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In praise of the E-bike

The first time I got an e-mountain-bike to test ride, it arrived in a semi truck and was delivered on a pallet. The PR guy who wanted me to try it out told me it would be a great way to hammer my friends on the trail. I wanted nothing to do with that. I thought it would be a cheap, classless, weak, and feckless way to ride at all. So the bike sat, untouched, in my garage for weeks. One day, I finally decided I would at least take it for a spin on the streets. I had barely gotten to the end of my block when I saw a friend out working on his yard. Instead of being embarrassed by my fall into cycling impurity, I yelled out to him: “You have to try this thing.”

There was no way in hell it was going to replace my baby, my Santa Cruz Tallboy, and my determination to gut out hard work when it comes to mountain biking. And even if I felt the lure of the e-bike, I still believe in that ethos. I like to suffer. I like to do it on my own. So even after that first electric ride, I stayed away from e-bikes on the trails.

Oh, I was just fine riding them on Boulder’s incredible bike path infrastructure. I learned that I rode my bike more when it was an e-bike. I took it to the store, the gym, and on any other errand that made sense. I love how it made those quick trips easier and kept me out of my car. But the trails? No. I still saw that as cheating.

Then I met Santa Claus. I was in Finland in 2017 to hike Halti, the country’s highest point as a celebration of the nation’s 100th birthday and we were staging in the town of Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle. This is where the big man lives, or so our Finnish hosts assured us. And they double assured us they were not joking. Indeed, more then 500,000 people come here every year to sit on his lap (at least in spirit) and check out his workshop (where a deadpan elf showed me a diagram that scientifically explains how he does it all in one night… something to do with the spin of the Earth and time travel.) Anyway, we were given the chance to ride fat e-bikes through the surrounding hills to reach the storied workshop.

What a joy it was. Our sturdy hiking group had a wide range of mountain biking experience—but hop on the fat e-bikes and the playing field was level. You had fun riding the trails as a lifelong cyclist or as a newbie. We flowed along and stopped to eat wild blueberries. Santa was gregarious and very glad that we had biked to him. And even more glad that we were going to benefit from the antioxidant properties of all the berries we ate.

This month, I have been getting in what my friend Jason Blevins refers to as “acoustic” mountain bike rides, but I have also had a blast on the e-mountain bike. The machines are banned on Boulder trails but nearby White Ranch in Jefferson County welcomes them. This is a perfect ride for a powered bike. It starts with a climb so ugly we rarely want to take it on anyway. Again, it’s not that the e-bike was cheating here. It was simply a different way to see and experience the trail (and I promise I will go back and ride it without the aid of power).

When it comes down to it, e-bikes are not cheating; they are fun. They don’t go too fast (most shut off around 20 mph); they don’t somehow ruin the trail (smoother riding is probably better for the trail surface); they don’t get people in over their heads. They simply are a new way to flow on the trails. Don’t believe me? Try one. And then tell Santa what you want this Christmas.

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