Monday, June 04, 2012

Why the Bionx Pedal-Assist is Not Cheating

This weekend I installed a Bionx PL-350 system on my trusty Trek 7100. It was a hefty investment, but it's worth it because now I can ride anywhere in the city, sweating as much or as little as I want, hills be damned! Why, just yesterday I rode to the National Shrine, to a cafe, and back home - 16 miles of undulating hills that, unassisted, would have killed me and left me exhausted. But with the Bionx on a high level of assist, I rode to church in my Sunday best without getting sweaty, and afterward I turned the assist down and got a pretty solid workout coming home. I was exhilarated and dripping with perspiration by the time I got home, but I wasn't WIPED OUT, like I would have been normally. The Bionx gives me the freedom to ride where I otherwise wouldn't. Without assist, I would not have attempted Sunday's ride; I simply would have driven.

When people find out I bought an electric pedal assist for my bike, there are two common responses.

Average Joe: Cool! I've heard about those. Sounds fun.
Cyclist: THAT'S CHEATING. You're such a cheater, Mister Cheater.

My standard response to Average Joe is "Yeah, it is fun! Really helps with the hills." We both walk away smiling and I am left with the thought that there are lots of friendly people in this world.

Then comes the Cyclist. He is usually very skinny, owns thousands of dollars in Lycra and Spandex, and has a 15-pound bike made of carbon fiber infused with Borg nanobots. And he is looking at me with derision I have previously only seen directed at people who stand to the left on the Metro escalators.

To the Cyclist, biking and sweating are synonymous. He enjoys nothing more than the long haul, dripping, drenched, standing on the pedals and pumping harder. The downhill is your reward for making it uphill. Hills build character. Stop whining. Cheater.

I have developed a few responses to this particular breed of judgmental creature. Each responses satisfies me, but is very unlikely to satisfy the Cyclist.

Cyclist: That's cheating.
Me: ...I wasn't aware there were rules?

I thought this sort of rhetorical response would make them pause and think and realize that, of course, outside of a race, biking has no rules. Cheating is by definition impossible without rules to break. I expected smiles all around, the Cyclist perhaps asking if he could try my Bionx, and then maybe we would all go out for drinks and we would sing drinking songs about our glorious rides past.

Yes, I live in a fantasy land.

Cyclist: Of course there are rules. You have to pedal.
Me: I do pedal! I just use assist on the hills so I can get up them.
Cyclist: Just shift to a lower gear. Hills will get easier.
Me: I have used the granny gears. I don't particularly like getting up a hill at 4 mph and still feeling totally burned out at the top. I don't see what the big deal is?
Cyclist (look of disgust): YOU'RE CHEATING.

So, given that the Cyclist abhors cheaters, and likes to do everything the old fashioned way, with sweat and tears and sore muscles, I change my approach.

Cyclist: That's cheating.
Me: How heavy is your bike?
Cyclist: About 20 pounds.
Me: That's cheating! Mine is 33!
Cyclist: Whatever, I'm still pedaling.
Me: I'm pedaling too. Do you have a road bike?
Cyclist: Of course.
Me: That's cheating! Your tires are so skinny! It's so much easier to go fast on your bike. I have a hybrid!
Cyclist: I'm still pedaling.
Me: So am I. Do you use wicking fabric?
Cyclist: ...yes.
Me: That's cheating! I ride around in a cotton shirt! You're giving yourself all these advantages!
Cyclist: Whatever, I'm still pedaling. Cheater. You are the lowest of the low. Get off my path.

Apparently, every advantage in the book - feather-light materials, skinny tires, racing geometry - why that's just part of the sport! But a pedal-assist on hills? Cheating!

There is nothing one can say to calm the haters. So most times I don't even try. I just smile, bow to their "superior" stamina and character, and let them zoom away. And then I get on my bike and dial in the exact level of assistance that will let me achieve whatever goal I have at the moment. Do I want to get to work in a hurry yet not have to take a shower when I get there? Push the assist up to maximum and make heavy use of the Throttle button. Do I want to get a great workout on the way home? Keep assist on level 0 (nothing), or 1 (equivalent to a nice tailwind), and power up those hills.

That's not cheating. That's smart.