By Stan Purdum
The Stark County (Ohio) Bicycle Club offers group rides every day of the year. Some get canceled because of rain or inclement weather, but most happen, and if you live in or near that county, joining the club provides many opportunities to ride with others. And the rides are designated Class A, Class B, Class C, etc. by pace so that members can choose ones that match their speed and ability.
Except now, according to a letter to the editor in the most recent edition of the club’s newsletter, there’s an “elephant in the room” (though in this case, an “elephant on the road” might be a more apt expression). The letter writer identifies the elephant as the ebike, though in reading the letter, it’s obvious the problem pachyderm is actually a few ebike riders.
The letter is signed by a long-time club member named Mark, who wrote, “This club exists because we like to ride with others; if that were not the case, everyone would ride by themselves, and no club would be needed. So the main reason, in my opinion, for this club to exist is the social aspect.”
As Mark continues, it’s clear he’s not against e-bikes per se, but rather against how a few club members are operating their electric steeds on the club rides.
“First of all, this is NOT a race!” Mark wrote. “We are out there to have a good time. … The group is riding together till we come to a hill; then some of the ebikes keep the same pace, whereas us mortals slow down.”
Mark went on to request, “if you [outpace] the group because you have an ebike, the ones left behind still want to ride as a group, so slow down or stop at the top to regroup.”
That’s a fair request. But it’s just the first of a fuller list that I recommend:
Wait at the top. This is a good suggestion whether ebikes are involved or not. Even on regular bikes, some riders naturally pedal up hills more quickly than others and slowing one’s pace on a hill may cause a loss of momentum. It’s better to allow riders to climb at the pace that is efficient for them, but if the goal is to ride with your group (or your subgroup within a larger ride), having the faster climbers wait or slow at the top for the others to catch up contributes to the camaraderie of the ride.
Use lower assist levels. This should apply not only to hill climbing but also to the ride overall. I’m riding an ebike these days, but my most frequent ride companion is on a regular bike. He’s a good rider and moves along steadily, and he can outride me when I am on a regular bike — though he never does; he matches his pace to mine. But when I’m on my ebike, I can outpace him, using my higher assist levels. But what good is that? We ride together because it’s more fun that way.
Use your gears to match your speed to that of fellow riders. Many ebikes have gears in addition to assist levels, and generally, each assist level is more efficient in one gear than another, though which gear is most efficient changes as the pitch of road beneath your wheels increases or decreases. (A good way to learn how best to use gears on your ebike is to choose a moderate assist level and then ride on rolling terrain and adjust your pace employing only your gears.) Often, changing gears without changing assist levels will help you stay with your group.
Do some solo rides — or rides with other ebike riders. One thing non-ebike riders may not understand is how thrilling it can be to ride at higher speeds. And just like when driving a car, riding fast on an ebike can be addictive. Don’t give your addiction free rein on rides with people on regular bikes, but compensate by doing some rides, say on low-traffic roads, by yourself or with other ebike riders, where you can go for the thrill.
Be an asset, not an ass (yes, I’ve changed the animal, but neither one belongs on a group ride). Use the increased capabilities your ebike provides to help the group. You could, for example, pace a rider who has suffered a flat tire back to the group. Or since, up to a point, the amount of weight on your bike is almost immaterial because of the motor, volunteer to carry any extra-weight item that a non-ebike rider has brought along. Or, if a group member has a mechanical, you could be the one to ride out to get the replacement part.
Ebikes and regular bikes can ride together in peace.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.