Electric assist bikes?

OK, here is something to perk up the forum. We have seen a huge increase in electric assist bikes around here, and I imagine we will be seeing an increase of said bikes on RAGBRAI this July. I have an opinion concerning this, but I am more interested in what the forum community has to say. Is this the beginning of the end? Will this allow folks who would otherwise not be able to ride to make it happen? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between? Are there any “rules” regarding their use on RAGBRAI? What are your thoughts?

396 Replies

Bob Amlie, December 14, 2018 at 5:03 pm

Well, maybe I should not be a real, self-powered, old-fashioned rider on EBrai(my new acronym for it), because there might be economic opportunities as a vendor, instead. Yup. Selling EBiker T-shirts might be my new market niche.. Here’s an idea for one shirt: “I rode EBRAI on an EBIKE, and I still was a slow=poke!” Or: I spent $4000 on an EBike, And I’m Still Looked Down Upon As A Poser!” Yup. How about that? As long as it makes money, what else matters?


Low Rider, December 14, 2018 at 6:27 pm

Multiple posts in this thread have motivated a response.

I’m a “cripple” (not my word, but I’m trying to be understood by all on this thread) who does RAGBRAI entirely human powered and plan to continue doing it that way. (Us slow folks make the rest of you look fast.) Each time I complete the route I have a personal sense of accomplishment regardless of how others complete it.

In this thread, I’ve seen repeated references to litigation exposure. (A reminder, if you have the filing fee, you can sue the Pope for paternity, you might have a problem proving damages, but you can file the suit). A drunk RAGBRAI rider (not on an Ebike) crashed into me. I had to go to the hospital and have diagnostic imaging performed on me. It ended my ride that year. If the concern is the mixture of alcohol and Ebikes, the better rule from where I sit is to ban alcohol on RAGBRAI as a way to limit the liability of deep pockets.

This discussion to make RAGBRAI great again has invoked the founders and early days. From my recollection, the discussion and remedies don’t go far enough to revive the early days of RAGBRAI. The early days had Des Moines Register coverage of the sex occurring in the campgrounds. Lately, the coverage has not mentioned sex in the campgrounds. We need to come up with registration processes for individuals, teams (membership and transportation), and towns (entering and staying) to facilitate the human powered riding, so to speak, across the state of the early years.

The churches could help by enforcing their obligations under Deuteronomy 23:1. If this obligation was enforced, women would now any man they picked up in the church would have working equipment. Given the nature of many of the bicycles and the high spandex coefficient, the exams would have to occur nightly to catch new cases. Possibly recumbent riders could get a wristband to avoid the “urologist check” line to the church dinner. Proof is left to reader as to another RAGBRAI issue raised frequently that this would also handle.


KenH, December 14, 2018 at 9:01 pm

Even though I do not agree with the official RAGBRAI policy as recently shared by the director hisself, I do agree that it is a sensible and acceptable policy for now. I predict that it will not remain sensible and acceptable for much longer, but I could be wrong. The web search I just did on “chipping an ebike” would suggest that trouble is looming….

I do take offense at the notion that some of you have expressed that those of us who oppose ebikes are luddites, reactionaries, etc, etc, etc. There is no need to demonize us simply because we disagree with you. Now I do realize that some of you react this way because of how you have been treated by some of us, and I hope all of us will resolve to do better if this discussion continues. Even though it may exclude some who could participate on an ebike and no matter how many heartwarming stories you share about riders who have been able to continue thanks to an ebike there is still great value in strictly human powered events at both the professional competitive and the amateur recreational levels. There is nothing hateful or demonic about those of us who argue in favor of keeping this event human powered. We just value some things more highly than you do. We are no different from you. You oppose our view for exactly the same reason: you value some other things more highly than we do.

As it turns out, I myself am one who could have benefited from an ebike this year. Yet I still oppose them because I feel that an event that celebrates human true accomplishment is of great benefit and all the more so as they become more rare. I have never walked a hill at RAGBRAI until this year and then boom, I may have walked as many as a dozen. Thanks to that purgatorial gravel loop through the Loess Hills! I’m not sure an ebike would have helped much however. I think I may have burned through its battery before the Loess ran out of hills. And that should give TJ and the other event organizers pause. Is it really advisable to encourage those with physical limitations to tackle routes that neither they nor their ebikes are able to handle?

I was totally defeated long before I got to the end of the gravel and I would have hopped on the SAG wagon in an instant if it had showed up. But it never showed up. I do not recall EVER seeing the SAG wagon on the gravel loops in fact. People who depend on an ebike to complete the route may well have problems that make it dangerous to leave them stranded on the side of the gravel loop with not much chance of ever seeing a SAG wagon. Yet that will happen if ebike usage is allowed and encouraged. In my case I was able to recharge myself enough to get to the next town by resting for a while in the shade, drinking water, letting the day’s second breakfast and lunch digest and replenish my bloodstream, and if I am honest, taking a brief snooze. Your ebike cannot do that so if you cannot do that either your ebike with its extra weight and perhaps some extra drive train drag will actually make your plight worse, not better.

As it is I further recharged in the next town and then even though I felt uncertain about my prospects I felt a little better with each passing mile and each successive pass through town until I got to the end town feeling strong and rather proud of myself. I had actually accomplished something that was quite difficult for me that day. If I had used one and if it had worked better than I suspect it would have, an ebike would have robbed me of that experience.

Based in part on this experience I bought a new bike after RAGBRAI this year that should help me tackle future gravel loops more successfully, even if like this year the “gravel” is virtually indistinguishable from sand! It’s a better bike for that but it does not have a motor. A motorized RAGBRAI is nothing special to me. Iowa has all manner of festivals that one can enjoy by use of a motor vehicle that allows your 85 year old grandmother to come along and participate. The one thing, the only thing, that makes RAGBRAI different from all these events that occur all summer long all across the nation is that you do it yourself. When ebikes make coach Ertl’s training plans and TJ’s annual admonishments to get out there and train unnecessary then RAGBRAI will have lost its charm. I will just go to Tulipfest and Nordicfest to avail myself of Iowa’s down home charm and hospitality. I will look for cycling challenges elsewhere.

Maybe even the Dirty Kanza….


Portland Cyclist PDX, December 15, 2018 at 3:10 am

Thanks for chiming in TJ! I’m not surprised to see RAGBRAI open this amazing life experience to anyone who would like to ride a bike, no matter if it’s electric or human powered. I firmly believe traditional bikes will continue to represent at least 90% of all riders on RAGBRAI for many years to come. I was a bagger last year for the first time, and it was tough at times but awesome in the end. I can be proud of my accomplishment last year and also fiercely defend the right of e-bike users to participate. I think both of those things encompass the spirit of RAGBRAI, and that sense of community on RAGBRAI will never go away. I look forward to sharing beers with riders of all types out there!


Bob Amlie, December 15, 2018 at 4:10 am

RE: Portland PDX. My highly-sensitive Sock Puppet Radar just started beeping & woke me up in the middle of the night. Sooooo, what part of Portland do you live in, PDX? What group do you ride with, on RAGBRAI? Just Curious.


mootsman, December 15, 2018 at 7:36 am

None of us fear e-bikes as one person put it. They are just one more hazard to navigate around and cycling has plenty of those. And the litigation angle is real if RAGBRAI officially allows e-bikes on an event known for heavy drinking to be commonplace. If they officially don’t allow them but don’t enforce, I think they get off the hook. RAGBRAI’s version of “don’t ask, don’t tell” or in this case, “don’t check”. But I think most of us can predict the outcome of mixing motors with drinking. Yes, some of us can out run an e-bike with its default speed limit in place. But most of us that can, can’t after even a 2nd beer. And plenty can replace the speed limit default with a higher speed on an e-wheel version of an e-bike

As for this thread, just reply to the positions, skip the argumentative personal posts. That comes across like a teenage web-troll and only makes you look bad.


mootsman, December 15, 2018 at 1:22 pm

A couple of guys in the UK converted a road bike with a motor and got 34 mph. The motor is available for sale. You need a disk brake compatible rear wheel but it uses a gear there instead. NO pedaling required. Their speed tests are out on:


And for more exotic e-bikes on electricbike.com they have 50 mph e-bikes already. Some cost as much as 14k but one 50 mph ride is (only, cough!) $9k.



Portland Cyclist PDX, December 15, 2018 at 1:50 pm

Bob – I’m not sure what those questions have to do anything, as I know you’ll use it to yet again disparage the city I am proud to call home, but I’ll play along.

To answer your first question, my entire Portland neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places and is situated near the city center. It has a stunning mix of architecture, is very safe, lots of parks, and has some of the best dining around. When I type in my address on http://www.walkscore.com, my neighborhood has a walk score of 98 and a bike score of 96! I reckon few neighborhoods in America are scored that well.

As for RAGBRAI, my team usually consists of my friends from Iowa who still reside there, or like me, are coming back for the ride. Essentially whoever ends up making it that year. We don’t have an official team name, or branding, if that’s what you’re getting at. Sometimes we have a support vehicle, sometimes we don’t.


Sandaltan ., December 15, 2018 at 3:09 pm

PDX: “We don’t have an official team name, or branding, if that’s what you’re getting at. Sometimes we have a support vehicle, sometimes we don’t.” You don’t then register as a group? You register as individuals without a vehicle pass?



Portland Cyclist PDX, December 15, 2018 at 4:20 pm

That’s correct. Typically I’m the first one to register, and then it’s me trying to convince a bunch of friends to join. Only a few of us ride all week. Last year, we did not have a support vehicle, which was one of the reasons I decided to be a bagger. It was fun, and more convenient in many ways, so that’s going to be my personal plan moving forward whether or not we end up having a vehicle this summer.


Sandaltan ., December 15, 2018 at 5:37 pm

PDX: Baggers have some advantages fer sure. See y’all in July.



mootsman, December 17, 2018 at 8:43 am

Correction to the highest costing ebike on the link below. Its 36k but since you can get another 50 mph ebike for only $9k why would you bother. And there is a 28 mph ebike for $2.7k and a really cool 35 mph Fat (road) ebike with dual suspension for $3.6K.


Only the $2.7K 28 mph ebike meets the watts limit set forth by the Iowa DOT but since you can’t tell either the max speed or the watts just by looking at the bike, who cares.

So whatever you experience with an e-bike is, your image of them might be out of date.


mootsman, December 17, 2018 at 8:51 am

And those guys in the UK that had a converted road bike they experimented with different voltage battery packs on, with the basic battery pack they got 23 mph with without pedaling at all but the pack is small and portable. It would be easy to carry an extra 2-3 packs with to power your whole day through RAGBRAI. So much for pedaling at all.


Before deciding on allowing E-bikes riders to register, know the full picture on e-bike technology today and run that by the legal team and insurance company.


Mike Cordes, December 17, 2018 at 1:28 pm

This whole thread was started as troll-bait when dalebob started with the simple statement: “here is something to perk up the forum”. As part of any reply to a thread like this, please pay attention to the type of troll that you are representing. Here’s a good guide:


For my part, I’m the “Off Topic Troll” – type 09 of 10.


mootsman, December 17, 2018 at 2:13 pm


No, many of us are not trolls and maybe you have not been watching the thread closely. Sure there are some trolls. You read too much into the wording of the original post though.

Mostly this is a valid discussion that could impact what direction RAGBRAI goes in and potential consequences. And the number of replies isn’t so much about the replies themselves, its to show the RAGBRAI leadership (who is watching) the significance of the issue to the riders. And they are watching. The more replies the better just to show the relative importance of the issue.


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