We’re out for a tandem ride on our local loop and working our way up a 2-mile long road that’s mostly uphill with 3% – 5% grade that we grind out at about 12-14 mph on a good day, maybe 11-13 on a not-so-good day. If there’s a “rabbit” ahead of us we do much better, but that’s rare.
Instead, we typically see cyclists going the other way on our loop, including one gentleman we’ve seen riding along in his lycra kit on what I always assumed was just a comfort bike at a fairly good clip. In most cases it was while we were climbing a hill and he was going the other way so the encounter was fairly brief. We’d wave as we do with just about every other cyclist we see — that is until we’ve seen one enough times to realize they’re just too into themselves to acknowledge another rider, especially some dorks on a tandem — he’d usually give us the head nod and we’d continue on our way and never give it another thought.
Well — getting back to that other day — we’re making our way up the gradual hill and in my trusty HubBub rear view mirror I notice there’s a bike off in the distance behind us; meh. We continue to climb our hill and I notice that as he hits the grade he’s beginning to close the gap. At this moment I’m of course reminded of the scene in “The Princess Bride” when Vizzini, Fezzik and Anigo Montoya are making their getaway and being chased by the Dread Pirate Robert’s ship as Fezzik and Anigo keep telling Vizzini “he’s gaining on us”. But I digress….
So, as we continue to make our way towards the end of the climbing section I begin to realize the cyclist that’s been quickly closing the gap on us is our friend on the comfort bike! And when I say closing the gap, I mean he’s doing an easy 20 mph to our 15 mph. As he passes us in his upright riding posture it dawns on me that he hardly seems to be putting out any effort while ticking over the pedals at a cadence somewhere in the 60’s… and then I see it: that big old power assist device at the center of the rear wheel. He’s riding an Electric Assist Bike!
At first I was somewhat dumbfounded, as I can’t imagine using an electric assist bike for fitness rides. But then I wondered if perhaps he had a physical challenge whereby the electric assist was what allowed him to enjoy cycling. Not that it mattered, but it was clearly one of those things where it took me a few moments to wrap my head around the whole thing. In some respects I was thinking, “So, this is how cyclists in the 1900’s felt once motorized bicycles began to appear?!” And then I wondered how I’d react if these electric assist bikes began showing up at the large cycling fund-raisers like a Tour de Cure or MS150 ride…. or perhaps even a tandem rally?
To be honest, I’m still not sure how to feel about it even after thinking about it for more time that it deserves.