The real reason e-bikes should die

Three strikes for the electrical horse

A lot has been said about e-bikes, so I’m not going to stir that pot up now. Oh, go on then. At the very least, I promise not to get into the whole truth.

Certainly, e-bikes totally fail to damage the trails, and are incapable of ‘cheating’ unless you’re racing it with a gigantic yet incredibly convincing water bottle wrapped around the engine. These things are beyond obvious, despite continued, rather sweetly desperate arguments to the contrary.

No, the points I’m going to raise — gloriously, you might say; eloquently, you might say — are far more important. Point one. The problem with e-bikes is that they look stupid. They’re lumpen and unnecessary, and they make funny whiny sounds.

At this point it’s traditional to bluster about how looks don’t matter a jot, just like brand names, man — No Logo! — and how bike buying is about performance and nothing else. Trouble is that’s nonsense and we all know it. Looks are a major factor.

Expect these screens to only get bigger, more cumbersome and (inevitably) full of cameras
Expect these screens to only get bigger, more cumbersome and (inevitably) full of cameras

Witness all the frothing about hydroforming when it first became common. The hardcore scored easy points with arch put-downs like “Why use a straight tube when you can use a bendy one?” and dismissed the whole thing as fashion. But hydroforming wasn’t fashion, and brought considerable benefits to design freedom, strength and weight.

Anyone spending thousands on a hobby without considering, even for a second, whether the equipment looks sexy and exciting and fast, is dead inside

It also happened to look good, so a lot of people bought them. It then became fashionable. Meanwhile the miserable hardcore stuck with their old-fangled straight-tubed 26in QR-skewered hardtails because… well, because they looked better. For some reason this was not a fashion decision.

My point here, beyond enraging a certain group so their fingerless gloves are even now splitting like the t-shirt of the Incredible Hulk, is that we all buy on looks. And that’s OK.

If we buy on looks alone then yes, we’re drooling idiots who deserve the empty horror of things like fat bikes on anything but snow, Justin Bieber squeaking that he’s sorry on the radio and Transformers movies in the cinema. On the other, less extreme hand, anyone spending thousands on a hobby without considering, even for a second, whether the equipment looks sexy and exciting and fast, is dead inside.

Say hello to £2,500 of entry-level ugly
Say hello to £2,500 of entry-level ugly

For every rider who’d never buy an Orange mountain bike because it looks like a filing cabinet, for instance, there’s another that dismisses that rider as a fashion-addled corporate slave. Looks don’t matter, bro! But does the Orange lover really buy despite the industrial looks, or because of them?

I’ll skewer the tension and tell you it’s the second one. In summary: even anti-fashion has fashion rules, you can’t have your cake and eat it, but you can have your Orange and suck it.

A sentient future?

So all of this fantastical evidence — glorious and eloquent, as you’ve realised — is my way of proving how very right my point is, and that looks totally matter. To everyone. And this is where e-bikes really fall down, and then shatter the bedrock where they land, because they’re so bloody stupidly massively heavy.

Why am I serving the bike’s needs, instead of the other way around?

It’s all very well when they’re moving under power, but if you’ve ever tried to lift a 50lb e-bike onto a car rack I’ll see you down at the chiropractor’s. Or perhaps you’ve waded across a freezing river holding one over your head, as I have, because you’re too scared to ride through — as your mates on normal bikes just did — in case it frazzles the wiring and leaves you to die.

If an e-bike conks out in the middle of nowhere, what happens over the next 100 hours will one day become an award-winning film.

So instead, you carry the bike across the river rather than it carrying you to the middle and then angrily electrocuting all the fish. Fish you’ll use, at least initially, to survive. It’s the sort of embarrassing tableau that makes you rethink your relationship with machines. Why am I serving the bike’s needs, instead of the other way around? It goes without saying that this is how Skynet starts and the world ends.

Can you see the smiley, bolt-eyed face? That’s because it’s turning sentient and planning the destruction of humanity
Can you see the smiley, bolt-eyed face? That’s because it’s turning sentient and planning the destruction of humanity

For all this complexity, fragility and uncertainty (wait, isn’t that France’s new national motto?) you of course pay a massive premium. This is the third strike against e-bikes (strike one was ugliness, in case you weren’t paying attention. Strike two was for their part in the increasingly disappointing Terminator franchise).

The next thing you know, your bike will be ordering new tyres for itself off Amazon, then refusing to run until you fit them

For considerably less money you could buy a regular bike and lower the gearing, or get off and push, or simply ride the town waiting to get T-boned by a mobility scooter for that authentic e-bike look.

Frankly if there’s one thing you shouldn’t have to plug in, no matter how digital life gets, it’s your bicycle. You can’t ride it down the information superhighway, so why electrify it? Maybe if there was an information bridleway it would make more sense, but they only have those on the Isle of Wight, where you don’t want to go. (Full disclosure: I grew up on the Island, and Ofsted’s David Hoare was wrong to call it a "poor ghetto of inbreeding", as both I and my 900 cousin-uncles can attest. It might have an economy based on chalk, but the Islanders would love to see your fancy electric velocipedes. They’ll show you their electric chair.)

I digress. We need to talk about feature creep. Sure, adding electrics means power assistance now, but soon it’ll be built-in GPS route-finding as well, to take the fun out of getting lost. Then ABS and traction control, to take the fun out of crashing. The next thing you know, your bike will be ordering new tyres for itself off Amazon, then refusing to run until you fit them.

It goes without saying that this is how Skynet starts and the world ends. Although now I’ve said it twice. But that’s e-bikes for you, eh? An ugly business, and no mistake.

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