Are People Who Ride E-bikes Cheating?

eBikeQuestion: I am considering buying an electric bike. While I appreciate going faster and further on an ebike, are there any drawbacks compared to riding a regular bike?

Answer: When telling friends that you bought an electric bike, expect only one of the following two comments:  “Isn’t that cheating? “Or, “does the battery recharge when you pedal?” While the second response appears interested and positive, if you answer no, explaining that the point of the battery is to help you with the pedaling, it implies that of course you are cheating. So if you are in the market for an electric bike, expect the world to treat you like a cheater. Even your co-worker who just stepped out of her car will remind you that you cheat as you wheel in your ebike.

Be prepared for even harsher disapproval for ebiking by self-professed serious cyclists. A bike is after all the perfect machine. It is the most energy-efficient mode of transport for humans on land, attaining a higher speed per energy consumed than walking, horseback riding or driving a car. So why spoil this mechanical wonder by putting a motor on it?

Why indeed, except there many good practical reasons, from travelling long distances, big hills, carrying children or other cargo on the bike or physical impediments to using a non-electric bike. So yes, be a cheater and go for the ebike if you don’t mind what the world thinks of you.

An ebike is a significant investment, with good bikes approaching the price of a used car. The largest ticket item of the system, just as with electric cars, is the battery. At least each recharge costs only a few cents and with some care a lithium battery will last several years. The motor, if well made, will require no maintenance and probably outlast most other bike parts and perhaps even you.

As you pedal effortlessly up the hills, feeling like super(wo)man, there may be a time when you run out of battery or a connection in the electric system fails. In our experience this always happens at the bottom of the largest hill en route. Your ebike transforms from a flying carpet into an ugly beast. To maintain a positive state of mind, or at least a little bit of self-respect, it is important to do a mental do-over in the same instant as your motor dies. As you heave your e-beast up the hill, tell yourself that riding a bike is all about going slowly and noticing the flowers on the side of the road, it is about the journey and not how long it takes you, it is about getting lots and lots of exercise. Think of the photos you saw of bikes in China loaded with ten TVs because this is how it feels riding an unpowered ebike up a steep hill.

Electric motor, battery and gearing technologies are still in innovation mode. Ebikes will probably be more high-tech vehicles in the future, even more removed from the perfect machine, the bike. Some even say that ebikes are the most energy-efficient mode of transport since e-cyclists need to eat less than people riding regular bikes. So watch your waistline when switching to ebiking and you may need to cut out the second breakfast or the latte that you enjoy after long bike rides. But flying by other cyclists struggling up hill and arriving at your destination without a hint of sweat more than compensates.

When people mock you for cheating on your ebike, tell them you live on the North Shore. They’ll immediately understand.

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