Thursday, January 02, 2020

The State Of The Gravel Scene - 2020: Part 2

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.

2 comments:

MuddyMatt said...

Hi Mark, I totally agree with you about the electric bike thing as regards sport and racing. Buying more performance and next level cheating are not unique to motorised sport though and is hardly unknown in all forms of existing bike competition. It's just the motor being hacked is biological, not mechanical!

Re. wider take up of e-bikes? If I may say, your lens is US and Iowa in particular (of course not limited to that).

I can imagine (though know nothing about your neck of the woods) that very few people have gravitated toward e-bikes as regular transport, and even fewer that don't already cycle. That's the nature of the car-centric culture prevalent in the US and not a criticism - simple geography dictates you have a lot of ground to cover to get anywhere.

The motor vehicle will never be replaced by any form of bike where distances are huge (although it can be a lot more efficient, which electrification will contribute to); but most people live in cities and suburbs. They will have to change their transport choices as the effects of cars on our environment and communities become increasingly clear.

I would highlight the 2020 Predictions report by Deloitte that came out near the end of 2019. It suggests that in the next 3 three years, annual global sales of e-bikes will be 40 million, and contrasts that with predicted annual electric motor vehicle sales of 20 million a year by the end of the decade. If true - and we will have to wait and see - e-bikes are not going to be small change and that excites me.

For cities and urban environments (that, critically, have prioritised bike infrastructure), they could and should be the de-facto mode of transport. I understand you feel people will jump straight to fully powered scooters, bikes, cars but that is entirely dependent on how those places legislate and support change.

If the infrastructure is there, none of the other solutions mentioned help build places that put people first while contributing to environmental change. This of course is equally true of normal bikes too, so... given existing infrastructure? Correct, its a straight swap to full electric power!

In summary, in my view e-bikes are valid and worth supporting. But as you clearly express, they are not a means of growing grass roots cycle racing, events and recreation, and particularly not where the distances and infrastructure involved mitigate against it.

Best wishes, Matt

Guitar Ted said...

@ MuddyMatt - This is simple. Normal high temperature for January 2nd in this "neck of the woods" is 14°F/-10°C. Add in possibilities for snow and ice, (highly likely given the averages) HPC's are NOT the answer. Mass transpo? More "dense" retail/living spaces in cities? Putting an end to the culture of expansion and suburban sprawl? More walkable style living space?

I'd say yes to all those questions. What the US needs is to ditch the idea that everyone gets their own car and a free place to park it, and that includes any form of motorized personal transpo.

To take a cue from my own post above and paraphrase- "Just slapping a motor on a bike isn't going to solve our issues".