Note: This is the second part of "The State Of The Gravel Scene- 2020" posts. Part 1 can be seen here.
NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....
Dealing With Electric Bicycles (HPC's)
The ongoing popularity, and the ever increasing industry clamor, for electric assisted bicycles, or "Hybrid Powered Cycles",as I like to call them, has infiltrated the gravel scene, of course. There are now events which offer specific categories for HPC users. I have some thoughts and predictions for this as it concerns gravel events. This isn't going to be a very popular opinion with advocates of HPC rigs, but if you have cogent, well thought out rebuttals, I am all ears. Just do not expect me to respond to the trite, well worn, typical responses folks give when HPC's are criticized. Like "well, if it gets more people riding, then.....". I have no time for that unless you have hard numbers to back it up. If you know people that are "having more fun" now, well, drop that one too. That means absolutely nothing in regard to this post. Okay? So, let's dive in.......
When we talk about cycling, it is a given that you can "buy" a certain amount of ( real or perceived ) advantage over your competition. Lighter weight things, more aero things, coaching, nutrition, and more. It's what drives the cycling industry. Think about that and how it affects electric motors.
We already are seeing lighter and lighter weight HPC rigs. They are astronomically expensive, but like I said, money can always buy "advantages" in this game. There will become a point where spending more won't make sense for grams of lightness though, and when that happens, where do you think the focus will be next? If you are thinking, on the motors/batteries, you are on the right track.
Now you may be thinking, "Yeah, but with the three class e-bike regulations, no one will have anything for sale that is more powerful." If this is you, I am sorry, but you are a fool. Right now, at this very moment, you can Google this category of two-wheeled transpo and find examples of throttle powered rigs that go faster, longer, and don't need pedal assistance to do it, than any "Class 3" bike on the market. Many times they are also cheaper. And then there are the modders.
Tell me no one will mod a HPC to cheat in a race/event. Go ahead. Again, you are very foolish to think it will not happen, if it hasn't already. And making this the responsibility of event promoters, or "governing bodies" is not the answer. Laying on more layers of inspection, rules, regulations, and dealing with all that for events will, in the end, bring on less, not more, participation. It will get harder for many people to even achieve any level close to what top-dollar spending, or smarter cheating riders, will have at start lines, so why bother? Think I'm nuts? Go look at the histories of any of the motorized sports. Every one of them is rife with rules, cheating, high dollar engineering, and less participation.
The electrification of bicycles was supposed to get more people riding bikes. Is it? Again, specifically with regard to bringing new folks into the sport of gravel, only well-heeled folks are going to be able to even afford it. The extra batteries, maintenance, and initial cost to get a HPC gravel rig will always be more than traditional, 100% human powered bicycles, and obviously, we aren't knocking down the doors with new riders here. Sure, I see some folks I never saw on bicycles doing gravel, but slapping a motor on a bicycle isn't going to increase that number in and of itself. What will it take? The "inclusive nature", low cost, low barriers to entry gravel events, and people willing to reach out to marginalized folk, non-cyclists, and youth. Note: no electronic devices will achieve this goal. Only a genuine attempt from the heart will continue to grow "the pie", as it were, of gravel riders. Slapping motors on bikes and offering categories for them at gravel events will not do this. Next- What "Grassroots Gravel" Should Be In 2020 And Beyond.