Photo: Wilier Cento Hybrid
The first time I came across e-bikes on a organised event was on the 2018 Gran Fondo Strade Bianche. I spotted a couple of Mountain Bikes with E-drives which struck me as a bit “off” as in Italy Gran Fondos are full on races with UCI points allocated. OK so riders such as myself are not in the ride for UCI points but how/where do you draw the line?
Interestingly, for a good 50% of the ride there was another chap (not in the event) riding along on a steel racer that had been converted with an e-drive. He was not a youngster (neither am I!) but was net riding around the same pace as me. He’d come by on the climbs but I’d catch him on the next descent or flat section. It all became quite amusing and I came to believe he was thoroughly enjoying himself by winding up people around him – though I didn’t notice anyone having a go at him. He was even dressed in street clothes and the bike had a pannier!
Back to organised events, are there risks involved with the difference in performance of e-bikes? Assuming that someone is riding one to perform (speed or distance) at a level they would not normally achieve then you would expect the sort of position swapping I encountered with the gent on the Strade Bianche. In general, I’m not sure that is too much of a problem given that there are always differences in performance within a pack on a mass ride anyway. However, I can see this could be a problem where a rider on an e-bike became able to mix it with a high speed race group but with speed limiters on e-bikes I’m not sure that is really very likely – at least not after the initial settling period after the start of a mass ride. Even without e-bikes the first 15 Km or so of Strade Bianche is manic as start positions are not seeded but are based on when you booked your entry. So e-bikes really would not have been an issue in that phase as it is manic anyway.
One issue may be where a rider hacks the speed limiter but in doing so they will severely reduce their range and I’m sure I would not want to have to pedal a “dead” e-bike on 25-50% of a Grand Fondo – especially one like Strade Bianche.
Whatever the rights or wrongs, or just differences of opinion, e-bikes are here to stay and for many through age or disability will permit people to continue to ride where otherwise they may have to give up.
Personally, I think the key is for events to permit e-bikes but be specific of them belonging to a different category and publish results accordingly. Back to the Strade Bianche though, entry conditions state that all riders may be subjected to doping control and any offenders would be subject to a UCI ban. Given that e-bikes are clearly in the category of mechanical doping it ought to follow that, at least in Italy, they should either be banned or listed in a specific category.
This article from VeloNews gives an interesting perspective on the issue.