Andersen: A different take on motorized bikes
Skies were dark and threatening on Memorial Day when I gathered with local veterans at Courthouse Plaza in Aspen. After making a short speech about my Huts for Vets program and enjoying a community lunch hosted by the Elks Club, I jumped on my bike to try to beat the storm to Basalt.
With light rain pattering down, I stepped up my pace, flying down the Rio Grande as I have so often done during offseasons, with the entire trail to myself. Near the Woody Creek Tavern, I saw a rider in front who had slowed for a road crossing.
As I rolled up, I noticed something protruding from the rider’s bike seat. It was a pair of skis, with boots fastened in the bindings, ski poles sandwiched between the skis.
“You certainly deserve style points for that rig,” I said as I rode up even with a woman I immediately recognized as Lisa Dawson, who earned my instant respect for schlepping skis on her mountain bike.
Then I noticed her bike, a pedal-assisted electric bike — the newest e-bike — in this case, a Haibike. I said a friendly hello, but inside I cringed as I drew an immediate boundary of judgment against motorized bicycles.
I’ve known Lisa and her husband, Lou, for decades. While Lou and I differ in small degree on backcountry motorized access, it’s never been a source of tension. Lou and I are the same age, and having lived in Crested Butte and Aspen, we share a deep love for the Elk Range. We have thrived in the mountains, from our formative youths to current senior-citizen status.
Lisa explained that she and Lou had just skied Grizzly Peak. They had used e-bikes to carry them and their skis up the rough jeep road of Lincoln Creek to where the snow began. Lou was writing a review on the bikes for his Wild Snow website.
“It was so easy to ride,” said Lisa, who said she was testing the battery on the long ride back to Carbondale. “Lou said it’s like being 25 and having a tailwind. Have you tried an e-bike?”
“I don’t dare,” I said. “It would spoil me from riding this.” I gestured at my conventional bike. What I didn’t say was that I felt that a motorized bike would compromise my approach to cycling as a means of human-powered mobility.
Lisa and I chatted amiably, and then I dropped back, saying I wanted a slower pace. What I needed was time to digest some conflicting ideas — like the emerging notion that motor-assist bikes are a technological advance that will change the way people get around.
Having recently bike toured in Europe, the noise and pollution of mopeds and scooters was fresh in my mind. An e-bike revolution in Europe, where I had seen many electric bikes, could reduce that.
I thought about e-bikes as a commuter vehicle that could offset gas and oil consumption with a quiet, active alternative fueled ideally by sun, wind and water. I thought about the millions of people who deign traditional bikes because of physical effort but who could find the perfect compromise between a bike and a motorcycle on an e-bike.
I caught up with Lisa, confessed my initial judgment and then shared my new thoughts: Using an e-bike to access backcountry skiing was a smart use of a clean, efficient technology that will reshape the bike world.
I know many riders who spend thousands of dollars shaving ounces off their bikes so they’re easier to ride. There is an aesthetic to lightweight tech, with the goal of faster and easier self-propulsion. Whether that comes solely from one’s legs or with a motor assist, the result is the same — forward motion on a quiet, two-wheeled ride. As one e-bike manufacturer states: “It’s still you — only faster.”
The Dawsons have pioneered a novel backcountry approach that incorporates bikes and skis with an innovative technology of the lowest impact. I suddenly saw the future of cycling and recognized its limitless applications.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays when he’s not studying product reviews on e-bikes — priced up to $5,800. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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