I knew that finding a counterpoint for the Michael Kelley E-Bike interview would be challenging due to the passionate opinions on all sides of the e-bike trail access debate. While the pro-e-bike lobby feels an urgency in expanding the market and user access to product, the anti-e-bike lobby fears the loss of land access they have fought so valiantly for, for decades. What everyone can agree on is that adoption seems inevitable, and finding industry members of the community would be problematic due to the pervasiveness of the technology. Any counterpoint would have to do justice to those who want to keep their trails motor-free.
Enter Marc Basiliere of Lindarets. As we were in the process of publishing in the Michael Kelley interview, Marc was gearing up to launch his new “Motorbike” shirt (Motor+Bike=Motorbike), all proceeds from which go to IMBA in support of their current position against motorized vehicles on trails. The project was inspired, as he said, by a frustration that big industry support of IMBA by members of the e-bike manufacturing community would overwhelm what he perceived to be the voices of the individual trail users calling for pause and consideration in allowing access. In Marc’s mind, there are disastrous implications for embracing the technology on cycling trails without caveat, from the disruption of trail harmony and safety to both the access that we currently enjoy and potential future access. So when the Kelley piece went live, Marc pasted the copy for the shirt, his e-bike manifesto, into the comments section. He then volunteered to be the counterpoint, so I gave him a call…
BIKERUMOR: What do you do? What is your buy in to this?
MARC: At this point, I’ve been mountain biking for 26 years. Saying that out loud makes it sound like a long time- but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s really great that the sport has kept me interested and engaged for that long. I originally, when I went to school, I went to college for and got a degree in Recreation Resource and Ski Resort Management. It gave me a really good foundation on land management issues and the reasons why people recreate, the things people take from recreation, public policy and all that. It was a fantastic experience.
Straight out of college I went to work for Vermont’s Kingdom Trails. Fifteen years ago they had roughly 100 miles of trail. Truly a fantastic trail network- all muscle powered and largely singletrack- and still one of my favorite places to ride in the world. And coming out of college, it was a great experience. I got to deal with working for public agencies, the grant writing and the land management side of things. Small town life was great in a lot of ways but I ultimately decided to go back to school to pursue product design. One thing led to another and I wound up doing design and project management work for about ten years in the Aerospace industry.
But the dream of working around bikes never went away. A little over a year ago, I began laying the groundwork for what would become Lindarets. Our first product was an informal ‘hello world’- the Rocks Belong tee. It came about because I was getting kind of pissy about people removing rocks from trails.
BIKERUMOR: Wait, removing rocks from trails?
MARC: You know, dumbing them down, sanitizing them. Here’s the thing: if there is no challenge, there is no reward. It’s a real gut punch when you’re out on the trail and there is this little section, sometimes you make it and sometimes you don’t, or you maybe see somebody make it and you’ve been working on it… and then one day it’s gone. That sucks. That sucks. I can really feel it in my stomach right now. You and countless others have really worked towards riding this or that section and one day someone said “I can’t do it. I’m going to remove it. I don’t want to have to get off my bike.”
BIKERUMOR: Is that analogous to e-bikes? In a way e-bikes are kind of “removing rocks.”
MARC: You know, I don’t think that’s at the heart of it. I’d take issue with that analogy.
BIKERUMOR: What’s the case?
MARC: Jimmy Mac, who left Mountain Bike Action over the issue, Richard Cunningham, Mike Ferrentino- all of who have written excellent editorials on the topic- I don’t think that I or any of them think that e-bikes shouldn’t exist. So that’s a central point that I’d like to establish. I’m not saying that electric-assist bikes are evil or shouldn’t be developed or anything along those lines. My concerns as a long time rider are the implications for trail access and in the way that the industry, the e-bike side of the industry anyhow, has approached things. It comes across as more than a little manipulative and disingenuous.
BIKERUMOR: How so?
MARC: The issue that I have is lumping e-bikes in with bicycles and say that an e-bike is “just” a bicycle with a motor, it’s “only” this much power, when you’ve fundamentally changed the mode of locomotion, the method of movement.
BIKERUMOR: Have you personally ridden e-bikes that people are advocating for trail use?
MARC: Yes I have. The Haibikes, the Stromers- I have ridden them. They are fun! But there are a lot of things that are fun. But fly fishing is not mountain biking; it may be fun, but that doesn’t make it the same thing. People find a lot of things fun. Fishing may be an extreme example, but “have you ridden it” is a distraction. That’s not the point.
The point is that the research has been done and mountain bikes have been demonstrated to impact trails on the level between hikers and equestrians, much closer to hikers. No one has quantified the physical impact of an e-bike on trails. So that’s a first point.
The social impact on the other hand is more qualitative than quantitative. When you are virtually quadrupling a riders output, you’re adding up to 275% of a rider’s output [as allowed under current law], the net is virtually four times as much power as what the rider initially had. That results in a huge increase in speed.
I read and I appreciated your interview with Mr. Kelley a few weeks back, saying that a motor assist will allow slower or older riders to keep up with their friends and whatnot. The only way that a group of cyclists will be on the same level is if they are all on e-bikes, the disparity in power really is that great. I’ve experienced that first hand.
BIKERUMOR: There are two use cases that are commonly brought up. One is an able-bodied person who jumps on this thing because it’s super fun and super-fast- adrenaline junkies. And then you get the use case Michael Kelley was advocating- bringing less physically peaked people on trails and increasing participation in the sport, bringing people back into the sport.
MARC: I think that the population of which Michael Kelley is painting a picture is tiny. It’s a very small population, to the extent that it exists at all. We have a very large population of 60+ year old riders here, and many of them are Michael’s age and older. It can be done. It should be done. It’s important to all of us to do what we love and maintain that connection to our younger selves as we age and I absolutely agree.
There are tens of thousands of miles for motorized vehicle use in this country. I’m all in favor of a lower impact, less polluting, less noisy alternative to motorcycles- especially one that requires additional effort on the part of the rider. That said, I know that they aren’t mountain bikes. Michael took umbrage with people that thought he should just do something else. Well, he’s chosen to do something else. He’s chosen to participate in motorized activity. That’s fine-absolutely fine. But it’s not mountain biking. E-biking not non-motorized. Keeping the population that you describe engaged is great. As I close in on 40, I’ve ridden for five-eighths of my life and I have another 40 years to go. That’s fantastic. I’m so excited about that. It won’t always be the same. I won’t always be able to do what I do today and can’t do all of the things that I could do yesterday, but you know what? That’s okay. Things change. You change. Your body changes. Life changes.
BIKERUMOR: I’m not just talking about people aging out, the case includes- so one of the guys I ride with and love can’t get his heart rate over a certain level because of illness. He’s in there. And it includes people who aren’t fit enough to hit the trails right away, normal people. I’m imaging this case where these people roll up to a park and rent an e-bike rather than a normal mountain bike and go deeper into the wilderness, who are less experienced and fit, but it would allow them to do so. I would include these people in this case also.
MARC: First of all, and I would say this to anybody who is for or against e-bikes: don’t be a dick. Ride with the people you came to ride with. Ride with your partner. If there is somebody in your family or social circle that expresses interest in the sport, ride with them! Don’t leave them in the dust! Don’t be an ass. I’m just not buying for a second that a $5000 mini-moto is what’s going to bring people into the sport.
I would argue that e-bikes are a gateway drug to motorcycles- that they aren’t a gateway drug to mountain bikes. People aren’t going to be like “Hey, you know what? This is so much fun, I’m going to make it harder.”
BIKERUMOR: People on mountain bikes do that all the time by going on to harder trails, by putting rocks in the trail. “This is so much fun, I’m going to make it harder!”
MARC: To a point. But for the most part, they are like: “Damn, it’s fun to go fast. I want to go faster… and not pedal as much.” So I’d make the case that e-bikes are a gateway drug to motorcycling rather than a gateway drug to mountain biking.
I think that we’ve done a very good job as a community at making the sport more accessible. IMBA has, though some of us may grumble, focused very much on accessible, flow-style trails that serve up an experience that’s very gratifying for a beginning rider. That has value and I can understand that. Grading trails, mapping trails so that people know what they are getting into and plan accordingly. You know, it’s just, again, ride with the people you came to ride with. Cycling is very much a social activity for a lot of people and I’ve heard of so many people getting turned off for the sport by people who can’t moderate their output. They are like puppies. They get on the trail and they just want to go go go go go go.
An electric crutch, I don’t see how giving somebody… It feels like giving a 16 year old a new Mustang. Is that really what you want to do? You want to make the least experienced person on the trail the fastest person on the trail?
BIKERUMOR: Good point.
MARC: I mean, I had a Ford station wagon as my first car and I got into enough trouble with that. You certainly don’t give a new driver a rear wheel drive sports car and go “Have fun!” and expect them to come back without having caused property damage or bodily harm. That’s a situation that we have to think about. You’re going to give the person with the least amount of experience the fastest, heaviest, piece of equipment on the trail, and that has some serious consequences- not just in terms of personal injury, but injury to the people around them and in terms of social impact to other trail users. Those who have been in the sport for a while and were brought up in it and know to dismount for horses, to slow down for blind corners- that’s tribal knowledge. Climbers have the right of way, that sort of thing. Just throwing someone the keys to the fastest thing out there is not a recipe for a trail harmony.
BIKERUMOR: So far you’re arguing two primary points. One is purely philosophical with respect to the vehicle and activity- it’s motorized so it isn’t completely human powered so it isn’t a bicycle. The other thing is that you’re arguing by giving people heavy equipment and fast equipment and make them the fastest people, then they are problematic within the harmony of the trail ecosystem.
MARC: Absolutely. Having the research that shows that mountain bikes do minimal damage beyond what’s caused by hikers- our biggest challenge in terms of land access at the moment is perception. Maybe I’m dating myself a little bit, but it’s the Mountain Dew ads. Most of us are not Doing the Dew and riding like jackasses. We’re not all trying to get rad all the time. There’s a perception among some land managers and certainly other trail users—be they hikers or equestrians that had negative experiences with mountain bikers—that that we’re out of control, that we are a danger to ourselves and others.
Now, we can point to papers and say: you know, we don’t harm the trail. But… it’s that perception battle that we as a group need to fight and we need to work on ourselves. We need to improve how we interact with others. Put a bell on our bike and be present. Turn off the Strava if it’s not a Tuesday morning because there are other people out in the world. But that’s where our greatest challenges lie, in convincing other user groups that we share the many of the same values.
That’s something we share with our fellow muscle powered users. And that’s something we need to emphasize now that the Wilderness discussion is being had again. If we were to go to the negotiating table and go we really feel that we would love to have Wilderness access. We respect these special places. We do a lot of trail work. We don’t impact trails. There are hundreds of thousands of trails that are underused in this country and we have this group of people who are ready to contribute who will fight for Wilderness designation. Oh, and we want these guys with motors to come too- that’s where the discussion stops. We don’t get a seat at the table if we get lumped in with other motorized recreation. This comes from personal experience, and I can’t say how strongly I feel that that’s what is going to undermine our efforts moving forward.
BIKERUMOR: The e-bike industry points to successes in Europe. A lot. They say it’s big, the market is taking off in places like Germany, people are stoked on it, we’ll love it here too- what is the difference between those markets?
MARC: Saying something is popular- that’s kind of vague. It’s popular! It’s taking off! So is my band. No! No seriously! We’re going to be huge!
BIKERUMOR: We’re big in Japan!
MARC: And Germany! Like e-bikes!
BIKERUMOR: Like Hasselhoff!
MARC: KITT forever! So first of all, I don’t know how true that is. I know it’s a bigger market in Germany. There are a lot of things that sell better in Germany than they do here for one reason or another. Having spent time over there and lived in the UK and briefly in France- it’s a very different baseline. I remember one of my first mountain bike rides in France, I came upon a busload-worth of senior citizens on hiking tour. I kind of pull over and start saying bonjour and whatnot- they started cheering me on! I was gob smacked. It’s like: Wait a minute, these people like bikes! They are excited to see people out in the mountains riding.
If indeed it is as popular as those making e-bikes would say, then they are coming from a cultural background. Access is not as contentious as it is here. The possibility of losing bicycle access isn’t even on their radar. Here, it remains a very real possibility. We’re only a generation away from the first mountain bikes. The first production mountain bikes didn’t really come into the fray until the early eighties. That’s not that long ago. When you’re comparing hiking or horseback riding or even motorcycles, we’re really, really new to the scene. A lot of the people in land management positions were around in the very beginning. They may be at the tail end of their careers, but they really are the same people. We don’t start from the assumption of access… and in Europe they do. But we’re losing access now in as many areas as we are gaining it, and to get into bed with a fundamentally different activity-
BIKERUMOR: You’re saying that the timing is extremely poor right now.
MARC: It’s always going to be poor. But especially now, it’s a dangerous time to be letting this happen. We can’t let people’s idea of what a mountain bike is to be changed by those who want to make money off of e-bikes.
BIKERUMOR: Do you think that’s the driver in this? That it’s purely financial?
MARC: It’s certainly a major driver. Yes- there are people, like Mr. Kelley, who I have to believe sincerely want to see e-bikes treated as though they were human-powered. And there are those—like the people he describes—that will benefit from unlimited access. But these aren’t, for the most part, the people who are speaking up. It’s those associated in one way or another with manufacturers, the Light Electric Vehicle Association, and the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association- they are the ones that are speaking out. And they have a very clear profit motive.
There is a fear, nobody wants to lose their jobs or be held accountable to shareholders when market share is lost to Company A that is selling e-bikes. And it is easy to grow a new market segment from zero, right? There is only one way to go.
BIKERUMOR: There’s this momentum behind this product because there is this success elsewhere in the world and because a lot of industry investing in it now. I think that’s what’s compelling about talking about this now. Everyone is afraid of it or stoked on it- everyone is passionate about it. We don’t even know how it will be adopted yet.
MARC: I think it’s an important discussion to have. There are a lot of unfortunate personal attacks from the industry side on those who aren’t waiting with open arms. I think that that’s really sad and a little bit telling. You hear things like “you’re being ageist” and “you’re being elitist” and “emotional responses…” Let me tell you, if I told somebody in my household “that was an emotional response,” I would get an extremely emotional counter-response.
We’re adults and we have legitimate concerns. I’ve sat there with well-known representatives of the e-bike industry and been accused of wanting to preserve my access at the expense of others, of being against people who aren’t fit enough to enjoy the things that I enjoy. I find that an insult. That only amplifies the response of those who are urging caution on this, who are saying that as cyclists, we have to maintain a separation between cycling and motorized recreation- motorized in the most basic sense of the word. Put a motor on it, that’s motorizing. We have a lot to lose.
I, personally have nothing to gain from this discussion, from going on record or making a shirt. We’ve made that motor-bike Motorbike tee: we’re not going to make a cent off of that, and we don’t have anything to gain by speaking out- other than trying to maintain the access that we and those who came before us fought for and work hard for and work hard to maintain. Creating an association on the part of the public and land managers between what is inherently a human powered activity and something that is a hybrid of mountain biking and motorized recreation is a very dangerous thing and a line that many of us are very concerned about crossing.
By pretending that it’s an altruistic medical device, a rehabilitative device for the aged and the infirm when… have you gone to the Haibike website? Look at the images that the industry is using to promote the e-bikes. We’re not talking about mobility or cross country bikes, these are six, seven, eight inch travel, aggressively styled, electric motorcycles. There is a huge disconnect between what is being said and what’s being shown and I think that’s very telling and very worrisome. They’re not- next time you talk to someone from the e-bike side, ask them what their ad buys for off-road e-bikes are in AARP The Magazine. They aren’t targeting that market. They say it’s for the people who are old and who can’t do it. I can’t say for sure- but don’t think that they’re in Diabetic Living.
BIKERUMOR: It’s hard to argue against. How do you pick on aged or non-able-bodied people?
MARC: You play on people’s sense of guilt. You can’t be seen as being against old people. Or the disabled. That was a big component of Michael Kelley’s interview. I’m too old for this, I’m too old to keep up with my friends, but then you see what’s being sold to the consumer- they’re not marketing a healthy, get out in the sun, ride with your kids thing.
BIKERUMOR: They are advocating the Mountain Dew commercial.
MARC: They are so far on the Mountain Dew side it’s ridiculous. At least on the mountain bike side there is an adventure component. The spirit of the adventure. That’s a huge part, even Yeti’s like five inch or six inch bikes are shown doing Colorado Trail trips and getting in out the backcountry.
There is this massive disconnect between this “think of the less-able” argument that isn’t supported by their actions. It’s disingenuous. And it’s sad. As consumers we try to educate ourselves to be smarter consumers of media. And to me it’s clear that’s not really who they are going after with these 6in trail bikes.
BIKERUMOR: To a point, you can’t be a mountain bike company and not market Mountain Dew.
MARC: I think that’s all they are marketing, right? It’s not- nobody needs eight inches of travel to keep up with their buddies. These are aggressive machines that are marketed as such. From a trail access perspective it’s very useful to bring up these anecdotal cases where someone in love with the sport has had triple bypass surgery wants to get back out but they just can’t. But those are anecdotes. They aren’t the vast majority of cases by any means. These are expensive toys. If your doctor prescribes or even recommends you ride one, that may be a little bit different, but again, I haven’t heard any anecdotes of anything like that. The industry seems to be talking out of both sides of their mouths. Saying that e-bikes exist for this population that everyone rightfully is sympathetic to it isn’t consistent with what they are selling- either in the types of products or the ways in which they are being portrayed.
And you know what? I will accept that a lot of them are going to end up like 95% of Jeeps: as massively over-capable (if compromised) commuters. But it doesn’t take many Jeepers, many bad apples, to get Jeeps banned from trails, and it won’t take many—if we allow this association to be created between mountain bikes and motor-assist cycles—it’s not going to take a lot of bad apples to cause access issues for the rest of us.
BIKERUMOR: You’ve got current bad apples within the community, though. You talk about new people getting on e-bikes and being the inexperienced assholes on the trails, but you’ve got new guys who get out there on pedal bikes, the inexperienced fast guys who can’t hold a line. How is your e-bike riding terror different from your new fast guy terror?
MARC: It’s an order of magnitude different. It’s the speed and the capabilities of these vehicles. No one is saying that the current limits will remain- at least with a straight face. The capability of e-bikes at present is so much greater than even the fastest rider that the consequences are higher, the consequences for their fellow two-wheeled trail users and the rest of trail users. It’s massively worrying. That’s why I’m saying we need to maintain a distinction. They are inherently different and the gaps are only going to grow as technology develops. Where we are now is frightening enough, and that’s with virtually zero users and a baseline technology. Now the industry is trying to create an association in land managers’ and mountain bikers’ minds and that can’t be allowed to happen. And the gap is only going to widen.
BIKERUMOR: So that brings us to: how does implementation of this technology happen without ruining everything from your perspective? What can the e-bike selling community do to implement this technology and not wipe out access and disrupt trail harmony?
MARC: It begins with not pretending that motor-assist bicycles are the same as mountain bikes. Any time you hear words like “just” and “only” it’s a warning of hand-waving ahead. The mountain bike community needs to stop that. We can’t accept that. The industry may or may not stop of their own accord. But cyclists cannot hear that sort of thing and let it go unchallenged. The two are not the same- they are inherently different.
In terms of what industry can do… I’m not really in a position to advise them. As for what the cycling community can do, is embrace e-bikes on multi-use trails, on trails that are open to multi-use vehicles. There are lots of them. There’s a lot of single track that is shared voluntarily between hikers, mountain bikers, and motos. In fact, motos have been responsible for a lot of the single track in the US. And to that, we should be very grateful.
But yeah, acknowledge that it’s a different activity, that does include motorized movement. Think of it this way: if an activity is three-quarters motorized and one quarter human powered, then the scales are clearly tipping towards motorized. If you want to take someone out on an e-bike and you’re an able bodied mountain biker and are concerned about your friend not being able to keep up, then yeah, use OHV-approved trails. That’s where they are appropriate. That’s where e-bikes have room to stretch their legs. That’s where the regulation doesn’t become an issue. That’s where there is no question of their appropriateness. A ranger doesn’t have to ask if that is a non-modified Category 1? There’s no question. It’s allowable. It’s okay. It’s quiet, it’s low polluting, it’s fantastic, and it’s fun.
And I’ll admit it- it’s fun to feel like you’re super-fast. I’d love to feel that all the time. It’s like having a massive tailwind. It feels awesome. And there are spaces that are already designated for motorized use, where there is no question as to e-bike access or legality.
I don’t want to lose what I love. I don’t want what I do to be lumped in with this motorized activity that has such a capability for harm. It’s not who I am. Its fine in the right places, and it’s great to have people out. It’s great to have motorcycles evolve in a way that is lower impact. It’s great. I think it’s great for the motorcycle industry. If I was on the moto side of things I’d be jumping up and down. Bottomless torque and you get rid of two out of the three arguments against motorcycles- that they are noisy, they are smelly, and they tear up the trails. We just knocked out two out of three. That’s awesome!
But the e-bike companies don’t want to go up against Honda. They are coming at it from a different angle. They can’t compete with KTM or Yamaha.
BIKERUMOR: You’ve got some of those manufacturers making e-bike motors. They are moving in from the other direction.
MARC: I think that’s going to be a very big market. I think that as mountain bikers we have to disassociate ourselves from motorized activity and let them be who they are, let them be their own thing, and own both the benefits and the impacts. I really hope that IMBA can maintain their current position on e-bikes. I know that a lot of their funding comes from industry…
BIKERUMOR: As well as some of their board members- some from companies who sell e-bike technology.
MARC: I hope that IMBA can be guided by their users and their principles rather than by those who fund them moving forward. I think that there is going to be a point very soon where they have to decide if they are an industry organization or a user organization.
The user group, and I’m sure you’ve seen it in the reaction to your Michael Kelley interview, are on the whole very much against treating e-bikes and mountain bikes as one and the same. Especially those who have spent time in land management and on working on trail access issues. And they are speaking as loud as they know how, but those who are signing the checks, the larger checks—those corporate donors—they are the ones that can get meetings and they are the ones whose voices are heard.
As a decades-long member, I hope that there is some reflection going on at IMBA: Are we an industry driven organization? Or are we a user driven organization? What is our real mission? Is motorized recreation a part of that? Or is mountain biking inherently human-powered? That’s something they may need to answer sooner rather than later.
BIKERUMOR: Industry has invested so much into this technology. It’s not a cheap technology. They aren’t going to let it flop.
MARC: If anyone is riled up at the end of the article, get together with your riding buddies or Facebook friends and pass the hat. We offer our Motorbike Tees to reinforce the distinction. All the proceeds go to IMBA to try to get a little bit of attention with a decent sized check. And we’ve already donated to the Sustainable Trails Coalition in support of Wilderness access. That’s really my and Lindarets’ intent. I felt frustrated and the need to say something and to be visible saying something. Hopefully we’ll make a point and cover our costs on this shirt, but the real intent is to be able to go to IMBA and say hey, these are contributions, these are people who feel strongly that we need to maintain a distinction. Our voices might not be heard individually but if we gather together, even if someone wants to form an industry group—a Muscle Powered Recreation Alliance or something—I’ll be right there. It needs to be said. Hopefully, if people feel strongly enough, they’ll say something.