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 Braigar, April 22, 2019 at 6:21 pm

Its just not the same, I’ve been on lots of Ragbrais, those things are bikes with motors, they cleverly market them as e-bikes, but those things aren’t bicycles, they should call them something else, perhaps I should get one, riding would be so much easier.


mcpartla, April 22, 2019 at 6:27 pm

Bob, no disrespect intended but it does not sound like these e-power bicyclists presented any hazard to you but just traveled faster than you liked. No different than when a young guy or gal on a 15-lb bicycle goes faster than me … age 71 … on my 30-lb Salsa Fargo. The only thing hurt is our ego. And I have to confess since buying my e-bike I sometimes get a little boost to my self esteem when I now pass those same youngsters!


mcpartla, April 22, 2019 at 6:34 pm

I agree with you. Some of my fellow club members bought expensive light weight racing bicycles to enable them to keep a faster pace. Others just stopped bicycling as their human parts showed signs of aging. E-bikes are the next step … help us bicycle longer and further. And make bicycling fun again! I tell myself it is helping me age gracefully. And so much better than the alternatives. My 16th consecutive Ragbrai coming up. Hope to see you on the ride!


KenH, April 23, 2019 at 8:34 am

There are many facets to this discussion. If you consider RAGBRAI to be primarily a social event that happens to involve bicycles almost peripherally then eBikes are no big deal other than they are a way to allow participation in the event by some who might not otherwise be able to participate. If you consider RAGBRAI to primarily be a bicycle ride that challenges your mettle then eBikes are an unwelcome contamination of the event that can be tolerated only as long as they do not get out of hand. If you look at eBikes as a way to do things that you can no longer do or never were able to do then they are a wonderful development. If you look at bicycles as a way to get physical exercise to rebuild your body after some medical issue or injury or as a way to slow the decline of your body as you, like me, reach your “golden years” then eBikes really defeat the purpose. And these are just a few of the viewpoints that reasonable, charitable people can have.

Iowa law allows eBikes with a throttle to be ridden like a motorcycle at up to 20 mph, significantly above the average speed of RAGBRAI traffic in my experience. Iowa law also allows eBikes that a fit young buck or doe could propel at 40 mph or more in pedal assist mode and with a rider provided power level that many bicycle tourists can sustain for hours at a time. So there is significant risk to the nature of the event as we have known it if eBikers were to become a significant proportion of the total ridership and were to push their cycles as hard as they push their current, strictly human powered cycles. Those who use eBikes as an assistive technology would still find that their eBikes allow them to complete the ride but those who use them to keep up with their mates, or the pack, would find themselves once again left in the dust by the hordes of eBikers.

Only time will tell how the eBike revolution will play out. Prices are still on the high side of what the masses will pay for a bike so adoption rates are low. But that is changing rapidly. In the end either Iowa law or RAGBRAI might have to put further restrictions on the performance of eBikes to allow them to continue to be an effective assistive technology at an event like RAGBRAI.


mootsman, April 23, 2019 at 8:45 am

Lighter bike weight doesn’t help for speed other then on climbs. Rolling resistance would be more important so leave the knobby tires at home. But smaller differences of 2-3 pounds make very little if any difference. My RAGBRAI bike is 2.3 pounds heavier then the road bike I use normally and there is no speed difference. Especially on Iowa’s rollers. But a 15 pound difference definitely would impact climbing speed. Buying a light bike is not the same as buying a motorized Ebike.

I’m rather older now myself and age does matter but it seems to mainly impact how much time I’m willing to train. I lean more and more towards the recreational aspect of cycling the older I get. If it ain’t fun, I don’t do it (anymore). And when I can’t pedal across Iowa anymore, it will be time to volunteer for RAGBRAI instead. Those who choose Ebikes to ride it though, its a great option.

As far as semantics, bicycles per the dictionary are 100% human powered and we already have a name for the versions with motors, Ebikes.


Kelli Libby, April 23, 2019 at 11:18 am

My group Lost and Found Adventures has several e-bikes.
The e-riders use them for a variety of reasons, but without their e-bikes they would not be able to enjoy the RAGBRAI experience. All the great Iowa hospitality.
Have a great RAGBRAI!


mootsman, April 23, 2019 at 1:16 pm


There is a separate page for sanctioned charters. Advertising charters isn’t supposed to be peppered through out various topics.


Bob Braigar, April 23, 2019 at 3:07 pm

“Their bikes are so conspicuously something other than a bike, for one thing.”

New Yorker Article – https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-electric-bike-conundrum


mcpartla, April 23, 2019 at 3:37 pm

Have you ridden an E-bike? I can easily cycle several miles per hour on flat roads with my e-power vs pedaling without really trying. And it’s much more fun too! “You don’t have To be in shape to pedal an e-bike” proclaims one manufacturer. And it’s probably why so many fit riders don’t like the idea of others not “earning” the ability to ride so well.


mcpartla, April 23, 2019 at 3:47 pm

My Trek 2300 weighs 25 lbs vs my Salsa Fargo weighs 30 lbs vs my Trek CrossRip e-bike weighs 40 lbs and I can go much faster and further in the same time with e-power. Much faster and much further. No stress keeping up with my more fit and sometimes younger buddies on lighter and often more expensive bicycles. Simple physics. Which bike do you think is the most fun to ride?


KenH, April 24, 2019 at 8:15 am

For me it’s the Fargo!


mcpartla, April 24, 2019 at 11:21 am

Yep and ideally Fargo will soon come with a battery for a little added assist now and then.


Paige Palombo, October 25, 2019 at 9:57 am

I just say “NO” to e-bikes. It will change the whole culture and challenge of RAGBRAI. If you get to the point that you can’t ride a bicycle anymore at a level required for RAGBRSI, then sure, get an e-bike and use it for recreation, join a local e-bike club or start an e-bike event. I don’t have a problem with people using the bikes in general. But don’t take over RAGBRAI. While Ragbrai is an inclusive event for bicycle riders of all levels, it does require a level of fitness to complete it. There are limits on the number of riders allowed each year and I know I will be upset if thousands of additional people sign up and get into the lottery and I can’t ride it with my bicycle because thousands of e-bike riders are out there cruising through the ride.


Paige Palombo, October 25, 2019 at 10:03 am

I would like to climb Mt Everest too but my lung capacity limits me from participating. Should I be allowed to take a snow mobile to get there – and then use a jet pack to get past people in front of me? No – but I don’t feel “excluded” or discriminated against. I just choose to climb smaller mountains and other hiking events. Same goes for RAGBRAI.


dukester, October 25, 2019 at 10:08 am

OMG, here we go again. Hasn’t everything been said about ebikes that can be said in 373 previous posts, the latest six months ago? The train has left the station. Ebikes commingled with others successfully on this year’s RAGBRAI, and were welcomed by RAGBRAI, charters and communities where it was easy to find a place to plug in. Let this die.


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