For the first time this year, riders taking part in the Tour De France will have their bicycles scanned for concealed electric motors. Rumours of so-called “mechanical doping” have swirled around the sport for years (for the full history, see this article), and were made real with the discovery, in January, of just such a device in the bike of a cyclo-cross competitor.
Gaining assistance from an electric motor is clearly against the rules in a competitive sport. There’s also however a prevailing attitude among day-to-day cyclists that riding an electric bicycle is somehow cheating. But could our instinctive distrust or snobbery towards e-bikes be preventing us from realising the full potential of these machines?
Some exercise is better than none
We all need to be active to improve our well-being and life-expectancy. As covered elsewhere on this blog, building exercise into your daily routine by commuting by bicycle is an excellent way to meet (or more likely far exceed) recommended levels of physical activity. Lots of people though are still not getting enough exercise. For some, an electric bike might help them to change that.
It might seem counter intuitive to put forward as a healthy solution a device which allows you to exert yourself less than a regular bike. The simple truth though is that reduced exertion is better than none at all. If e-bikes can open up cycle commuting to a certain segment of the population who wouldn’t initially consider a regular bike, and would otherwise be in a car or on public transport, then that has to be a good thing.
Research from various parts of the world, including this Brighton-based study, confirms that e-bikes encourage people to cycle more and deliver significant health benefits. The bikes are designed to assist the rider, never to provide all of the power. By requiring the rider to be pedaling at all times, they promote sustained moderate effort.
Go further, faster
Where the infrastructure is in place to make this possible, e-bikes can also help to extend the idea of what a commutable distance is. This article in the Guardian asks, with the popularity of e-bikes growing, is Europe about to see a new era of long-distance cycle commuting?
The soft whirr of an electric motor remains a relatively rare sound on the streets of Britain, where the machines have failed to take off in the same way that they have elsewhere in Europe and in Asia. Lack of enthusiasm might be down to cost, lack of awareness, or the aforementioned snobbery.
If you’re interested in finding out more then this is a helpful overview of the law concerning e-bikes (did you know that the motor won’t help you above 15.5mph?), and here’s a helpful review and comparison from a London commuter.
Even if e-bikes aren’t for everyone, let’s leave accusations of “cheating” to the professionals, and celebrate anything that helps to get more people on two wheels.