The first ever large-scale e-road racing series called the E-Bike Grand Prix (EBK GP) is slated to premier in Dubai in 2023, with subsequent electronic spectacles taking place the world over.
The series is claiming to take e-biking to the extreme, boasting the presence of the world’s most advanced e-bikes while “showcasing iconic landmarks and cultural sites,” all as part of a “high-speed, thrilling sporting spectacle.”
World-class racing aside, the Grand Prix is actually a clamor for environmental causes.
The EBK GP organizers' vision is to showcase technologically advanced e-bikes as a new way of moving around cities but in criterium-style races. Their mission is to “engage communities to create cleaner, greener healthier cities via the globally collaborative.”
Their message is that bikes are a clean, accessible way to get around and the folks at EBK GP seem to want to voice that first, and the sport of racing second.
E-road bike racing is of yet, unsanctioned but it could very well be next frontier of racing.
For a while, e-bike racing was all just fun and games. Some e-mountain bike fun held alongside downhill and enduro race events. But then the international sports governing body —the UCI— and the pros got involved.
The UCI officially sanctioned e-mountain bike racing on January 1, 2019, and subsequently, a string of Olympic gold medalists, Tour de France stage winners and other pros —the likes of Tom Pidcock, Peter Sagan and Julien Absalon— jumped at the opportunity to vie for the rainbow jersey, motor and all.
Their approval may mean nothing to some, but it does indicate that A: there's an appetite for e-bike racing, and B: the pedal assist doesn’t necessarily make bike racing any less entertaining or challenging.
Weighing anywhere between 40 to 70 pounds (18 to 31kg), e-mountain bikes are not light and racers are still expected to handle these bikes over tight corners, gnarly terrain and steep pitches, both up and down. It’s safe to say that it would require some amount of athleticism to beat your opponents in a heated competition, even if your bicycle has a little electric “oomph” to it.
It may be a hard picture to grasp – elite Olympic athletes duking it out on electric assisted bicycles – made even harder to grasp by the fact that even the best electric bikes are still, in the grand scheme of things, in their infancy. But as the cycling industry evolves, so does the sporting side. And e-road bike racing is next.
Many will surely balk at the idea of motor-assisted road racing, arguing that it makes cycling unfair or less of a sport or a different sport entirely.
The UCI, however, does see it that way. Contrary to popular belief, the organization doesn’t exist just for racing. In fact, the UCI’s main mission is simply to make cycling available for anyone whether it is as a competitive sport, a healthy pastime, a fun activity or an environmentally responsible way to get around the city.
The organization’s goal is to “shape the future of cycling by inspiring more people to ride bicycles, by making the sport more attractive whilst contributing to the wellbeing of the world’s population and promoting sustainable development.”
Sure, rules might have to change and lines need to be drawn to make sure racing is fair and uniform, but really what the UCI wants to see is simply more people on bikes. And increasingly, those bikes are e-bikes.
Are e-bikes something that the sport of cycling needs?
Personally, my initial response to the whole EBK GP spectacle is “no". And a pretty loud one at that.
First of all, there seem to be too many gaps in their environmental mission: airplanes used to shuttle racers, the pollution it takes to create electronic bicycles and future waste they may cause, etc. Then there's the safety hazards presented by zipping around on electronic bikes, not to mention the accessibility gap. E-bikes are wildly expensive, including their parts and upkeep, and I personally see them misused by joy-riders more than any other version of a bike.
And then, of course, there is my own pride and ego of it all: are they really bike racing if they're on e-bikes? At what point are we blurring the lines between bicycles and motorcycles?
But of course, these are merely my personal opinions and gripes. At the end of the day, what I, and UCI, want to see is more folks riding bikes and a thriving sport.
EBK GP and the UCI's mission statements seem to align pretty evenly in that regard. Both organizations make mentions of inclusivity and engaging the broader population into coming together to make a more viable future. They both scream “we love bikes!” with the purpose of getting more people –whomever it may be – riding them. And, finally, both EBK GP and UCI promote using biking as a sustainable way to move around.
The real test will be the interest from competitors, fans and, of course, sponsors. Will you be tuning in to watch e-bike racing?
I, for one, will be eager to watch this play out, simply because I don’t know what will happen and when it comes to cycling, that’s half the fun.
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