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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

Niles, November 28, 2018 at 5:21 pm

Although I said e-bike is not very practical for RAGBRAI, I don’t want to take a fundamentalistic stand on RAGBRAI bicycle eligibility. E-(assisted)-bike is not a tank, not a truck, not a car, not a motorcycle. It is more like a so called “human powered” bike and there is no bigger safety issue than any other “human powered” bicycle.

If you want RAGBRAI to be only “human powered” bicycle eligible, are you going to kick out bicycles with electrical shifting, bicycles with lights other than powered by dynamo, bicycle with speakers?


Sandaltan ., November 28, 2018 at 6:16 pm

Bosh, Brose, Shimano and Yamaha are all players in the growing market for ebikes, here is a very cursory review.



mootsman, November 29, 2018 at 7:42 am


Again. skip twisting the meaning of what is said just to be argumentative. Human powered obviously refers to the propulsion of a bike, not shifting. And also the response about cars was referring to someone else saying that RAGBRAI is anything anyone wants it to be. The key word being “anything”. RAGBRAI is and always has been a bicycle tour. Ebikes are just electric mopeds.

From the dictionary: “bicycle: a vehicle with two wheels tandem, handlebars for steering, a saddle seat, and pedals by which it is propelled”

We’ve expanded that on RAGBRAI to allow tricycles & recumbents but powered with the pedals, not a motor. And RAGBRAI is a bicycle tour. Not a moped tour which e-bikes are. Whether gas or electric assisted, mopeds are a motor assist for a pedaled vehicle.


jelly0317, November 29, 2018 at 8:39 am

Did you really use the phrase “just to be argumentative”? For God’s sake, give it a rest. We get it: you don’t think e-bikes belong on RAGBRAI. Please stop beating that dead horse.


Cory Rood, November 29, 2018 at 8:59 am

why all the hatred of e-bikes? as long as it requires pedaling for movement who cares? does someone else riding an e-bike somehow have a negative effect on your bike riding? you do you, and let other people do themselves.


Bob Amlie, November 29, 2018 at 10:18 am

Ok, now–apparently, if you believe it is absurd and inappropriate to ride a motorized bike on RAGBRAI, that you are a “Hater”. So, next will the people who are making excuses for not wanting to self-power their bicycle across Iowa,(as Clarence Pickard did), going to start caling us nazis or hitler? Because that’s the trajectory that the “anything goes” type of people take their discussion, if you don’t agree with them. BTW: RAGBRAI DOES CARE. I believe that EBiking would actually harm the image of RAGBRAI; what the point in going, if you aren’t fit to pedal across the state? That’s the point of it.


Larry Klaaren, November 29, 2018 at 1:38 pm

There is a website about Bike Law, from a lawyer who has just decided to specialize in the legaliteis of biking. He rode on Ragbrai this last year.
Any way, this is there: “Under federal law, an electric bike with a maximum assisted speed under 20 miles per hour can be sold as a bicycle, not a motor vehicle.” Each state may pass more restrictive laws.
Then I looked up the Iowa law: “In Iowa, bikes and motorized bikes are considered “bicycles” if they meets the following criteria: It has 2 wheels, and one saddle (seat) designed for use while riding. It has pedals that are designed for human-assisted propulsion. If it has a motor, it must produce less than 1 horsepower (or 750 watts if electric).”
I supposed RAGBRAI could make their own rules for the ride, but that is how federal law and the state of Iowa view ebikes.


Bob Amlie, November 29, 2018 at 2:42 pm

Okay, so it’s a law. Some lobbyist representing the 49cc motorbike & EBike sales industry sweet-talked the legislature into giving them a free pass from much of the financial responsibility of operating a motor vehicle. Which means—any young kid that can get his hands on a scooter can sustain a speed fast enough to kill themselves(or someone else)out on the road or recreational trail. That, and be a liability to those who drive cars, that require liability insurance. Recreational trails will see an increase in these no-effort, no responsibility vehicles, and because of incidents involving them—bicylists in general will be held responsible. More laws will be passed, as a reaction to bad things happening.. Stuff like: mandatory rider training & licensing; bicycle registration & liability insurance coverage. There will be money in it for lots of industries, besides the makers & vendors of these scooters AKA bicycles. I had some guy bragging to me the other day how he took his 49cc scooter(exempt from you-name-it)to a shop, where they modified it go go 45 mph. I saw a young “boy” on a powered bicycle going at least 30 uphill, the week before last. So, while it may be legal for the time being, it is bad public policy.


mootsman, November 29, 2018 at 3:54 pm

Not about if any 1 person is cool with ebikes or not. They are electric mopeds regardless of any specific law. Maybe someone should start a moped version of RAGBRAI but RAGBRAI is a bicycle tour and I use the definition of bicycle from the dictionary.

Jelly, if you want to troll people this isn’t the place. Save yourself the trouble as I am not taking the bait. We’re all free to express ourselves.


Sandaltan ., November 29, 2018 at 4:06 pm

From the Iowa Bicycle Coalition under the tab BIKE LAW:
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.



T. Gap Woo, November 29, 2018 at 4:35 pm

Let’s turn down the volume on this debate! If the “powers that be” (that’s you, TJ and staff of DMR!) say e-bikes are ok, then so be it. Welcome to the ride. If they say e-bikes are prohibited for whatever reason, then so be it.

No matter how the issue is resolved, I’ll still be schlepping my tuchas across the state on my Trek, pedaling under my own power. That’s how I choose to make this MY Ragbrai.

See you along the I-O-Way next year.


jelly0317, November 29, 2018 at 5:11 pm

mootsman, I’m not sure how my posts can be considered trolling. I’m simply pointing out that you’ve made your point…and made it…and made it.


dalebob, November 30, 2018 at 11:49 am

Since starting this thread I have been very impressed with the response of the the RAGBRAI forum members. Civil yet passionate, informed and opinionated. Exactly what I was hoping for considering this is not necessarily an earth-shaking issue but is still something we need to be aware of. I very much appreciate the viewpoint of RAGBRAI being first and foremost a bicycle ride. A fairly long one, and for many of us, a moderately difficult one, both physically and logistically. I started riding again in my 50’s and did my first RAGBRAI in 2012. I remember it was hot that year? Anyway, I am one of those that needs to ride and train all year to have any hope of pedaling all the way across Iowa. Quite unfairly, I ride in a group which includes one member who literally takes her bike down from the hooks, wipes the dust and cobwebs off, pumps up the tires and starts Ragbrai the next day. There are all kinds of abilities.
My greatest enjoyment from the ride has always been meeting and talking to the great variety of people on the ride and in the towns. But a close second is the actual physical effort expended in training and riding and the satisfaction of putting forth that effort to accomplish something that others find amazing and frankly unbelievable. “You rode your bike HOW far?” Right? I love that.
That brings me to 2017. North route, right through my home town (Decorah) I was pumped. In pretty good shape. Ready for the hills. Then coming into Cresco I pushed too hard and blew out my knee. Made it through the next day with ice and Advil, but it was not pleasant. Seems like everywhere I stopped (which was often, always with ice on my knee) I would sit next to someone who had just had knee replacement and I should too blah blah blah. I knew there was no making it that last day on my recumbent with those river valley hills ahead of me, so being close to home I swapped out my ride for an electric assist bike I had in my garage. It is not a high powered unit and was untested out on the road under any kind of mileage, but dammit I was going to finish what I started even if I had to walk. Or limp. I did pedal on the level and up the easy hills but I motored, scootered, mopeded up the big hills. Riding like that I was able to make it all the way to Lansing. I can say for a fact that I would not have been able to pedal hard that last day, and I have no illusions that the bike I was on certainly had an assist that most do not. And the satisfaction, while not quite the same, came from putting out the effort that I still could, and not just giving up or sagging the last day.
OK, The End. Thank you for all your replies. I am in constant awe of all of you. I would love meet you on the ride next year. I will be dressed up like Uncle Sam.


Bob Amlie, November 30, 2018 at 1:25 pm

I’ve seen several of the usual tactics that the “anything goes” people use to try and win a debate. The most recent is that of trying to suppress the opinion of an interested party, who is contributing to the discussion. Another tactic is to derail the topic, which is whether riding Equality Bikes, a motorscooter, is in keeping with the purpose & traditions of RAGBRAI. That tactic is to pass the-buck to a higher authority, composed of individuals who may not even be cyclists, to define what counts as a “bicycle”.. As far as leaving it up to the officialdom of RABRAI, well, first and foremost—they are a business, collecting a fee from participants. I do recall the anti-Bandit discussions which drew much support here, sanctions and so forth. i.e., no pay-no go. I believe that was the consensus–even though untagged riders have a LEGAL right to use the roads, too. Plus, when someone has a financial interest, in the matter, they have a conflict, making an unbiased decision, there. So far, the only on-subject arguments by Equality Motorbikers are that: “without an Equality Bike, I couldn’t go the distance”. Well, that what it’s really all about–the novelty of RAGBRAI, & what entitles people to a sense of accomplishment— being able to ride across Iowa, under their own power, and camp at night, in 7 days! See? Wishful thinking just doesn’t count! Wannabees & posers are a dime a dozen. In typical fashion, The Media likes to portray it as some kind of orgy: of Eat, Drink, and be Merry. Which, for the most part, it really isn’t. The participants whose focus is eat, drink, and be merry are outliers. Also, I don’t care what state law says about what the definition of a bicycle is—an EBike is a MotorBike! Also, if you aren’t fit to ride the whole week–why notget a day pass or two, and doo the best you can, under your own power? But, using lack of physical fitness as an excuse to ride a Motorbike on RAGBRAI is absurd. It’s like everything else in life–if you can’t do your job, the boss shows you the door. If you don’t have the money for a ticket, you can’t board the plane or cruise ship. If you have physical limitations that limit your ability to drive a car(vision, seizures, etc.) you don’t get a license. If you are a “D” student, don’t expect admission to an Ivy-League School. If you can’t play cards–don’t show up at a bridge tournament. And–don’t get in any poker games, for Pete’s sake. The issue has nothing to do with “hate” or discrimination. It has to do with reality, and life’s lessons. If you want to buy an Electric-powered bicycle, go ahead, athough I think it actually would only perpetuate your lack of fitness. But, then–don’t expect to be invited to ride on the Tour De France, or RAAM, or–RAGBRAI. Ride the darn thing around your neighborhood, until you get bored with it, buy another consumer gimmick, and the Equality Bike ends up gathering dust in your garagge.


jelly0317, November 30, 2018 at 1:50 pm

I’m curious, Bob: since you’re such an expert on the “purpose & traditions of RAGBRAI”, how many times have you participated?


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