Many people are aware that there are various subcultures of cyclists that exist. From road cyclists, and mountain bikers, to fixed gear lovers and cruiser fanatics, there are so many different groups a cyclist might belong to. A new group that is ever growing is that of the electric rider. Those of us who ride electric bikes are in a very precarious position when it comes to the definitions and stereotypes that will be associated with our riding subculture. We have the ability to change the narrative and shed a positive light on eBike riding, or to continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes. To a certain extent people will form their own opinions and biases on eBikes regardless of how eBike riders act on the trails, but we must do everything we can to show that class 1 Pedal Assist bikes are no different in operation as traditional bicycles. This is a call to all who ride eBikes to have cycling etiquette, to obey trail laws, to be polite, and to always operate our bikes with respect to others.
Colorado is one of the few places that has acknowledged specific regulation of eBikes based on the class system. Our governmental systems have listened and recognized that a class 1 eBike is no different from a traditional bicycle. It is up to us as riders of eBikes to continue to show the truth of that decision. Colorado has the perfect opportunity to show other states what it will be like to allow electric bikes access to trails. Therefore it is up to us as eBike riders to integrate into the larger cycling subculture. I would urge you, to get involved with some local cycling advocacy groups. Bicycle Colorado has a great recourse that lists a multitude of different advocacy groups that you could get involved in.
Another even simpler way to be an advocate is to learn common misconceptions surrounding eBikes. Many people we interact with at the shop have this idea that eBikes are more similar to a moped or motorcycle than a bicycle, which is simply untrue. Check out this list of common myths by People for Bikes so that if you come across a rider who is hateful toward eBikes you might be able to enlighten their misconceptions. Though I have the feeling a lot of eBike distaste comes from an ego problem rather than any actual issue with the bikes. While it is easy to dig into our respective fox hole opinions I think this blog post does a great job of giving some insight into why people can be so hateful surrounding eBikes. The author, originally an eBike opponent himself, has this to say about what he thought about eBikes and why he realized he needed to change is stance:
“Those bikes promote being lazy, they strip from incentive to exercise and excel in riding bikes, another waste created to earn money rather than cater to a particular need. Potential buyers are no handicapped people, those are lazy, fat bastards, not willing to train, to earn the turns, they are likely to hurt themselves on the way down and someone will have to come and get them with a helicopter wasting my tax money. Those bikes are illegal anyways, those are motorcycles, they should not be allowed on trails, because they will ruin them, unskillfully skidding with locked wheel on downs and increase erosion of uphill sections. Finally the electric engines and their batteries are horrible to the environment, no matter if delusional green-leftist hipster-hippies in my town believe that their owners just sold a car to change commuting habits to save the planet, instead of being just lazy cyclists. Lazy lazy lazy…
I wrote all that down and started analyzing it – what does it say about me? – First off, I realized that electric mountain bikes are not the issue, it is the unspecified group of people that was upsetting me. Why were they upsetting me? I never met one. Come on! Let’s be realistic, a choice of a bicycle, normal or assisted, cannot represent the whole picture of a whole human being. So now, why is it that I don’t like those people? Why do they appear to me as individuals stripped of morals and more importantly: not getting what the real mountain biking is about? The reality is, I am not as fit as I would like to be and I feel ashamed of it. I buy and try a lot of different things, so I am ashamed of being a sheep. I like to skid sometimes but I am ashamed of ruining the trails. I like taking risks, I ride alone often, sometimes without a phone, not telling where I am going – I would be extremely ashamed if something happened to me, so that rescue team would need to take me, and I would not be able to help my wife with our small kids. Ruining trails? – I am DEEPLY ashamed that I don’t build trails, I may put some logs or branches away, but I wish I could build or at least maintain more. I ride illegal trails and I am at least a bit ashamed of doing it against the society. I don’t give a damn about the law the system, and society? f*ck society!… something’s wrong… am I arrogant?”
The author of the blog goes on to talk about how once he rode an eBike his whole outlook changed. How he could no longer deny that riding an eBike is fun. If you do decide to engage someone surrounding the topic of eBike use on bike trails don’t expect to “win” the conversation and sometimes the best thing to do is just ride away (because they probably cant go as fast as you can).
While all of this is good information to know, the question remains, who are eBike riders? What is the demographic of the electric rider?
Recently a study intended to better understand eBike riders was published by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities. The study found that although the majority of riders were white males (following the trend of cycling as a whole) eBikes create more diverse riders who have previously had many barriers to cycling. Some of the most common barriers include physical disabilities, transporting children, living in a hilly area, or not wanting to show up sweaty to work after a commute. Because eBikes eliminate many barriers the eBike sub-community is extremely diverse in its representation compared to other cycling sub-communities. So as eBike riders, lets represent ourselves well. We should advocate for safe and responsible riding, and lets do everything we can to educate ourselves on laws and best riding practices.
- Always announce to other riders and pedestrians when you are going to pass them. Nothing complicated, a simple “on your left” can go a long way.
- If a path is particularly crowded make sure to bike at a slow speed.
- If you are going to ride at night you are legally required to have a front running light and a rear reflector(at least).
- Don’t get discouraged if you hear the words “cheater,” many people who are against eBikes simply have a misunderstanding surrounding why people ride them.
- When riding on the road, you don’t always have to ride in the bike lane. There are many situations when “taking the lane,” or riding in the middle of the road, is the safest place to ride.
If you are a new bike commuter, a casual rider or an old timer who wants to know what “rights” cyclists have riding on the road we are considering hosting an “Auto-Friendly Cyclist” course that is focused on teaching the laws and best safe practices for cyclists. If you are/would be interested in this information please send an email to me firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Auto-Friendly Cyclist Course.” This way we can plan a night to get together as electric riders, to get to know our cycling community and learn about how to ride safer!
Here are some eBike comics to show just how misunderstood eBikes are: Sometimes laughing at peoples ridiculous perceptions helps me not to get too frustrated.