child doesn’t understand what to do with his angry feelings and he acts out.
To be fair, it’s hard to know what to do with your anger sometimes. Even as adults we struggle with that challenge. And, yes, here’s the point where I start talking about e-bikes. Buckle up.Well, What Did You Expect?
I could publish a recipe for scrambled eggs, or a haiku about snails or post up a picture of wildflowers abloom and you know what the top-ranked comment from Pinkbike readers would be? It’d be “f*ck e-bikes!” or if the commenter was feeling particularly loquacious, “f*ck your f*ckin’ e-bikes!” There’s a range, you see.
People hate themselves some e-bikes. At least a vocal chunk of our readers do. And many of them hate e-bikes so much that they can’t stop typing their rage out in screamy all-caps…even in response to articles that have nothing to do with e-bikes. People are angry. And they are lashing out. They are, in a sense, punching the baby. I’m not sure who the innocent baby is in this scenario, so the analogy isn’t exactly bullet proof, but you get where I’m going with this: We currently find ourselves in a very Hulk Smash E-Bikes!
kind of moment.
You could argue, of course, that the Internet—in addition to being a brilliant conduit for porn and cat videos—is, above all else, a digital repository for anger. You might also say that Pinkbike’s forum has historically been a halfway house for a whole lot of very pissed off people. But this isn’t just a Pinkbike thing. Just about every other mountain biking site I visit these days is aflame with the same kind of e-bike anger. And in a few rare cases, that anger moves beyond the digital world.Haters Gonna Hate…
On July 23rd, Larry and Lori Garon parked their e-bikes in downtown Aspen. The couple has a home about 10 miles away; they wanted to pedal more and drive their car less, which is why they’d bought a couple of Trek e-bikes from a local bike shop, The Hub of Aspen, earlier in the season. Anyway, the couple is in town for an art fair and a bite to eat. When they returned to their parked and locked bikes, they found that someone had popped off the Power button from the head units of their computers.
“Obviously, it was a real drag because their bikes were almost immobilized,” says Tim Emling, the owner of the The Hub bike shop. “So the Garons came back to the shop and we were able to fix that. We sent them on their way and got some replacements ordered up for them.”
A couple days later, the same thing happened to three of the bike shop’s own e-bikes, which were parked just outside the store front. Emling takes it all in stride—no one is throwing rocks through his window, there is no mob of anti-e-bikers storming his bike shop with blazing torches, but still….
“Obviously someone isn’t psyched on the whole e-bike thing,” says Emling. “I get it. I understand that if a guy got on an e-mountain bike and crushed everyone’s Strava records, he’d be pissing off the locals, but my stance on the e-bike thing is this: No one has come into my shop looking for an e-bike out of laziness. No one is saying, ‘I want one of these because I don’t want to work as hard.’ It’s mainly people like this couple whose bikes were vandalized. They just want to get their car off the road.”
To date, e-bikes haven’t posed a risk to trail access around Aspen—because the rules were simple: E-bikes weren’t allowed on anything other than a few Forest Service access roads. That may change in the future. Colorado is one of the few states to have enacted legislation that breaks e-bikes down into three different categories. Proponents of such laws often contend that making distinctions between relatively low-powered e-bikes and the throttle-twisting variety helps land managers make better, more informed decisions as to where e-bikes do and don’t belong.
We can put a finer point on this kind of legislation: The end game here is to open up more trails to e-mountain bikes. I think that’s fairly clear. And this does raise some thorny issues. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Emling has been selling plenty of “townie” style e-bikes. Even though he has received some interest from people wanting to rent e-mountain bikes, he’s chosen not to go that route.
“I didn’t want to be culpable for having renters riding those bikes where they aren’t allowed to,” says Emling. “Plus, if I am renting an electric full-suspension mountain bike to someone who doesn’t know what they are doing on a bike, then all of a sudden they can get themselves into a situation on the trail where they are in way over their heads. Or, if they are not conscious of how the bikes work and they don’t power them down on descents they could have a real safety issue with someone riding a trail much faster than they even intended to or are capable of. I get the resistance on the mountain bike side, at least within our community, but in terms of recreational around-town use, I don’t get the opposition.”
You mean jacking up another rider’s rig because you disagree with his choice of bike is just a dick move?
“I’d put it this way: Vandalizing someone else’s property in an attempt to make some kind of a statement is just bullsh*t to me. E-bikes are here. They don’t need to be vilified. We need to have a rational dialogue about how and where these things make sense on road and off road.”Taking The High Road
Emling's final sentence strikes me as singularly important, because the one thing the bike industry is not having is a rational and honest discussion about e-bikes, at least when it comes to e-bikes on singletrack trails. And that is
On one hand, we have a lot of companies bum-rushing the show to sell these things. The cycling market is flat and brands are desperate to keep their lights on. If that means selling e-bikes, then slap a motor on it and move it out the door. On the other side of the divide, we have a lot of people who are enraged that e-bikes might be coming to their trails soon. A lot of those people hate e-bikes because the bikes are “lame,” “cheating,” and/or just “not really mountain biking.”
A big part of cycling, for me, has always been about pushing my limits. To me, the essence of riding is knowing that I, and I alone, am responsible for cleaning every tricky section, summiting every climb and setting every shoddy, half-assed personal record that I have set. But that’s just me. You are under no obligation to like mountain biking for the same reasons. If you want to ride an e-bike, you should be able to. It is not akin to killing puppies or defrauding grandmothers of their pensions. It is riding a bike. It is also riding a bike with a motor
, yes, but that's not an offense punishable by death.
My concern is less with e-bikes themselves and more with the way the bike industry is rolling them out in North America. To date, there is no clear and comprehensive plan for ensuring that trail access doesn’t suffer as e-bikes roll out of shops and into the hands of a public that has not been given clear guidance on where motorized bikes can be legally ridden. And that, frankly, is irresponsible.
More and more bike shops are going to want to sell e-bikes. They need something--anything--to bring new customers in the door because the local bike shop is struggling these days. Nearly 39 percent of bike shops in the United States went belly up between 2000 and 2015. So if someone walks in wanting to buy a five-thousand dollar e-mountain bike, most shops are more than happy to sell or rent them that bike. I‘m guessing that very few of those shops, however, are telling prospective e-bike buyers, “Here’s this very expensive bike and here’s a map of the couple of places you can legally ride that bike off road, because most of the trails around here are closed to e-bikes.”
Tim Emling, back at The Hub of Aspen, is taking the high ground and forgoing easy money on bike rentals in an effort to keep Aspen’s trails open. He’s a rare bird.
To be fair, bike shops (and the larger bike industry) are in the business of selling bikes, not regulating how their customers use those bikes. It’s not part of the business model.
And yet…if people are riding these bikes on every trail that is mountain bike legal, we are poised for a serious problem, because taking an e-bike onto singletrack is still verboten in a lot of states. For starters, e-bikes are not permitted on non-motorized trails on most federal (BLM, US Forest Service, etc.) lands in the United States. Adding an unhealthy dollup of confusion to the mix, rules and regulations governing e-bike use on state and local lands are all over the map. It's a confusing mess, even for people who are aware of the issue, who want to do the right thing and stay on the right side of the law. And what about all the people who have no idea that e-bikes aren't Kosher on every trail?
Yes, People for Bikes has a map
on their site (see image above) that gives a rough snapshot of e-bike regulations in the United States, but dig a little deeper and you find that e-bike regulations vary, not only state-by-state, but county-by-county. The map, well intentioned as it may be, is of limited use at this point. And, really, how many bike shops even know this map exists? Meanwhile, e-mountain bikes are now beginning to roll out of those same shops.
What we have here is the perfect recipe for widespread trail closures. And I do have a problem with that.Don't Punch The Baby
But here’s the thing. I’m not going to punch the baby. I don’t think that lashing out at e-bikes or the people who like them makes any sense at all. While it may feel good to leave a flaming bag of e-dog shit on a forum or call people out on Facebook or give an e-bike rider a bad time at the trailhead, it doesn’t solve any problem; it merely gives you the false sense that you are being heard and that you are doing something constructive.
If you are pissed about e-bikes, you can always type it out below; that's what the Comments section is for, after all. Be my guest. But while you are at it, there are infinitely better channels for your fury. Ring up IMBA, call up your local club, talk to your legislators, tell People for Bikes. Go to the people who are either making decisions on e-bike access or who are trying to pave the way for e-bikes on trails. Tell them what's on your mind.
I’ll also argue that it’s worth your while to ride an e-bike before you pass judgement on them. That is, to my way of thinking, common sense. We should understand a thing before we form an opinion about it. It might change your mind. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Either way, you’d be informed.
Me? I’m not against the things. E-bikes don’t light my fire at this point, but I am not going to insist that other people forgo motors because I choose to do so. I will, however, continue to point out to the bike industry that we need to do a much better job of educating bike shops and consumers about where these things can and can’t be ridden. Trails are going to get shut down if we don’t get a handle on that.
In short, I’m not telling anyone that they shouldn’t be angry. I’m saying that if you are angry, do something constructive with that anger.
Don’t punch the baby.