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

Mike Cordes, December 17, 2018 at 4:34 pm


I certainly have been watching from the beginning. Between my original reply on this thread and my second reply earlier today, I have seen all of your 30+ replies and I have even looked at most of the links you provided. If you haven’t looked at the link I provided on the different types of internet trolls, please check it out and pay attention to the Exaggeration Troll (type 08 of 10). “Valid discussion” usually ends after 5 or 6 replies. EBikes are not the imminent danger to RAGBRAI that a few are suggesting (over and over).

In this reply, I continue in my role as the Off Topic Troll and bring in some characteristics of the Persistent Debate Troll. I am not planning on continuing my fun-loving “troll-PSA” activity on this thread, but I will reserve the right to “come over the top” with a final One Word Only Troll (type 07 of 10) response if necessary for comedic relief.

Happy holidays and I look forward to a wonderful 2019 bike ride across Iowa as soon as the state thaws out.


dalebob, December 17, 2018 at 5:12 pm

I honestly do not know what troll bait is or how to make it, I was genuinely curious what the RAGBRAI community, at least the forum community, thought about e-bikes participating in the ride. I used the words ‘perk up the forum’ because this is usually a pretty slow time for the forum and I thought it sounded good. I have followed the e-bike subject in other bike forums and was fairly sure this one would follow the spectrum of passionate resistance to shrugging indifference. As I stated before, even tho I think e-bikes will probably dovetail into the ride without much issue, I do have a problem with someone doing the century on an e-bike and then expecting a patch. The main body of the ride is non-competitive and therefore the “who cares what somebody rides” opinion. But the century loop is an extra effort that most riders do not attempt, and those that do and make it deserve the bragging rights that the patch represents. Doing it on an e-bike seems to cheapen this effort for everyone else. This is just my opinion. I am willing to listen to any other positions.


RDaryl Daryl, December 17, 2018 at 6:00 pm

I must say this has been as much fun as the previous topics relating to bandits, helmet use, vendor availability, and a certain politician. Let’s not go back there.
Bottom line . . . RAGBRAI is a week where we can let go of everything else in life and “get along” with each other while experiencing the awesome state of Iowa on a bicycle (however we define that).
There is no single right way of riding RAGBRAI yet we all experience a certain level of joy in participating in it and then look forward to the next ride. We are blessed to get the opportunity to choose to participate.
Just go listen to the justgobike.net podcasts for more of the “stay for the fun and leave with a smile” side of bicycling. Episode 70 talks about the E-bike grin.
Peace and much tailwind to all wherever you find yourself in this season-


mootsman, December 17, 2018 at 8:44 pm


Cute, your take/lecture on trolls but we all know what they really are. People who look for online arguments that contribute nothing to the discussion. We’ll not encourage your argument and continue to keep the issue going.

I stick to the subject. Its not where e-bikes start at, its where they are going. 50 mph today for 9k will be 50 mph later for $3k. What’s RAGBRAI to do to catch the ones that don’t fit the state law. And others that can motor their way the entire way. E-bikes will become more common over time. While maybe they will be 1-3 percent in the next couple of years I see them being 20% eventually. And also impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.


Mike Cordes, December 17, 2018 at 8:55 pm



Craig Kemnitz, December 22, 2018 at 5:53 pm

Hey Bob I like burnt pork chops and have paid $3 for a beer plenty of time. I’ll be easy to spot, I’m the guy from Vegas riding with his wife on the e-bike. Wave as you go by and I’ll buy you a $3 beer at the overnight stop.


David C., December 24, 2018 at 9:12 am

Ebikes that have a throttle that cannot propel the rider more than 20 mph on flat ground exclusivey with an electric motor no more than 750W (one horsepower) are legally bicycles in the State of Iowa. Iowa Code Sec. 321.1(40)(c)(2).

321.1(40)(c) Definitions – Bicycle
c. “Bicycle” means either of the following:
(1) A device having two wheels and having at least one saddle or seat for the use of a rider which is propelled by human power.
(2) A device having two or three wheels with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than seven hundred fifty watts (one horsepower), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden, is less than twenty miles per hour.

In any case, others have made better arguments against their use by able bodied riders, like charging logistics and weight penalties.

I own an e-assisted trike and two unassisted trikes. My unassisted trikes are about 40 pounds without gear. My assisted trike is 80 pounds including battery. I vowed to use my e-assisted trike as a car replacement as often as possible but not as an unassisted trike replacement and certainly will not e-assist on RAGBRAI. That of course is a personal decision for each rider.

As a side note, I haul my own gear on an unassisted trike for half the ride (the half that includes the entire event but not the bus ride and truck haul to the event) including a 16 pound motorcycle tent.


mootsman, December 24, 2018 at 11:01 am

You’re right about the Iowa definition David. But there are ebikes that are not limited to that because Iowa does not define what an ebike is to manufacturers. You can’t tell the watts or top speed of an ebike just by looking at it. So there is no way to enforce those limits on RAGBRAI.

1) plenty of ebikes exist that do not require someone to pedal them at all.
2) ebikes exist that can make it the whole way each day with a couple of spare battery packs (not big packs either)
3) Currently there are ebikes that can go 50 mph.

So to enforce the Iowa statute, how would RAGBRAI do that?

And if RAGBRAI is no longer about bicycling across Iowa, what is it about then? And that’s before you get into the question “is it wise to mix motors and an event with lots of drinking?”.


David C., December 24, 2018 at 12:53 pm

I agree with others that summoning alcohol as a reason to ban ebikes is logical fallacy. If a and b then c cannot be inversed to if not b then not c. I also had an impaired rider crash into me in ‘18 but it was because he was looking down at his phone and didn’t expect to hit someone going slower than him riding on the far right fog line. He used my tent and panniers to break his fall. Should we also ban unassisted bicycles because of phone use? It is analogous to this ebike ban proposal because of alcohol. Mind you, I personally will not ebike RAGBRAI. However I will also not allow the truck to carry my gear so I can pretend I am on the Tour de France. Perhaps the answer to the go-fast dangerous types is to have a RAGBRAI regulation that says you have to haul everything in a rack on the back of your carbon racer. That would be as ridiculous as banning ebikes, but has a certain appeal to those of us who see little value in a 3 pound cycle without a rack.


David C., December 24, 2018 at 1:02 pm

A 50 mph ebike is a motorcycle under Iowa law. It requires a motorcycle DL, insurance, a certificate of origin, and a registered license plate. There’s already 3 laws on the books that prohibit those on Iowa roads. I also have never seen any of those on an Iowa bike trail or highway. I haven’t seen one at RAGBRAI and I don’t consider this discussion to apply to them.


Bob Amlie, December 24, 2018 at 1:16 pm

Dave, thanks for the lesson in logic. But, next time—bring your charts and graphs to the table, will you? We need statistics, showing how many people have died or been seriously injured on RAGBRAI, from riding EBikes under the influence, and it may take 10 years worth of people getting hurt, in order to justify addressing the issue. Right, Dave? Let’s just wait until at least 20 people a year are seriously injured, okay? Right? Also, someome people have too much faith in the law. So, is someone employed by RAGBRAi or the Highway Patrol going to be checking EBikes, to make sure they are compliant with The Law? As for whether or not anyone has seen the faster EBikes, YET, just wait. People, especially a % of RAGBRAI participants, have a tendency to push the envelope. As for legal justication, cars are legal, as long as you have a license & insurance. Why not just drive our comfortable air-conditioned cars on RAGBRAI, from now on? After all—it’s LEGAL. That would be just another step up from EBiking & staying in motels, during the week. But, hey—it’s all about the Pie, isn’t it?


David C., December 24, 2018 at 1:55 pm

You seem interesting. I like your style and your responses. I agree 10-20 years will bring significant changes. Alas, if things go as you fear, there will be no more RAGBRAI participants because all will be mowed down by ebikes emerging from the fields like children of the corn. ?‍♂️ ?‍♀️ ? Some will bring charts.


Joe Chavis, December 29, 2018 at 8:04 am

I have been seduced to speach. Usually, I only read the forum issues. This one however is intriguing….provoking thought if you wish… Maybe it’s only because the weather here in NC is crap today and I am not gonna ride?

However, this discussion reminds me of the first time I saw a rider with those now popular STI I like to call them shifters. I started riding before those gadgets were even an option. I rode with down tube friction shifters. Had never even seen a Triple chain ring set up. My first reaction to the new shifters was ” that’s a dang gimmick…It’ll never catch on, nobody’s gonna ride that crap. It makes you shift too much” ” What a bunch of weak weenies. LOL well I was wrong, I even own a coupe bikes equipped with that crap myself, now.

If I keep breathing and am able to attend, RAGBRAI 2019 will be my 23rd consecutive ride. Usually, I ride a fixed gear. Have ridden fixie on RAGBRAI for more ‘n half of my 23 visits. I ride fixie (not fixed,yet, that’s still original equipment) here in the mountains of NC, have ridden fixe up and down and all around several states and countless organized rides. To include the Hills Mountains and inclines here in the southeast USA.

Like e’vy body else, I guess, on the 2017 ride, as I was standin’, strugglin’, sweatin’ snarlin’ and just short of swearin’ up one of the many inclines the last day riding a 49X14 set up ((92 inch gear) some wider ‘n usual obviously not in tip top shape woman, giggled past me SEATED up the incline.

At first I was puzzled, another rider yelled to me, after seeing my puzzlement,” awww don’t pay her no attention, she’s riding one of them motor assisted bikes”. I had not many complimentary thoughts about that encounter the remainder of the climb. BUT, as fate would have it…as is the case on most bike rides, the incline gave way to a screaming downhill, where I simply ‘unclip’ and fly…….to an inevitable flat surface…Riding ability takes over on the flats… at which time, I continued to ride my normal pace, and smiled, spoke to the rather wide bodied young lady and rode past her and away….

When finished, I surmised that “at least she’s out here trying, riding, doing, participating, a bunch of the ing’s that otherwise she would not be able to? Let ’em ride em…

Jes’ sayin’ Be Fun Have Safe, hope to see ALL in July.


KenH, December 29, 2018 at 11:48 am

People who are honestly participating in a discussion and bringing personal insights, experiences, data, etc to it are not trolls. You may have found an internet page that defines everyone as a troll but that is its author’s problem, and yours if you choose to believe it, not ours. The need to label everyone so that you can dismiss them without dealing with the issues they raise is not a charming personality trait.

E-bikes cannot easily be contained at an event like RAGBRAI. Neither Iowa state law nor RAGBRAI policy prevents people from doing anything they want to do. You cannot easily tell by looking if an e-bike is legal or illegal since the difference can be in the code stored in a chip in the control box. You would have to test every e-bike on the ride to ensure that they are all legal and no one is going to do that. An e-bike that is involved in an accident may be inspected for compliance with the law and RAGBRAI rules but at that point it is too late. It’s that horses/barns thing. I am starting to get a lot of internet ads about e-bikes both mild and wild. Just today I saw one for a dual motor e-bike. I kick myself for clicking on another interesting link first because when I returned to the host page the e-bike ad had disappeared into the Great Bit Bucket and could not be brought back. I don’t think you need two motors to get to 750W/25mph max however.

All that some of us hope to do here is to get these notions out on the table so that if e-bikes become an issue in the future, as we expect, decision makers will have some information that will allow them to make informed choices about rule changes.

If e-bikes were only used by those who due to age or disability needed them to complete the ride then I have no issue with their presence at RAGBRAI. People in those categories are unlikely to abuse them and are unlikely to be large enough in number to overwhelm the event and change its fundamental character. One of my RAGBRAI riding buddies has struggled to achieve the fitness level needed to complete the ride comfortably even though he has tried and leaves it all on the road every day he rides. He is not a slacker and he is a year or two younger than I. But age does not treat us all the same and even though apart from this year’s gravel loop I have never felt pushed to the limit by the RAGBRAI course there are certainly people my age and older who go flying by me every day I ride. So, if my buddy decides to get an e-bike I will think nothing of it.

But I think it unlikely that e-bikes will limit themselves to those who truly need one. I think it all but certain that they will increase to the point where they cause issues. And when that happens I want the decision makers to keep what we have said here in mind. Firm decisions may have to be made not that far into the future.

If that makes me a troll in your eyes, well fine. Put me down as an Engineer Troll then. That is what I am by profession and it is my life’s work to understand technology, improve technology, educate people about technology, and warn them about the risks that technology poses so that effective countermeasures can be taken. As an Engineer Troll I would prefer that action is taken now, while it is the easiest to take and the most effective. As an Engineer Troll I know from experience that never happens, no one ever listens to the Engineer Trolls, they just take their new technological toys and run around with them like children. And then, after weeks, months, sometimes years, have passed they come back to the Engineer Trolls with worried expressions and ask “What was that you were saying last year….?”

As the Engineer Trolls at a previous employer used to say “We never the have time to do anything right, so we have to find the time to do everything over!”


mootsman, December 29, 2018 at 12:11 pm

Well put Ken. To summarize the e-bikes myths:

1) They can’t go over 20 mph. False, I’ve seen some that are rated up to 50 MPH. One 500 watt E-bike that could hit 28. Another with a 40 mile range on 1 battery pack that can hit 35 mph.
2) They only are pedal assist and need to be pedaled. False, I seen many models that require no pedaling at all.
3) Ebikes can’t be electric powered the whole day without pedaling or recharging on RAGBRAI. False, with extra battery packs they can go the entire way, no pedaling needed.
4) Iowa law does not allow E-Bikes to exceed specific limits by watts and speed. False, the law just says those are the limits for e-bikes to only adhere to bicycle laws. More capable E-bikes are legal under motorcycle laws. Most you can’t tell if they comply with the Iowa statute just by looking at them.

And for anyone that wants to use this thread as an excuse to talk about themselves and how awesome of a rider they are, please start a new thread about yourself. I doubt any of us are impressed.


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