No one is sad that skis have metal edges
I see the evolution of power-assist bicycles being a lot like the evolution of fat skis. The idea behind power-assist bicycle is not that you twist the accelerator and blast off down the trail. What happens is that you start pedaling and an electric motor kicks in to help you a bit. The harder you pedal, the more assist you get. If you stop pedaling, the motor shuts down. After all the hype, I think most new riders will be surprised at how not fast they are.
Fat skis are kind of the same. They don’t turn themselves but, if you give them a little nudge, they turn sharper and more quickly than an older pair of straight skis. The combination of their width, flex and surface area give them more shock absorbing capabilities in moguls. All said and done, modern fat skis allow skiers to ski faster than they used to be able to, but it’s not a magic carpet ride.
Many will argue that the progression of bicycling from the first widely available ten-speeds to the motor-assist bikes is not comparable to what has happened to ski technology. I think they are probably still trying to carve on 210 Rossi Stratos.
Last summer I tested an electric motor-assisted bicycle on the familiar paved route from my home to work, a trip of about 9 miles over gently sloping terrain across Owl Creek Road. The harder I worked, the harder the motor worked, and the result was that it motivated me to ride really hard to see what the possibilities were. The trip took about 20 exhilarating minutes, which normally takes me around 35, riding like hell. The motor-assist bike ended up being not quite twice as fast as my one-ass power, meat-and-potato-powered one.
I have no data and no such personal experiment with old skis versus modern skis to prove that skiing speeds have increased. But, people are skiing so much faster today than they did in, say, 1950 that you don’t need any hard data to prove it. The racers coming down Niagara Falls on Aspen Mountain in the old films chronicling the first FIS races in Aspen were barely holding on, reaching speeds that an average intermediate skier hits across Buckhorn flats on their way to saving a table on Bonnie’s deck on just about any sunny spring afternoon nowadays.
But, let’s talk about what really allows bicycles and skis to go faster. It’s not about adding more horsepower on bicycles any more than it is about better wax for skis. It is all about control. It is the common factor in making both modes of recreational transportation faster.
Just as modern materials, design and construction of modern skis have made skiing at 30 miles per hour comfortable for even a novice skier, the big, fat tires, plush suspension and heavier frames made the motor-assist bike I tested feel steadier through the Rock Garden on Government Trail at 15 mph than my regular bike feels at 10.
My point is that, while there is so much speculation going on about what impact motor-assist bicycles are going to have out on the trails, we don’t really need to guess so much how this will play out. If it is anything like skiing, electronic motor-assist bikes have a good chance of making the activity of mountain biking even better, and not just for older and out-of-shape people.
The one thing I never hear anyone giving consideration to in the discussion about motor-assist bikes is human judgement. When Spar Gulch is empty, we fly through it; usually not as fast as our skis will go, but as fast as our minds will let us. When it gets crowded, we slow down to navigate the human slalom course. Likewise, we don’t take our hands off the brakes going through the rocky switchbacks of Sunnyside Trail, because that would be stupid. We anticipate skiers lurking below knolls as we do bikers coming from the opposite direction around blind curves. Humans are remarkably adept at self-preservation.
Besides, we already know what power-assist mountain bikes will be like on our trails. They will be no more of a nuisance or cause any more trail damage than any one of us riding a regular bike downhill. Tales of lazy riders creating dust and rooster tails on motor-assist bikes have been greatly exaggerated. There is nothing to fear here except how you’re going to pay for one once you take a test ride.
Roger Marolt is glad someone eventually figured out that skis with metal edges was an improvement. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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