E-Bikes: The Devil, the Future, or a Blip in history?

 Picture: Dan Penguine, 2018
Picture: Dan Penguine, 2018

E-Bikes.

Whether you love them, or hates them, E-bikes are EVERYWHERE.

Here in Tel Aviv, where I’ve made my main base the last 6 years (easier and cheaper to get to Europe to coach riders & train), E-bikes have been quickly adopted and become relied upon for transportation by a growing number of people, mostly “non-cyclists”.

Moving from Pittsburgh, Pa, to Tel Aviv was quite a culture change in itself, but add in the huge European influence on the culture, along with the fact that it’s a beach city and Tel Aviv is bound to have bikes galore (which it does). And it was a bit of a dream until 2015, when E-bikes first started to make their appearance on the roads and bike paths here.

But E-bikes have been getting a really bad rap from those of us who ride push-pedal bikes regularly. Yes, I felt very negative about E-bikes myself as well the first few months E-bikes were becoming popular (don’t even get me started on the E-scooters!), but much of my opinion was formed based on the fact that those riding the e-bikes had ZERO bike handling skills, were extremely dangerous to others on the bike path/ road due to their scoff-law behaviors (blatantly running red lights at high rates of speed, weaving in traffic, texting or on phone calls while riding, etc), and the fact the E-bikers were riding at speeds far faster than the riders understand how to safely handle their bikes.

Oh yeah, and it sucked a lot to get passed (the first few times) by someone casually drinking a latte, while I’m fighting a headwind with my power in the mid-300’s, barely able to keep

But like many things technological in my life, I forced myself to take a step back and look at how we (Coaches) can USE E-bikes to improve fitness abilities, and to make our athletes EVEN STRONGER, FASTER, AND MORE POWERFUL. Below is what I’ve come up with so far, and I think it’s a very strong case for us push-peddlers to embrace E-bikes, as E-bikes can serve quite a few important, if not integral, purposes in our riding lives.

Touring, Boost, or Turbo?

While the E-bikes that have geometry similar to folding bikes are an exception to this, I DO see power-boost Mountain bikes and Road bikes as quickly becoming a way for coaches and athletes to better control training stress on scheduled recovery days or long endurance days, where cutting an athlete’s ride at a specific point may be incredibly necessary, but not feasible (think Kilojoule rides, and taper Target TSS/Intensity Factor rides). In my opinion, using E-bikes in this fashion can be HUGE and can significantly boost riders performances, when done properly.

Much like the use of ERG mode on the trainer (pretty much the deciding factor for why I purchased a CompuTrainer in the 2nd year of my business), or simply using the trainer for specific workouts to ensure that the necessary work is done in a controlled fashion, the use of E-bikes in this fashion is a COMPLETE GAME CHANGER.

One of the biggest struggles coaches (and self-coached riders) have, is keeping training stress in check for those weeks where we are pushing the upper limits of our abilities. It’s during these weeks that we are walking the tightrope of seeing immense training benefits, or getting sick and losing fitness+ training time due to being sick.

Use of the E-bikes for group rides, endurance & recovery rides, and even for high-intensity interval rides that require us to go a bit further away from home than is ideal, makes total sense:

– Bob decided he wants to drop the hammer at the furthest point from home? No problem!

– No time to drive halfway out to where the ideal intervals are to be done? No problem!

– A friend is in town and wants to ride for 2 hours, but you have a 60 min recovery ride? No Problem!

– Finished your prescribed KJ’s but still an hour out from home thanks to big headwinds? No problem!

– Finished the first day of a stage race, but want to go to the best restaurant in town, which of course is a 30 minute ride away via car, but just 10 min by bike? No problem!

-Your ideal training grounds for your 75 minute high intensity interval session is a 40 minute bike ride each way, with nowhere to warm-up if you drive there, and nowhere else to park on the way? No problem!

Bring your significant other too!

Some riders prefer to keep the riding with their significant other to a minimum, as it’s your own private time/space, while others enjoy having their significant other along for a ride to share the experience.

For those who want to share their riding lives/experiences, another huge opportunity I see with e-bikes, is the newfound ability to go out for an endurance ride with your significant other without having to worry that the pace will be too slow or fast (depending which one of you is in your race calendar).

It really does bring a whole new level of enjoyment to riding together, as you no longer have to worry (as much) about the pace, or seeing that scheduled “together ride” as a loss of a training day (which I disagree with, but I digress).

On my side of things, this E-bikes allow me to keep up with my stronger riders (working with pro riders is fun, but I have my own limits, and you cannot take the scooter on bike paths…) allowing me to stay focused on COACHING them, not having to worry about redlining and dropping myself from the days workout, and opening up a lot more safe training grounds since we are not tied to where the motorized scooter can go.

The biggest opportunity for e-bikes for a serious rider

While the above are all big, big opportunities to take advantage of E-bikes, I think thy pale in comparison to the biggest one of all:

The ability for an injured athlete to get out and ride with their friends.

Of course this needs to be done within reason, and with a careful, thought out plan (aka don’t go out on your E-bike if you just had collarbone surgery!). I have had many riders come to work with me after being injured and unable to get back to riding. Return form injury can be a long, hard journey, and often times leaves us isolated from our friends.

Not being able to go out and enjoy time with your friends on the bike makes one feel isolated, more lonely, and can delay our recovery time due to loss of motivation or even depression. E-bikes can allow a rider the opportunity to “get out with friends”, even if just for a short 20-30 minute “ride over to the local cafe. Again, this needs to be done CAREFULLY, and cautiously. But when done correctly, this can turbocharge ones emotional and mental state, as connection to the group/friend remains strong.

I see a HUGE opportunity in E-bikes for those who are forward thinking to have an incredibly positive impact on what we can achieve for ourselves, or those we coach. Of course, as always, there will be those who try to exploit E-bikes in ways that are far from the air of good sportsmanship, yet we cannot allow those individuals to drive what we think of this new piece of technology.

It’s my belief that we can, and should, embrace E-bikes and their utility to the sport. Leverage for learning bike-handling skills is increased with the E-bike as well, something which EVERY cyclists and triathlete should be doing on a regular basis. (You want to go fast and be safe? LEARN HOW TO HANDLE YOUR BICYCLE!).

With greater power (speed) comes more responsibility”

Taking Technology and using it to help the athletes I work with see better fitness & performance results is one of the main pillars on which I’ve built HVT the last 12 years, and is something I’ll continue to do. From being an early adopter of Strava and Zwift, to LEOMO, Morpheus, and Vi by Lifebeam, I greatly enjoy figuring out how and when to take the newest advances in fitness technology to boost athlete performance and recovery.

Bonus section: The average e-bike commuter

The E-bikes those who use them for transportation aren’t made for much more than driving in a straight line, at relatively high levels of speed (25-40kph).

Add to this the fact that 99% of those who are riding these E-bikes have absolutely zero bike handling skills or understanding of how to deal with obstacles or hazards that they may come upon, and we have a recipe for trouble. (Most roadies/ cyclists who ride 3-5 days a week on their own don’t have very good bike handling skills around other riders. This is something I feel strongly needs to be changed, and that more riders should practice bike handling at least 20 minutes a week… but that’s just me.)

Combine the above with the fact that many e-bike users don’t seem to understand basic driving laws (or at least have any desire to follow them), and we have what my Russian friends call a “Balagaan”, which means a “Huge giant mess” / Cluster F**K.

For those using E-bikes for commuting, please keep in mind the bikes are NOT built for turning/handling, but for speed in one direction: Forward.

Slow down

Let other riders know you’re coming up on them

Don’t text and ride

Don’t phone and ride

As always, Train Smarter, Not Harder & Stay safe, because it’s all about YOU.

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