Why E-Bikes Are a Threat to Mountain Bike Trail Access

 

2017_Honda_CRF_50F

Image courtesy of Honda

The typical discussion on the question of e-bike access to non-motorized trails typically goes something like this:

Proponent: “Why are you against e-bikes? They are quiet and don’t damage the trails”

Anti: “Because they will hurt our access to trails”

Proponent: “They shouldn’t – they are just like regular mountain bikes but with some help for the rider – they don’t hurt the trails”

Anti: “They are motorized – don’t you get it? They will get faster and faster as technology improves”

Proponent: “But they don’t have a throttle”

This typically goes on and on and there is never a resolution just like most discussions on social media. Multiple government agencies have come out with rulings that e-bikes should not be allowed on trails that exclude motorized vehicles. The whole motor vs non-motor seems obvious to me but some agencies haven’t ruled on the issue and some do allow e-bikes on trails. Some specifically allow them for people with a disability. I assume that the rules on e-bikes will be clarified over the next 2-3 years as the industry ramps up their offerings. E-bikes won’t sell unless people have a place to ride them so there is a fair bit of money lining up to change the laws to allow e-bikes on more trails.

I’ve been involved in MTB advocacy in some form or another since 1993 and I do see e-bikes as a threat. The sky is not falling – YET – but manufacturers and some vocal e-bike users want to change the laws so that e-bikes are allowed on trails that don’t currently allow them. It’s very hard to believe that this effort won’t affect those of us who choose not to ride with motor power. In general, the proponents argue that because e-bikes don’t have a throttle and are battery powered that they should be treated as a different class from internal combustion motorcycles. Industry types and some agencies may buy this distinction but I think it will be lost on the general public who, sensibly, will see a bike with a motor and ask, “Why can’t I ride my motorcycle on those trails?”.

My imaginary conversation between a member of the public and an elected official or administrator goes like this:

Public: “I was out on the Crest yesterday and I noticed that there were several people on electric mountain bikes. That’s really cool that you allow motor bikes up there now – thanks!”

Administrator: “Well, actually those are e-bikes – they are pedal-assisted bicycles, not motorized bikes”.

Public: “I don’t understand – they have motors, right?”

Administrator: “Well, they have 500 Watt electric motors but they don’t have a throttle”

Public: “So how do they work if they don’t have a throttle?”

Administrator: “Well you have to pedal and the motor helps out – sort of like the old mopeds”

Public: “So how do you know that the motor is only 500 Watts?”

Administrator: “Well we don’t know unless we inspect them”

Public: “How often do you inspect them?”

Administrator: “Never – we don’t have the budget for that”

Public: “So, riders could modify the drive system to make it faster?”

Administrator: “In theory, yes, but we haven’t seen that happen.”

Public: “So I’ve got a CRF125 and it would be great to ride it on these trails with my daughter on her CRF50 – so it’s OK if I ride up on the Crest?”

Administrator: “No – sorry – it has a gas motor and a throttle so you can’t ride it on non-motorized trails”

Public: “Wait – you just said that bikes with electric motors are OK – I don’t get it”

Administrator: “Yes, but those don’t have a throttle”

Public: “That seems totally arbitrary – they have a motor but you allow them on non-motorized trails??!! I need to talk to someone at the Forest Service – this is ridiculous. If they can ride electric motorbikes up there I should be able to ride my dirt bike there, too.”

Like I say this is my imagination working – the conversation won’t go exactly like this but will likely be similar. Next step is that the people who ride dirt bikes get their lobbyists and industry groups involved and Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Husqvarna, etc. see an opportunity to sell MX bikes and ATV’s in greater numbers. The government gets pressured and are left with a simple choice – allow e-bikes and other motorized vehicles or do a blanket ban on all motorized vehicles. A few people decide to use e-bikes on multi-use trails even where they are not allowed. Hikers and equestrians complain to the administrators. Since the administrators can’t easily tell the difference between (for example) a Specialized Turbo Levo Fattie and a non-motorized MTB, they are left with no choice but banning all MTB’s from those trails.

That’s one way you may lose access. Do you have other scenarios? Let me know.

Pedal Assist – Just Another Marketing Term

Interesting to see this sign at a trailhead in Moab the other day. The BLM had to post both ‘No e-bikes’ and ‘No pedal assist’ since the bike industry has pushed ‘pedal assist’ as the preferred deceptive marketing term. I hadn’t made the connection until I saw this, but ‘pedal assist’ doesn’t sound like you have a motor – it just sounds like magic that helps you pedal. 

With the lack of technical fluency of most of the population, I can’t blame the rider for not understanding that their pedal assist bike has a motor. Glad to see the BLM is holding the line on keeping motors off these trails. There are plenty of trails around Moab where motors are allowed – so I hope the BLM and other agencies continue to hold the line on this. 

Incubating

Interesting first visit to The Startup Building co-working space in Provo today to attend a Million Cups event. I met the building owner, Tom, and his family who seem to have made the space quite successful in the 4 years that they have owned it. Surprisingly, ‘Startup’ is the name of the family that started a chocolate company in the building 100+ years ago, and are still producing today.

I got a quick tour after the Million Cups event and was impressed by the number of entrepreneurs and students who have made this building in Provo their home.

One of the great things is the location. Right across the street from the Frontrunner train stop. Sure made getting to and from the event easy!

Meeting space:

Startup meeting room.jpg

Along the Wasatch Range you almost always have a view:

Startup building with view.jpg

More information on the co-working space is here Startup Building

KS LEV Dropper Post Long-Term Review 

KS post.jpg

I’ve ridden a number of dropper posts since about 2008. From the early days, I’ve sampled the Gravity Dropper, Crank Brothers Joplin, Fox DOSS and ended up buying the Kind Shock LEV in early 2014. For those of you who still haven’t bought a dropper post I’ll say that it’s one of the best upgrades you can make on your bike no matter what kind of bike you are riding – even a hardtail. If you like going fast downhill (or even if you don’t) it will give you more control and confidence. You’ll lower your center of gravity which gives more control in cornering and particularly on steep downhills the dropper will make you feel that you won’t go over the bars. If you’re riding flat to rolling non-technical terrain keep that fixed seatpost but if you are riding anything else and want to have more fun, get a dropper post!

One of my primary considerations whenever I buy bike parts is to get something reliable. Weight and other performance issues are important but always secondary to reliability. If I have to spend too much time fixing something it takes away from my ride time. If you have ever walked a few miles to get back to the trailhead due to a broken part, I guarantee that you won’t be thinking, ‘I’m so glad I saved 50 grams on that part – it failed but it sure is light!’. My experience with Crank Brothers several years ago was with a failed seatpost that wouldn’t return to the top. That pretty much ruined the rest of my ride trying to pedal uphill with a seat 5 inches below the correct climbing height. I knew a few MTB tour guides who were leading multi-day rides and carried a backup seatpost in their packs since they couldn’t fully trust the dropper posts they were running. That wasn’t for me.

So, in 2014 when I was shopping, the consensus was that the Rock Shox Reverb and the KS LEV were the most reliable posts. I tried them both in a shop and settled on the KS. It seemed particularly solid and the shop owner said he had fewer returns for repairs than with the RS post. The Fox DOSS was also out at that time but didn’t have as much of a track record so I wrote that one off.

Installation and Setup:

My bike (Yeti ASR 5C) didn’t allow for internal cable routing but the setup wasn’t really an issue. The external cable routing was clean and has never been a problem. Some early generation dropper posts had cables attached to the moving portion of the post (usually right at the seat mounting) which meant that the cable moved on the bike as you went up and down with the post. This was particularly annoying on the Crank Brothers Joplin as the cable housing would sometimes hit my leg or hang up on the frame somewhere. The LEV had a clean attachment to the top of the fixed portion of the post. The only weak point the shop warned me was the cover over the cable attachment that often fell off during use. The solution was to put a tie-wrap around the cover. Easy solution – but sort of disappointing to get a brand-new post and have to throw a band-aid on it right from the start. But hey – it works.

KS tie wrap.jpg

Tie-wrap band-aid

The post has an air cartridge to move the post. The Schrader valve is on the top of the post and requires you to remove the saddle to adjust the pressure. Sort of a hassle, but I’ve only set the pressure once and haven’t lost any air so I haven’t had to add air all this time.

The seatpost head uses the preferred 2-bolt attachment so adjusting the seat angle is easy and very secure. I’m not a big fan of button head screws as are used on the LEV since the hex size is usually a size smaller than a socket head cap screw. With the socket head cap screw you are less likely to strip out the hex if you are a ham-fisted mechanic. I understand the use of a button head since it is less likely to injure the rider in a crash than a socket head cap screw. So I’m just careful to fully engage the hex key and watch my torque.

KS 2-bolt.jpg

Out of the box there was a bit of side-to-side play (rotation) of the post but it was quite small and not noticeable when riding the bike. It’s more pronounced now than when I got the post but it is still just barely noticeable when riding and doesn’t bother me. I know some people who care a lot about these details so if you are one of those people you might not like it.

On the trail:

One of the key issues with any post is the remote lever design. The ergonomics and feel of the lever are critical. You want the lever to be located in a good position so that access is good – the most critical time to drop the post is just before a technical section and that is the last time you want your hand off the bar trying to activate a lever. The lever shouldn’t require too much force or throw (travel). It should also have enough ‘feel’ so you can detect the release point and know when the post will move. The KS lever meets all the critical criteria. I initially thought it might be a bit small but I’ve come to like it. If you’re running ODI lock-on grips the lever even integrates with the grip. Take off the inside collar and the clamp of the KS lever just slides onto the grip. Nice detail.

KS lever.jpg

Return speed:

Some dropper posts have an adjustment for the speed that the post goes to the up position. The return speed on the LEV is governed only by the initial air pressure setting and the speed has always seemed fine to me. Just fast enough and very consistent.

Reliability:

This post has been pretty much bullet proof. I rode it for 2 1/2 years before the first issue popped up. There was a noticeable clunking and a bit of stickiness when moving up to the top position. I assumed that I would have to send it back for service but I opted for the very simple sealhead service as described here http://blog.artscyclery.com/mountain/ask-a-mechanic-service-and-maintain-your-kind-shock-lev-dropper-post/ This was surprisingly easy and put the post back to like-new condition after just 30 minutes of effort.

Overall:

The LEV is a good post. Reliable and consistent performance and it hasn’t let me down. I’m starting to shop for a new bike and I definitely want a KS post on my next bike.

If Cycling is the New Golf, E-Bikes are the Handicap

shimano-electric-assistImage – Shimano

One of the reasons that golf is so popular in business is that people of different abilities can play together. It’s also a good game for socializing because there is a lot of time to chat during the game. I’m not a golfer so what I’m going to write here may be way off, but the whole idea of the handicap is that you can have people of differing abilities play the same round and then compare scores afterwards. So, for business it’s the great equalizer. Could you imagine people going swimming together? ‘Hey Bill – what do you say we race each other over 400 meters and then talk about the Westco project?’. It’s not going to happen. Or – ‘Steve & Jane – want to play some 2 on 2 hoops?’. Well if the last time Steve and Jane picked up a basketball was at age 13 when they played a game of HORSE, there is no way that 2 on 2 game is going to be any fun for either side if they are playing some ex-college basketball players.

For the brief time that I was in Sales I quickly realized what a disadvantage it was not to be a golfer. If money is the engine of capitalism, golf is clearly the lubricant. A few years ago, the phrase, ‘Cycling is the new golf’ became popular around some corners of Silicon Valley – well not my corner of the stagnant semiconductor capital equipment industry – but certainly among the social media/killer app/Sand Hill crowd. I still never got this because the difference in endurance between someone who rides a bike once a month and someone who rides 2-3 times a week can be quite stark. I just can’t see the casual cyclist (dare I say Fred?) hitting the Portola Loop and climbing Old La Honda with a Cat 3 leg shaver. Fred’s going to get dropped on the first Strava climbing segment that is over 1/10 of a mile.

But the other day it dawned on me – the e-bike is the great equalizer – to use a golfing term – the handicap – that allows people of varying ability to participate in the same event. Now all we need is a good way to express that handicap. Is it the number of watts your e-bike puts out? Maybe you add your bike wattage to your actual wattage? Or take this number and divide by your weight so you could have a power to weight handicap?transformer-electric-bicycle-black-b2-blk-zzzzzby-color-black-e65_grande

Image – Genesis

Still the e-bike analogy seems pretty weak. Even a noob golfer must swing the club (actually a bunch more times than a good golfer), still must walk the whole course (or ride in the same cart) but the e-bike rider can’t feel the same satisfaction as the ‘traditional’ rider, can he? If you keep up with the group on your e-bike it’s not because you earned it, right? You just paid to keep up just like you had called Uber for a lift. Just like anyone, I hate getting dropped but it builds toughness – I don’t know if there is anything more humbling that I experience on a regular basis than getting back to the coffee shop 10 minutes after my buddies.

As humbling as getting dropped can be, it makes me want to work harder and it reminds me that there is ALWAYS someone better out there. Plus, isn’t toughness one of the attributes we want to get out of our athletic pursuits? If that novice golfer had a battery-powered exoskeleton that allowed her to swing more consistently and strike the ball harder would that be allowed on the golf course? Why do we think a motorized bike is OK but not a motor-assist for the folks lifting at the gym?

I don’t have a problem with folks using e-bikes out on the road. If it gets them out there that’s fine. If it allows them to commute, ditch the car and reduce pollution that’s even better. But if you’re in a competitive group ride (whether it’s a loop with your buddies or on a Century) be honest that you are on an e-bike – don’t try to disguise it. If you’re happy that’s great – just be willing to talk about your handicap just like the golfers.

Now that I’ve said all that – don’t even get me started on mountain bikes with electric motors. I don’t care what you call them or what rationalizations you come up with – they are motorized bikes and please keep them off trails that are designated for human power only.

Things I like about robot cars

google self-driving car


There has been a lot of press about self-driving cars, and as they come closer to public availability I find that people generally fall into 2 camps; either they are enthusiastic and think they will be a great time (and even money) saver or they are skeptical and can’t imagine an autonomous vehicle being as safe as a human-driven car. There is a small third group that likes driving, doesn’t like to give up control, and imagines they won’t get to places as fast as the law-abiding robots. That’s hard to imagine in many of our traffic-choked cities where commute speeds average something like 12 mph, but I digress.

With approximately 1 death per hour in California due to cars, it’s hard to fathom just how computers could do worse, especially considering that so many deaths and injuries are due to inattention, distraction and DUI’s – failings which computers generally aren’t vulnerable to.

Having been around machine control and automation all my working life, I understand the challenges but also know that the control systems and sensor technology are more than capable of providing greater levels of convenience and safety than we expect today. And particularly, the greatest beneficiaries will be the pedestrians, cyclists and other road users who aren’t protected by the cocoon of a modern car with airbags, crumple zones and the like. This video from Google shows some of the strides they have made to operate safely around pedestrians and cyclists – check this out Self-driving cars on city streets.

So I look forward to the day we see these vehicles on the road and following are some of my primary reasons. Please let me know if you have others to add to this list.

Why I like robot cars:

  • Unlike humans, they CAN multi-task
  • Kids won’t have to run in fear when my Mom goes out
  • They WILL come to a full stop at stop signs, probably even for right turn on red
  • They will always use their turn signals
  • My Dad won’t have to yell ‘SLOW DOWN’ when they go down our street
  • They won’t get DUI’s but you can still ride in one when you’re wasted
  • They won’t participate in Sideshows
  • When I’m biking I’ll be safer than with human drivers
  • I can have one come pick me up at work if I’m too lazy to ride my bike home.
  • No more arguments with my wife about who has to drive
  • We can both sleep on those long drives

Los Altos History Museum Bike Exhibit

LA pencil recumbent

I waited until the last weekend it was open (anyone who knows me won’t be surprised by that) but finally got to the “Pedal Power: From Wacky to Workhorse” exhibit at the Los Altos History Museum. It had a bit of everything to appeal to avid cyclists, commuters, kids and recreational cyclists. There was some significant history on display as well as some whimsical bikes.

Having been an avid mountain biker for the past 25 years I always gravitate to the early years of Mountain Biking especially the bikes and components that I lusted after but could never have. The Ibis Bow-Ti was one of those. Something I only saw in a magazine until this visit.

LA Ibis BowTi bike

The workmanship on the bike was beautiful and you couldn’t help but want to take it off the wall and ride it out the door.

On display were 3 Rock Shox forks also from the early years. The Mag 21 on the left was really the first successful suspension fork and one that my friends and I rode back in the early 1990’s.

LA RS forks
One of the more unique performance bikes from the 1990’s was Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle’s winning bike from the 1993 edition of Paris-Roubaix. A special bike because it was equipped with a road version of the Rock Shox suspension fork. He won the race by just a few centimeters over Franco Ballerini and I have no idea if the suspension fork made the difference or not. This was Lassalle’s second Paris-Roubaix win in a row on a suspension fork.

LA Duclos-Lassalle bike

Fork close-up

LA Duclos-Lassalle fork
After looking at the bikes focused on the ‘enthusiast’ and racer market I turned to the fun bikes – bikes that people created to fit their needs or passion. It still amazes me to see the amount of creativity and whimsy that revolves around a simple 2-wheel, human-powered contraption.

There are tall bikes

LA tall bike


Scraper bikes

LA scraper bike


I met these guys up in Oakland about 6 months ago

LA Scraper bike info card
and of course everyone’s favorite bike – the Pencil Recumbent!

LA pencil recumbent


I really enjoyed this exhibit. I got a view into the distant cycling past as well as more recent history of mountain bike development. Thanks to the Los Altos History Museum, the curators and the donors of hardware for the exhibit who made this possible.