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Oregon Bicycle Racing Association will allow e-bike events in 2021


A Class 1 “Talon” e-MTB from Giant.

It’s been one year and one day since Portland hosted its last sanctioned, competitive cycling event. In many ways, 2020 was a lost season for local racers, but 2021 will look a lot different — not only because we are likely to emerge from the Covid cocoon, but because electric bikes will be welcomed into the racing scene for the first time.

In a statement today, Oregon Bicycle Racing Association Executive Director Chuck Kenlan announced that the 2021 season is already coming into focus. Weekly racing is slated to re-start in April and May’s schedule is filling up. “We are approaching the race season with caution and expect the earlier races to run using modified formats that follow the state guidance for outdoor recreation,” Kenlan shared. “Our plan is to work with promoters to help them make their races as safe as possible and still allow for a fun competition.”

Kenlan also said OBRA’s new liability insurance policy will cover events that include a category for “Class 1” electric bikes.

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The surge in electric bike popularity has not been confined to urban utility bikes. A huge growth segment has been high-performance mountain and road bikes that have battery-powered motors small enough to not take away the fun, and large enough to make riding even more fun for more people.

“There are many folks that would never try racing, but if e-bikes are offered, they might consider it.”
— Clint Culpepper, race promoter

“Promoters have asked us about this in the past, but up until this year the insurance policy we had viewed e-bikes as motor vehicles,” Kenlan shared in a phone call today.

OBRA is Oregon’s official sanctioning body for bike races. USA Cycling, the national governing body of the sport, created policy to support e-bikes earlier this year. Here’s how they define Class 1 e-bikes:

  • No throttle
  • Freely operable pedaling system: rear wheel drive train of pedals, crank, chain and gear system.
  • 750 watt or less motor (manufacturer’s label of compliance is the minimum standard)
  • Motor engages only with pedaling
  • Motor assistance cut off at 20 mph (32 kmh)
  • Additionally, the following options for e-bikes in regulated competitive events, are allowable: A single battery, Limited start assist (no pedaling) up to 4 mph (6 kmh)

Most of the Class 1 e-bikes on the market that would be used for racing are mountain bikes. Kenlan says they’d only be allowed to race on courses where e-bikes are allowed by land managers. He expects gran fondos and gravel events to see the most interest initially.

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Clint Culpepper is the owner/promoter behind the PDX Trophy Cup, a series of cyclocross races at Portland International Raceway. “It was inevitable e-bikes would move from recreation and transportation into competition,” he shared with me today. He’s excited about how e-bikes can broaden the appeal of competitive cycling. “There are many folks that would never try racing, but if e-bikes are offered, they might consider it… I’m stoked to see anybody doing anything related to bikes they wouldn’t do otherwise.”

Kenlan agrees. “I personally know a few people who ride e-bikes because of health issues and if the right event was offered, they’d jump at the chance to sign up.”

Kenlan says OBRA is working with a team of race officials and industry professionals to write a specific set of rules and policies for Oregon races. So far there are no e-bike events on the OBRA calendar, but that’s likely to change in the coming months.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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