Comment of the Week: My ego prevented me from embracing e-bikes

“Is high speed on two wheels only accepted and laudable if you’re physically gifted enough to achieve it?”

Welcome to the Comment of the Week, where we highlight good comments in order to inspire more of them. You can help us choose our next one by replying with “comment of the week” to any comment you think deserves recognition.


Dawn of the ‘throttle kids,’ by BikePortland contributor Megan Ramey garnered 110 comments, not bad for a first post! The article was about the increasing number of teenagers she is seeing using Class 2 e-bikes with throttles to get around Hood River.

The comment thread, as sometimes happens, took on a life of its own. Many of the comments revisited the issue of what to call a “bike” to distinguish it from an “e-bike.” Apparently, this is somewhat of a hot-button issue.

Simmering not far below the surface of the opinions, and maybe giving them some of their spit, lies the deeper divide of how, and why, riders ride. Some cyclists train hard and go fast. For others, a bike is utilitarian, part of a daily commute, and an e-bike helps the owner with both hills and age.

Into this long-running tension stepped Karstan, a self-described former “vehicular cyclist” who shared a change-of-heart story.

Here’s his comment:

I’ve recently noticed a trend in the comment sections for BP’s ebike articles: the same folks arguing that ebikes are “too fast” are also often the ones that boast about how fast they can go on their “not-at-all-acoustic-or-analog-just-a-regular-bike-please-and-thank-you” bikes under their own power. Is high speed on two wheels only accepted and laudable if you’re physically gifted enough to achieve it? I don’t see many folks lambasting the lycra-clad, maybe-taking-HGH, TDF-wannabe that passed too close during their morning bike ride. Why is it a problem when someone goes the same speed with a little electric assist? Do they have to earn it through a fortunate combination of beneficial genes, spending power, and enough free time to train for it?

I’m a former “vehicular cyclist” who rode higher-end road bikes with narrow tires, aggressively, hard and preferably over 20 mph thank you very much. Ebikes were very much “cheating” in my mind. One day about 10+ years ago I was talking to someone who was excited about getting an ebike. She was a mother with 3 kids who wasn’t athletically inclined or even physically active. Biking was previously out of the question for her in her suburban NJ town. But with an ebike, she enthused, she could achieve a speed closer that made her feel more confident and in a way that made getting on a bike approachable, She could even arrive without being a sweaty mess! I lambasted[ly] mocked her. That was NOT “a real bike” and was “cheating.” The idea of being passed by her while I was sweating up a hill on my bike made me furious. I left the conversation feeling angry and self-righteous. Couldn’t she just get out of her SUV and ride a bike? It would be so much better for her and the environment! And, it suddenly dawned on me… my ego. Why else would I be so against her getting out of her car and onto an albeit electrified bicycle? She wasn’t going to get out of the SUV now. Biking as I knew it wasn’t an option for her. And I’d just done my best to make her feel awful for considering an alternative. It took me a few hours to process these thoughts, but I contacted her the next day and apologized profusely. I begged her to get that ebike and said I looked forward to going on a ride with her.

Isn’t it better to have these folks zipping around on their ebikes than driving a Nissan Titanic or whatever? If an electric motor is all it takes to get someone out of that ICE-powered Ford Fiefdom and onto two wheels, isn’t that a good thing? Should there be some more regulation regarding motor wattage and top speed? Certainly! But the nitpicking over language, etc. is the worst kind of gatekeeping, IMHO.

TL;DR: I’d rather be crowded on the MUP, being passed by 20 teens on over-powered “mopeds” (or choose your epithet of choice) than have one of them flatten me in their Dodge Deathstar when they blow through the stop sign at the other end of my ride.

You can read Karstan’s comment, and all 109 other comments in this thread, under the original post.

Thanks for all your great comments last week!

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cc_rider
cc_rider
2 months ago

Do people actually complain about e-assist bikes? I find that people who are riding e-bikes where pedaling is necessary tend to be as respectful as your average cyclist. Most of the time I see complaints, it’s about people riding low-powered electric motorcycles in bike/pedestrian infrastructure based on the idea that they are “e-bicycles”.

At some point we have to determine what is a e-bike and what is a motorcycle. Would the comment author be okay with someone riding a Hayabusa down a MUP? What about a gas-propelled moped? Should dirt bikes be allowed on mountain bike trails?

My point of view is that if you can ride it without pedaling on flat ground, it’s not a bicycle or e-bike, it’s a motorcycle and should treated as such.

I think there are less complaints about roadies because, while roadies can be obnoxious and ride dangerously, they also tend to have the confidence to take the lane to pass other cyclists and they tend to avoid paths that are crowded because they want to go fast without crashing.

It’s okay to be annoyed with people on electric motorcyles riding dangerously in spaces that aren’t designed for them. It doesn’t mean you’re against e-assist bikes for people who are otherwise unable to ride.

pigs
pigs
2 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Why does it bother people so much that someone is using a throttle instead of pedaling to go the same speed as regular bicycles?

Chris I
Chris I
2 months ago
Reply to  pigs

I don’t think it does. While there are some purists on here who seem to have an issue with any motorized vehicles on the MUPs, most people get bothered by motorized vehicles that go faster than your typical cyclist. They are heavier, faster, and thus more dangerous to those around them.

dwk
dwk
2 months ago
Reply to  pigs

It’s fine to do that, its called a motorcycle and you are welcome to ride in the car/motorcycle lanes.

cc_rider
cc_rider
2 months ago
Reply to  pigs

Why does it bother people so much that someone is using a throttle instead of pedaling to go the same speed as regular bicycles?

They aren’t going to same speed as regular bikes, hence the problem. People behave terribly when they have access to motors.

Karstan
Karstan
2 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Hey cc_rider, I’m that commenter. 🙂

Do people actually complain about e-assist bikes?

Yep! See the comments in that linked article and previous BP articles on ebikes.

At some point we have to determine what is a e-bike and what is a motorcycle.

Agreed! Though I don’t think you and I agree 100% where that line is, I believe that we share quite a bit of common ground 🙂 Legislation is LONG overdue in this area. Reasonable limitations about the sale of ebikes and their top speed and wattage make sense to me. I think that would solve many if not all of the legitimate complaints people have around ebikes. One might argue that an email to one’s legislator might be more productive than complaining about the use of the word “acoustic.” But I try not to tell people what to do.

Would the comment author be okay with someone riding a Hayabusa down a MUP?

Nope. That’s just silly.

What about a gas-propelled moped?

That’s a tough one. I strongly dislike these mostly due to noise and fumes. But my personal feelings shouldn’t dictate policy. I think strong arguments can be made on either side on this one. I personally hope we end up against allowing them though.

Should dirt bikes be allowed on mountain bike trails?

Not in my opinion! See above about reasonable limitations on top speed and wattage. Also my personal feelings about noise and fumes.

I think there are less complaints about roadies

Are there though? Certainly here on BP, where making such complaints would invite a pile-on. But how about elsewhere?

It’s okay to be annoyed with people

Ain’t that the truth. I’m annoyed by other people all the time! Most days I’m annoyed with other people half a dozen times before breakfast. But annoyance alone shouldn’t dictate policy, imho.

Cyclekrieg
Cyclekrieg
2 months ago
Reply to  Karstan

Agreed! Though I don’t think you and I agree 100% where that line is, I believe that we share quite a bit of common ground. Legislation is LONG overdue in this area. Reasonable limitations about the sale of ebikes and their top speed and wattage make sense to me. I think that would solve many if not all of the legitimate complaints people have around ebikes. One might argue that an email to one’s legislator might be more productive than complaining about the use of the word “acoustic.” But I try not to tell people what to do.

There is already legislation about this. Class 1, Class 2, Class 3, etc. Now, whether Oregon a) has adopted it or b) enforces it is a different matter.

I’m not a great lover of e-MTBs, to be honest, for a lot of reasons. Bit e-bikes, especially e-cargo bikes, I can get behind. I would rather people get on e-bikes and toot around town than not. Yeah, it would be better for them if they are Class 1 (pedal assist), but I’m not going jump on them if its Class 2 or Class 3.

That seems reasonable for most situations.

John
John
2 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

It makes a lot more sense, if what you actually care about is safety and getting people out of cars, to make the regulations based on top speed and vehicle weight. It’s not the fact that they’re just twisting a throttle vs pedaling that makes a motorcycle dangerous, it’s that they can go 150mph and weigh 500 pounds.

It makes no difference to be hit by a sporty spandex wearing bike rider going 20mph vs a teen on a rad wagon going 20mph. And if the throttle e-bikes get people out of cars, that’s better for all of us.

Matt
Matt
2 months ago

I think the nuance that this comment misses is that, historically, to be able to ride a bike at high speed on flat ground generally required enough time spent in the saddle that one typically also acquired the bike handling skills and the manners required to do so safely and respectfully. But now anybody with $1000 and a throttle thumb can blast by you without any clue about what that feels like to the people around them. I definitely get passed too closely by people on ebikes way more than people on bikes. It used to be primarily people driving cars who did that shit to me.

Chris I
Chris I
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt

So we need to ban throttle e-bikes and triathletes?

pigs
pigs
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

And hills! Can’t have anyone going faster than their muscles can move them. That’d be unsafe!

Kyle Banerjee
2 months ago
Reply to  pigs

Weirdly, I found myself feeling mildly annoyed after getting stuck behind two ebikes going downhill yesterday.

Between lousy aerodynamics, high rolling resistance, and poor handling, they can be much slower than regular bikes when there’s much pitch.

It was unsafe to pass these particular cyclists because they had poor control, no situational awareness, and were not riding predictably so I didn’t trust them not to swerve.

I don’t think anyone cares if someone is motor powered per se. It’s really more about greater power and weight amplifying the effects of poor judgement and skills.

I actually like level headed ecyclists as I find they tend to maintain more consistent speeds and trajectories than nonassisted bikes.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

On MUPS? Sure.

I’m capable of going fast. I just don’t when I hit the Springwater on the Willamette (NB), at least for the southern half which has a large number of peds, kids and slower cyclists on it.

When it opens up and I can see clear road in front of me I may drop the hammer a bit, but don’t really open it up until I hit the road at the north end.

I also pull all the way out of the bike lane into the main vehicle lane to go by slower cyclists.

If e-cyclists behaved the same way, (almost) no one would care. Many don’t. But then, I’ve seen roadies paceline on a MUP before – that’s right out (IMO) too.

Roadies there’s not much we can do about it.

E-Bikes are a different matter. I argue against e-bikes with 2 times or more the power of an amateur racer because they can easily go much faster than is prudent on the MUP and the riders don’t seem to care.

It has very little to do with jealousy or ego. I’m not upset when one passes me going uphill, and I prefer to get the exercise rather than let a motor carry me (maybe when I’m old I’ll change my mind and get a couple hundred watts of help).

There’s something absurdly gratifying about having a nurse (just prior to my second cataract surgery) look at me in surprise and say “Is 40 (BPM) *normal* for you?!”

Dave
Dave
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Perfectly said, thank you!

idlebytes
idlebytes
2 months ago

Other then jealousy when I’m struggling up a hill in the heat I don’t have any issues with e-bikes. What I’m seeing is a huge influx of inexperienced and inconsiderate road users on bicycle infrastructure that shouldn’t be there. I’m pretty sure none of the new electric vehicles adhear to the 20 mph speed limit they’re supposed to have. Which wouldn’t be a problem if they weren’t trying to share a lane with people going 10-15 mph slower than them. I mean it’s certainly less dangerous then someone in a car but it still isn’t great.

People can be inconsiderate road users with any vehicle the higher the speed and heavier the vehicle just makes it worse. I’d much rather deal with an inconsiderate pedestrian, I’m talking to you morning joggers! 🙂

Chris I
Chris I
2 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

Exactly. I own an e-cargo bike, but a few bad experiences with other motorized users on bike paths have convinced me that we need to set firm standards. A few weeks ago, some dork going 20+ uphill on a onewheel almost took out my 5 year-old as we were trying to climb the hill north of Gateway Green. Too fast, not able to stop quickly, and poor maneuvering. Those things should not be on the MUPs.

Caleb
Caleb
2 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

I sell ebikes. Most of them are class 1 or 2, and their motors do indeed cut out once past 20 mph. But of course, one can pedal them beyond 20 mph at that point.

idlebytes
idlebytes
2 months ago
Reply to  Caleb

Ya I was being a little hyperbolic by saying none of them adhear to the limit. I’m mean it’s not like I’m measuring them as they pass. Mostly though I was thinking of other electric vehicles like the scooter that flew past me yesterday, scared the crap out of me.

I’m curious do you sell any of the brands that let you change the speed limit because it appears that number of them do?

Ray
Ray
2 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

For many of them, it’s as simple as moving a sensor magnet from the crankarm to the wheel.
Also, hyperbole is part of why we’re dealing with this divisiveness.

Keviniano
Keviniano
2 months ago

I’m really glad that Karstan shared his story, and I’m he had it in him to go back and apologize to the person he initially mocked. That takes courage.

I used to have nothing but complete respect for Mikael Colville-Andersen until he lashed out at e-bike users on Twitter in over-the-top, abusive, and name-calling terms (here and here). It made me realize, especially after very few took any time to call him out or publicly reflect on what it means for a leader in the field to act in such a way, that there’s a lot of unexamined and tacitly accepted machismo and Calvinist work ethic in the anti-car/pro-bike world.

Damien
Damien
2 months ago

I think a lot of this debate focuses too much on the vehicles themselves. It was scooters just a short while ago (arguably still is), but folks who read BikePortland in particular should be just as aware that this behavior also extends to automobiles.

In short, this is simply the American Way: “Me first, and the rest of y’all can go &^%# yourselves”. It’s a core part of our culture, and a lot of respect for each other or the commons – which has been eroding for decades – took a giant hit during the pandemic when it became all too apparent that the “commons”* didn’t respect you either.

In other words, if they the misbehavior wasn’t happening on an e-bike/moped/whatever, it’d be happening on a scooter. If it wasn’t happening on a scooter, it’d probably be happening in a car. #mefirst is what I jokingly say whenever I witness selfish road behavior (regardless of vehicle type…even though I don’t use Twitter, or hashtags).

* By “commons”, I mean all institutions of power, be they corporate, government, etc. Just seemed a neater turn of phrase to repeat myself.

Laura
Laura
2 months ago

I appreciate Karstan’s story, partly because it mirrors that of a friend in a similar situation to their friend. EBikes, whether e-assist or throttle, open opportunities for folks, but with opportunity comes the need for education. In the same way that I learned about calling “on your left” or chiming a bell, giving wider space to someone with a dog, moving left to let a faster person pass, and riding on the side of the roadway consistent with my direction of travel (a lot of us were taught in the 60’s to ride opposite traffic), E-riders, especially throttle riders need some guidance.

Another poster mentioned the issue of Ebikes on downhills. An article in the NYTimes today talks about a girl who died as a result of an Ebike becoming out of control on a downhill. Deep into the Owners Manual (page 49 of 57), the manufacturer states the bike is for those over 18…it probably gives other guidance on safety, but who actually reads a near 60-page owners book?

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/01/style/team-molly-rad-power-bikes-lawsuit.html