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E-bikes turned me into a bike snob, and I hate it

Home »Cycling» E-bikes turned me into a bike snob, and I hate it

I reluctantly tested Cannondale’s newest e-bike, the Adventure Neo. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t hate it. And then I realized: I was going to become a bicycle snob.

I find spandex as uncomfortable as it is unflattering. And I don’t understand why some people wear branded lycra kits to drive to work. You might as well be wearing cropped jean shorts and a t-shirt (or hell, no shirt at all!).

I see how seriously other people take cycling and I think it’s silly. Biking has something for everyone – it’s the very first machine many of us learn to work independently and expertly, and it can be our first foray into a real adventure.

So when I hear mechanics impatiently “talking” to someone who just wants tuning, or when I see a peloton of “Cyclopaths” dominating a paved path, I see them as bicycle snobs.

I consider them separate from me. After all, I don’t speak a bike and pedal for fun.

Photo credit: Kurt Barclay

At least that’s what I used to believe – until I found myself thinking and talking like there was a right and a wrong way to ride a bike. It turns out I have a problem with e-bikes and it took me to get out and ride one to understand how wrong I was in my approach to cycling.

Brief background: e-bikes and media

To get to my point quickly, I first have to share what it is like to be an outdoor gear journalist today. For the past 5 years I’ve watched my email inbox explode with e-bike parking spaces. It was mind-boggling to say the least.

In 2015, the only “e” that made it into the bicycle industry’s press materials was high-performance electronic gearshifting (like Di2). Then e-bikes slowly peeked their strange faces into strange press events. Those first motorcycles were new rather than useful, and their unwieldy designs left no doubt that e-bikes would remain mere concepts.

rungu in moab

My own first ride on an e-bike got me astride one three-wheeled fat bike Monstrosity called the “Moloch”. It was fun, sure – just as driving a monster truck would be fun. But would I ever want to navigate the city streets, take it on road trips, or try to park it? No way!

But as with any idea, e-bikes didn’t just go away. They found rough edges in the bicycle industry. An e-bike parking space every other month became every other week, then every other day. The prices of battery-powered bicycles fell as quickly as their weights.

And soon the big kids on the block – Trek, Specialized, and yes, Cannondale – saw a proven concept and decided to steer their own research and development onto a real trend.

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Much to like

Here’s a humiliating revelation: I didn’t like e-bikes because I didn’t understand them. They’re different from what I’m used to, so no matter how unwitting I may be, I’ve made a decision not to accept them. What kind of attitude is that?

I really looked at bikes for what they were. I liked to drive them without engines. What right did bicycle manufacturers have to change anything I liked about them? In a time when everything is a “smart” thing, bicycles stayed simple. At a time when everything is increasingly geared towards comfort, bicycles are still a physical challenge.

Plus, these bikes didn’t even look right. Bright, fat hoses did little to hide the gigantic engines of the motorcycles. And what happened when the battery ran out? They had a bike that didn’t have an “e” and didn’t work as well as its old-fashioned cousins. What a joke!

But perhaps most insidiously, it felt like those who rode e-bikes skipped the line. They didn’t accept the motorcycles the rest of us loved, and suddenly they were on our paths and on our tracks. Damn it – they passed us!

I blamed brands as well as drivers, if not more.

So much more to love

Cannondale Advenure Neo E-BikePhoto courtesy Cannondale

It was around this time that I gritted my teeth and insisted on non-responses to e-bike emails as one of my very good friends – myself a PR agent for Cannondale and a licensed road cyclist (certainly a bike snob, if ever there is one gave)). – I tested a new bike.

His pitch was chosen to spend a day out of the office driving around Boulder, Colorado, earning miles, and drinking coffee and groceries along the way.

“You’re going to test Cannondale’s new one Adventure Neo! ” he told me. I didn’t have to hear another word. I answered excitedly “Yes!” and marked my calendar. I couldn’t wait to ride this new bike.

If I had read the entire email, I would certainly have opposed a “new urban style e-bike”. But when I showed up at Boulder, I came face-to-bike with a walk-through frame with a built-in bike computer and built-in headlights and taillights, all of which took their pulse from an electrical heart hidden in the frame.

“Bro, are you ready to shred?” my friend asked beaming. I was skeptical to say the least.

Never say no to a bike ride

I like to ride fixed gear and I like to drive fast. I’m more at home, surrounded by limousines and pickups in the city center, than in the company of pedestrians and rollerbladers on winding paths.

So it might come as no surprise to hear that most of my friends don’t enjoy driving with me. However, when I hit the Bosch interface that controlled the motor’s pedal assist force, I realized that a bike like this might be more fun for others to ride with me. Sure, I’d still have to recall my own road warrior habits, even on an analog bike. But I could possibly invite my 70-year-old dad to ride the Neo electric adventure – a ride neither he nor I would hate!

And with the evolution of these motorcycles, brands can now design them to be balanced, comfortable and fast at the same time. It’s proof of the marketing jargon that goes with practically every e-bike pitch: accessibility. That word is so closely related to the advent of e-bikes that I started turning it off – but if you don’t need access it’s impossible to understand how valuable it is to someone who does.

Cannondale Adventure Neo E-BikePhoto courtesy Cannondale

Push button speed, a stable ride, and extras like a built-in rack and lights on all the time make pedaling power an option for a lot more people on many more occasions.

Zero sum game

This question of access raises another good point (and humbly another that I initially missed): Nobody can ride a bike and drive a car at the same time. Every time someone decides to ride a bike, one less car hits the road. And if that option is open to more people, there may be a lot more cars that don’t take people around on their errands.

This is not a case against driving – far from it. Practically everyone drives sometimes. But we can all agree on two things: first, cycling on roads with fewer cars is safer, and second, driving on roads with fewer cars is less stressful. Win win!

Don’t you dare smile

Thousand Helm Pit Viper Bike TourThe author and his friend love a day on e-bikes

There is no getting around it: E-bikes are fun. While I don’t expect to own an e-bike anytime soon (I still love the hassle and simplicity of my fixie), they are guaranteed to be smile makers.

Do not you believe me? Go to a dealer and try one out. If you come across a Cannondale Dealer, read them Adventure Neo and switch the pedal assistant to “Turbo” at a traffic light. Then try not to smile when the light turns green and you slide through the intersection in front of every combustion engine behind you. If there’s a Tesla in the pack, good luck to you.

That was the real lightbulb moment for me. When I’m having so much fun on an e-bike – someone who doesn’t need or really want one – imagine how much fun it is for people who really benefit from it, like those recovering from an injury?

I apologize, e-bikers. You are always welcome on the paths and in the alleys, just like me. Let’s take a ride!

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