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

mootsman, November 23, 2018 at 10:30 pm

Have seen a number of Ebikes and all were capable of riding with 100% motor power. Especially the ones using the “magic pan” powered hubs. Not that they could go a whole day on a single charge. Most would only go about 7 miles on all electric power without anyone pedaling them.


Chris, November 24, 2018 at 9:37 pm

eBikes: Mountain, meet molehill.

I’m in agreement with an earlier sentiment: it’s not a problem, most likely won’t be a problem, so let’s not make it a problem. There’s room in this ride for everyone, and if everyone includes some people on eBikes, so be it. RAGBRAI is what YOU want it to be. That means we have people with Whisky in their waterbottles, we have people rolling out of camp at 4am, we have people who will walk up every hill and get SAGGED every day. And that’s all ok. It’s a bike, a smile, and a good time. What does it matter if someone else’s bike helps them up a hill that we struggle with. This isn’t a race; getting to the top first means…..you got to the top first. The beer is just as cold for both of you.

I think we’re all big enough kids to appreciate the difference between an electric assist bicycle and a eMotorcycle like a Zero. Intent, not necessarily mechanism.

I kind of get a kick out of seeing one of every kind of bike ever made. Where else will you have a pair of Tandems leading a group that has a recumbant trike, a bunch of carbon, 1970’s Binda Extra clips-n’-straps, a red-as-freshly-lipsticked-lips-DeRosa, a Terry, some madman on a fixie, and a true madman on a unicycle (hey, not a bicycle, we should ban him, right?). The more, the merrier.

Ragbrai don’t care. See you in July.


skb-mpls, November 25, 2018 at 8:51 am

Like others – the speed is the issue. In Minneapolis I am seeing more and more of these. The congested bike paths around the city lakes have a speed limit of 10 mph. It is rarely enforced – but in my opinion if a rider wants to ride 15-20+ miles per hour it is time to ride on the road in the bike lanes or with cars… I would like to see a governor on e-bikes of 15 mph for urban path use. It irritates me to see an ebike wizz by me going 20 mph on the bike paths as it is quite unsafe. Geese crossing the bike paths, kids and families enjoying a Sunday afternoon ride etc. are not compatible with riders going 15-20+ mph. It is now the ebike riders that are doing that, not the conditioned athletes on road bikes as they ride on the road with the cars.

As I get older – I may break down and get one to be able to do RAGBRAI, but you won’t see me going 20 mph on the bike paths or doing a pace line on RAGBRAI.


Gypsy Rose, November 25, 2018 at 9:54 am

Interesting thread, on a topic which is being debated more and more these days as ebikes become more and more common.

Several years ago, myself and the rest of the staff at a bicycle advocacy organization in Vermont had a lengthy internal debate about whether or not the local parks and rec department should approve the request of a commercial vendor (tour operator) to allow Segways on the 14-mile rail trail that runs along the shores of Lake Champlain. In that debate, I found myself drawing the line at fully human powered. No Segways (completely powered by motor). No e-assist. Just human power.

In the end, Segways were allowed on a one year trial basis and were ultimately given indefinite access to the bike path. Have they opened the door to vehicles of other sorts? Fully motorized and limited only by size and speed, perhaps?

At around the same time, I started really catching on to the potential utility of e-assist bicycles, particularly for cargo bikes which can be challenging, especially when loaded, in our hilly terrain. If they weren’t so darned expensive, I might have even purchased one for running errands from my home (which sits 1000 feet above the village over a 3 mile distance – a climb that gets the heart rate pushing the max even on a light bike without a load).

I helped start an e-bike lending program for folks to give e-assist a try, and I’m very excited to see so many people considering/buying e-assist utility or commuter bike as an alternative to the automobile. I think there’s tremendous potential.

As for RAGBRAI, however, I remain of the opinion that it should be fully human-powered. (And, it’s not just bicycles, as there certainly are a lot of 3-wheelers in the mix, along with a few 4-wheelers and unicyclists. We have long-boarders and even a runner going the distance a few years back. All human powered.)

I’ll look forward to hearing more from all sides.

~ Kevin


Sandaltan ., November 25, 2018 at 1:10 pm

E-bikes will become more and more common on the ride, many of them you won’t even notice because you have to pedal to engage the assist. Their user downside is limited range and the time necessary for recharge, of course resourceful people will always find a power source. This is a review of the Copenhagen Wheel, one of several approaches to electric assist. https://www.treehugger.com/bikes/superpedestrian-copenhagen-wheel-review.html
Since most states limit motor-assist bicycles to a top speed of 20 mph and require a license for vehicles capable of higher speeds that should determine the market. I don’t see RAGBRAI staff forbidding e-bikes which, after all, are legal on the public roads that we ride. Years ago we were on a ride sponsored by the Hostel Shoppe in Wisconsin and at a rest stop there was an Aussie riding a long wheel base recumbent with a two cycle engine giving him an assist. The bike of course drew a crowd with questions and riders taking photos of his rig. One of the questions was why the engine. Well the Aussie said that he loved to bike but had lost a lung to cancer a few years ago and without the engine he couldn’t bike. No one complained about the put…put…put of his two cycle after that.



mootsman, November 25, 2018 at 5:36 pm

After starting out thinking Ebikes on RAGBRAI would be no big deal people on this thread have changed my mind. RAGBRAI is recreational bicycling’s national festival. Sure a few other forms of human powered adventurers have done it on skate boards (1 with a sail), skates and even on foot. But all in the spirit of non-motorized power.

I see allowing Ebikes officially would start RAGBRAI slowly circling the drain. Many get a sense of accomplishment from completing RAGBRAI and allowing Ebikes would diminish that as a motive for riding it. I wouldn’t recommend any type of enforcement but once someone has to explain they did it on a pedal bike, it won’t have the same meaning as saying you completed RAGBRAI.

And for those who want to change this discussion to one of speed I say it has nothing to do with speed. Some days on RABRAI I along with others have spent most of the day well over 20mph. Tailwind aided to be sure. This is not about speed. If the day comes where I need a motor aided bike, I would need to accept RAGBRAI was no longer something I could be part of.


gif4445, November 26, 2018 at 4:54 am

I don’t have a problem with e-bikes on state rides such as RAGBRAI. I began this cycling thing a little under 10 years ago. Now at the age of 61, and looking back, I have seen basically all the state ride’s mileage go down (by popular demand). Some do part of the ride and SAG in, or skip a day. Some don’t even ride, but are shuttled from town to town. I have great fun on these rides, but for a real challenge, I do ultra events, double centuries and the like. Let the e-bikers ride. RAGBRAI is a social ride, not a race.


LawnchairMan, November 27, 2018 at 1:25 pm

Will e-bikers still receive badges? I was proud of completing my first Bagbrai and had my patch sewn onto my jersey. Now that I know I can do it, I don’t have to prove it to anyone. This year I didn’t take the time to get the week patch, and think I was too early to get the Karas loop patch. I know did the rides. But should e-bikers get an award for riding with assist?


David Gallup, November 27, 2018 at 3:55 pm

Hi from the great white north.
I think you all have a problem with E-Bikes that is some of you.
We live in Calgary Alberta Canada. If anyone has been to Calgary
you know that it has a lot of big hills to climb. There are about 120 miles of pathways
and about 50 miles of bike lanes. We have regulator bikes as well as 2 E-Bikes after I had a
heart problem and I have bad knees, I built the E-Bikes so I could keep riding. I sold my motorcycle when I turned 60.
Drivers were not paying attention to people on motorcycles.
I think you have your priorities messed up. I think you should be more concerned
with the riders that have Alcohol in their water bottles and not the E-Bikes.
Most E-Bike riders stay with the group that they are riding with and do not drink until they are
finished riding. They also ride at the speed of the group.
By the way if someone has a medical condition or is a little over weight and they would like to take part
in the Ragbrai ride and a E-Bike helps then go for it.
I love to do 100 miles a day but I know that the Ragbrai is about 60 miles a day. So I will adjust my speed. I have to go slower so my wife can keep up

Thanks David


Luv 2 Ski, November 28, 2018 at 11:14 am

In 2014 as my son and I were climbing a hill on our tandem we were passed by a women on an ebike. She was sitting up straight and had a smile and glow to her face. She was not working very hard. I remember saying “that is not fair”, but I smiled as well. We were both enjoying the ride and isn’t that what RAGBRAI is all about.

What I love about RAGBRAI is is that it can be whatever you want it to be and there will be someone right along side you that wants it that way too. Sometimes that lasts an hour at a stop, an hour riding between stops, 5 hours in the day, or sometimes all 7 days out of the week. I don’t get why some want RAGBRAI to be what it is for them to be that way for everyone else.

Ebikes are welcome in my book. It is all good.


Bob Braigar, November 28, 2018 at 11:43 am

Would be interesting to see an official Register statement on this issue???


mootsman, November 28, 2018 at 11:45 am

We don’t show up to participate in a marathon on our bicycles (or skates). We don’t show up on the Birkebeiner on Fat Bikes, its a cross-country ski event after all. And motor powered bikes should not be on RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI is not whatever anyone wants to make it. Its a bicycle tour and bicycles are human powered, 100%.


LawnchairMan, November 28, 2018 at 12:22 pm

David G,
Where do you get your statistics? How do you know most e-bikers stay together? How do you know when they drink? How do you know that there aren’t the same percentage of e-bikers with alcohol in their water bottles as any other rider groups? Now THAT’s scary: a drunk e-biker!
Also, please explain the safety benefit of exchanging your motorcycle for an e-bike. Do you think drivers pay more attention to e-bikes?


Luv 2 Ski, November 28, 2018 at 2:09 pm

Mootsman, When you participate in a Marathon you are in a race. When you participate in the Birkebeiner you are in a race. They are competitions. Competitions/Races tend to have specific requirements in order for participants to be on a level playing field. In addition competitions usually have venues that are closed off to those not participating. RAGBRAI is not a race so your comparison to those events is like comparing apples to oranges. Technically we can agree that RAGBRAI is held on public roads that anyone can use at anytime, and that includes the last full week in July when RAGBRAI chooses to hold it’s event on the roads of Iowa. Just because RAGBRAI riders take over those roads does not mean they, or RAGBRAI, has exclusive access to those roads. Thus if someone wants to ride an Ebike in Iowa during the last week of July they have that right. I do not have a problem with that.

I personally have more of an issue with those that participate in RAGBRAI and do not pay the registration fee regardless of what kind of mode of transportation they use. I feel everyone should pay to support the event. If RAGBRAI did not allow Ebike’s and said “we won’t take your money if you ride an Ebike” some would just go Bandit and ride anyway. l think it would be safe to say that there are more Bandit’s on the ride than those that ride Ebike’s.

With that said I do not ever envision myself riding RAGBRAI on an Ebike. I like the physical challenge and the sense of accomplishment that I get from riding every mile each day for 7 days in a row.


mootsman, November 28, 2018 at 3:14 pm

Those are races but the vast majority of people don’t race these events. I skied the Birkie several times but to enjoy it, didn’t race. Plus there is a tour event on the Birkie trail put on by the Birkie organization. Fat Bikes not allowed. There are larger hiking events also, bikes not allowed. This is not apples to oranges at all if you understand the original point and don’t twist the meaning. All are human powered events, whether competitive or not. And each is for a particular modality of transportation. You can try and change the topic to registration, public road access or race-or-tour but those are not the topic on this thread.

To officially participate on RAGBRAI which is a bicycle tour, you are on a human powered bicycle. It is not whatever pleases you as you suggest. That standard would allow anything (motorcycles, cars, ATVs, etc)


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