Making a case for electric bikes in the Tour de France

Video footage of Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.

Video footage of Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.


With the Tour de France upon us, what better time to have a conversation about allowing electric bikes in the race?

I conjured up a case for having electric bikes in the Tour de France while writing my novel Skidders. I think it would add even more intrigue to an event filled with drama.

You might say “sacrilege.” But let’s look at all the technology permeating the event today. We have bike computers, electronic shift assist, two-way radios and bikes made of space-age materials. We also have performance-enhancing drugs.

On the surface, electric assist would pollute an event that’s entirely decided by a physical challenge. It’s not all physical though. It’s a team sport. Just think about the lack of winners on weak teams and you know it’s true.

We’re all familiar with the suspicion that Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara rode an electric-assist bike in the Tour of Flanders. See the Michele Bufalino video on YouTube. Whether he did or not doesn’t matter. It’s a possibility. The technology exists and it can easily be disguised.

So why not just allow electric assist? There would be ground rules. It would not be allowed within 2 kilometers of the finish line. Battery size would be restricted to so many milliamp hours, although that’s not necessarily the only factor for battery longevity. Only one bike could be equipped with a motor and the battery could not be changed. They would not be allowed in time trials.

Think of the benefits
Consider the benefits. Most importantly, it would make for a more interesting race. Riders would have to decide when was the best time to use the electric assist because the battery will not last over the distances covered by the Tour race. Sprinters might be a factor on the hillier rides.

However, there is a more compelling reason to allow electric bikes in the Tour. It would send a message that electric bikes are hip, cool.

Many riders would say “if it’s good enough for the pros, it’s good enough for me.”

Another benefit we would see is improvements in the technology through increased competition. Companies would vie to have the best, most powerful electric assist.

One of these days we may need other means to get around than gas-guzzling cars. We might run out of oil or it might be incredibly expensive as a scarce commodity.

Electric vehicles, including bikes, might be the best option for getting around.

If more people could experience the ease of riding electric bikes with the latest technology at an affordable price, bike commuting could become more popular than it is now. That’s not saying much, but it’s a start.

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