As a cyclist, I always enjoy catching up to and passing another rider. My identity does not depend on this occurrence, but having a carrot to chase is a great motivator and leads to a better workout. One ride a few years ago occurred on an undulating route, and as I crested the first hill, I spied an old guy topping the next roller. I realize that by most accounts I am also old, but this guy appeared to be in his 60s, and unlike me he wasn’t decked out in Lycra. He was wearing a bulky coat and was sporting what looked to be dress socks—he even had one of those side-view mirrors that attaches to your helmet.
Easy picking, I thought, as I barreled down and then up the hill, only to see him cresting the next one. Puzzled, I descended like a demon then stamped on the pedals as I climbed, only to see him disappearing over the subsequent incline. Calling for maximal effort, my legs were burning and my tongue was dragging as I powered over the next mound only to watch him disappear once more. Defeated, I soft pedaled home with my tail between my legs (to clarify, I do not really have a tail).
I spent a few days mourning the loss of my youth and fitness, trying to convince myself that a retired former pro Tour de France rider could have moved to Langley—stranger things have happened. This is when I stumbled upon an article about e-bikes. That old guy had known all along that I was behind him and was just messing with me by turning on his motor.
For those of you unaware of this new trend, e-bikes have an electric motor that the rider can activate to increase speed and reduce the work required to climb hills. Using the motor is optional, so the cyclist can pedal with or without the mechanical assist.
Initially, as somewhat of a purist, I was against e-bikes. It seemed like cheating and defeating the purpose of cycling in the first place (I was probably still bitter from getting my clock cleaned). Since that time, I have met so many people who love their e-bikes. Some are long-time cyclists who now have an ailment, such as knee or hip arthritis, that interferes with their ability to climb or ride for extended periods. The e-bike has given them a new lease on riding and they are once again able to enjoy a treasured activity. For others, who do not quite have the fitness or physique to ride, the e-bike is a great compensator. Pedal when you want and have the motor as a backup for hills or to get home if you are overextended.
The e-bike allows many more people to get outside and feel the wind on their face while they exercise and move their bodies. Previously inaccessible roads and trails are now a possibility for more to enjoy. Isn’t this a goal that we as physicians should be promoting? Anything that increases participation in a healthy activity should be encouraged.
I have learned to be less of a cycling snob and more inclusive of my e-bike cycling colleagues. However, if the old guy with the side-view mirror ever reads this, I want a rematch. I promise not to use an e-bike, but I am not making any promises when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs or sabotage.
—David R. Richardson, MD
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