What E-Bikes Mean For Your Hard-Won Fitness


E-Bikes are here to stay. Not everyone is happy about that. I used to be one of those people. Why? Because of a nagging, if not irrational, concern that e-bikes somehow diminish the currency of my fitness and hard work as a trainer, coach, and athlete.

For those who have yet to hop aboard an electric motor-assisted bicycle, e-bikes are regular bicycles with a battery-powered “pedal assist.” When you saddle up and push the pedals, a small motor engages and gives you a boost, so you can whiz up hills with a loaded backpack and cruise over challenging terrain without gassing yourself. Most e-bikes come with a power switch that lets you adjust the boost setting from “eco” (low) to “turbo” (high). These e-bikes are technically called “pedalecs,” and they feel just like riding a bike, except you feel bionic because the motor assist lets you achieve a far faster pace with far less fitness and hard work.

It’s that last part that has raised the hackles among those who like to “earn their turns,” so to speak. Because gaining the kind of wattage e-bikes give you with a push of a button takes weeks, months, even years to develop through training alone.

According to Hunter Allen, CEO of Peaks Coaching Group, who tracks this stuff for a living, if you’re already pretty fit, you have to work extremely hard for at least eight weeks to gain another 15 to 30 watts—about the amount needed to power an oven light. And even then, you can’t hang onto that peak forever. The currency of cycling fitness is hard to earn and easy to lose.

Whether we win a podium position, a KOM crown, or a drag race with friends to the ice-cream store, we cyclists feel extra satisfied—maybe even vindicated—because our result took so much dedication.

“The currency of cycling fitness is hard to earn and easy to lose.”

So yeah, I can’t lie: If you push a button and drop me like a safe up a 9-percent grade that I put in 12 hours of training a week for 10 years to be able to ride as fast as I do—well, it feels like I scrimped and saved for a dream vacation only to have the dollar plummet in value as soon as I get to the swim-up bar, which is crowded with hedonistic trust funders waving around bills worth more than mine.

I know, this makes little sense. Nothing changes the fact that I sacrificed and worked damn hard for my fitness. There’s an intrinsic value there that has nothing to do with other people. Yet, I can’t help wondering if someday those of us who favor acoustic bikes will be like modern fixie or single-speed riders, always needing to explain (even to ourselves) that we were only beat because the riders around us were using the latest technology.

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