The Bike Shoppe has started selling pedal assist electric bicycles. This is not news to a lot of people. We've been advertising heavily that we have them in stock. We've been riding them. We've even been selling them. This has caused some controversy amidst the community. Most of this is surrounding the pedal assist mountain bikes. Recently, the BLM in Moab banned "motor assisted bicycles" from non-motorized trails. It appears pretty simple, the bicycle has a motor so it is therefore motorized. Anything motorized shouldn't be allowed in areas designed and permitting non-motorized use. Until recently I had the same sentiments.
My change of heart came from education on the matter as well as the type of customers that purchase pedal assist bikes. We have sold electric bikes to people that want to ride with their spouses/partners as well as people that want to be able to stay up with their friends that are strong riders. It's not fun for either party if someone is pushing it as hard as they can and the other person is holding back. I've been in the situation on both sides. We have also sold electric bikes to people that want to just be able join family on casual rides. In every situation these customers have been able to pedal a bike on their own, sometimes even on long and fairly strenuous rides. The difference is that they were able to enjoy the ride alongside others.
The key to a pedal assist bike is that you still have to pedal. You still get exercise. Often when people from the shoppe take a demo electric bike out, they come back out of breath. It's fun. When you have fun you forget that you are burning fat and energy. The electric bikes that The Bike Shoppe has carefully chosen to sell are all going to amplify the power that you put into it. When you pedal softly, the motor will give less power than if you pedal hard. Standing up to tackle a climb will help you more than soft pedaling.
Some people will still argue that they agree with me as long as the pedal assisted bicycle stays on the road. People that I've heard from think that having these bikes on bike paths and on singletrack is where these bikes are dangerous. If a bike is capable of going faster then it will go faster. This is the same mentally that would prohibit cars and trucks from being able to go faster than 80 mph and those vehicles would need to be confined to freeways. Regular bicycles are capable of carrying speed in excess of 20 mph with average riders and even higher speeds when powered by strong riders. It's still the rider that has to control themselves and their bicycles.
My biggest argument about why these bikes should be allowed on non-motorized trails is that they impact the trails more like a standard mountain bike. There isn't extra noise pollution. The extra power from the motor is minimal so it won't tear up the trail. Even a powerful pedal assist bike at 400 watts is slightly more than 1/2 horsepower. Professional riders can still outperform most riders with pedal assist. I feel strongly that we shouldn't ban anyone from non-motorized trails because they are able to produce 1000+ watts, even if they are doping. (That's a completely different controversy and blog post.)
My last argument is for those of us that have had significant injuries that kept us off the bike for an extended period. Having a pedal assist bike can get us back on the trails faster and at the pace we had grown accustomed to. However, it doesn't just get you back on the trail and limit you to your current state. You do the work, with some help, and therefore you get stronger every time you go out. Most pedal assist bikes have multiple levels of assist. If you work more yourself, the battery will last longer and you'll be able to work harder until you need some extra pedal assist.
Here is a great example from when Nicolas Vouilloz was returning from injury and needed to train.
Let me know if my numbers are wrong. I would like to hear other views.