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Weighing up Pedal Power

WHEELING OUT Many are finding that e-bikes have helped them rediscover the great outdoors.

Are e-bikes saddle smart or the lazy option?

In October 2015, Paul Basagoitia rode his bike off a cliff. Don’t be startled, that was his job. Basagoitia was competing in the Red Bull Rampage in Utah, where a series of jumps and obstacles are built into steep red cliffs and gullies that look terrifying to walk down, much less contemplate on a bike. Shortly after starting his run, Basagoitia fell and landed on his back, bursting his T12 vertebra. He was instantly paralysed from the waist down.

After being told that he would likely never walk again, Paul Basagoitia spent several years in intensive rehab, eventually learning to walk again with the aid of a stick. In 2019 a friend gave Basagoitia an e-bike, and in doing so, gave him his life back.

Although he will never return to freeriding competition and the acrobatic jumps and flips of his professional career, he is able to go riding in the mountains with his friends and feel the freedom of blasting downhill through the trees.

Most people in Mayo are unlikely to try downhill or freeride mountain biking, and will definitely never ride off a cliff, but plenty of people cycle. And none of us are getting any younger. Which brings us nicely to the discussion of whether e-bikes are useful for exercise.

Motoring along Before considering the pros and cons, let’s look at how e-bikes work. Essentially you have a normal bike with a small electric motor that provides extra power when switched on. The key words here being extra power, the motor only works when the rider is actually pedalling, providing assistance rather than the outright power of a motorbike.

The general idea is that you pedal as normal on the flats and downhills, then flick a switch to get some assistance for going uphill or as you get tired. Is that a good thing though? Shouldn’t we be encouraging people to work harder when they are exercising?

As always, there’s no definite answer to those questions, and instead we need to look at context. Older cyclists and people with underlying health conditions may struggle as the intensity goes up, and let’s face it, Mayo isn’t a flat county. So if the options are cycling an e-bike or not cycling at all, surely the e-bike wins every time.

Alternatively, if you are reasonably young and healthy, perhaps you could be trying to push a little harder.

Safety first Are there any potential negatives to using an e-bike? Of course there are, the most obvious being safety. An e-bike is still a bike, and road safety still needs to be considered. Those who are lucky enough to live near a Greenway are obviously somewhat better off in this situation, as riding on the roads can be pretty hairy with traffic and potholes to contend with.

Another key point to consider is the extra weight of the bike. Between electric motor and a sizeable battery, e-bikes are significantly heavier than your standard bicycle. This is a factor if you have to store the bike inside or load it into or onto a car to get somewhere. Equally that weight needs to be taken into account when cornering, especially at low speed.

I have spoken to two gentlemen of a certain age recently who have fallen off their bikes when trying to do U-turns in tight spaces. Part of the issue in both cases seems to have been that the motors were on, meaning that the bike accelerated as they turned, the bike was too heavy to control and the rider ended up on the deck. Fortunately, the damage was limited to one badly bruised knee and two badly bruised egos.

Trial run Which in a way brings us back to Paul Basagoitia. There is an inherent risk in cycling, whether that be off cliffs or around a car park, and that risk needs to be balanced with the rewards. Getting out on a bike is good for you, physically and mentally, as long as you are aware of those risks and take measures to avoid them. Whilst it might be easy to write off the use of e-bikes as ‘cheating’ in certain circumstances, in others it’s not only perfectly okay, but advisable.

If you’re thinking about it, hire one for a day, and take it for a spin on the Greenway before committing yourself. If you haven’t cycled in years, like Paul Basagoitia, you’ll feel like you’ve got your life back.

This post first appeared in The Mayo News

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