To e Or Not To e …Bike?

By Jordan Gross

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the jeers and harrows of people calling you a cheater, or to take up power against a sea of hills, and by opposing…end them.

Renting a Giant Road-E e-bike from Gears Leaside for this year’s Ride to Conquer Cancer felt like a big, dramatic (Shakespearian?) decision. But before you judge, let me explain my thinking.

Four years ago, my life changed forever when I signed up for the two-day, 220km Ride to Conquer Cancer…having not been on a bike since middle school.

I did it because I was inspired by my co-workers who had done The Ride in the past. I did it to challenge myself and to get fit. I did it because I had seen the good that the fundraising did for Princess Margaret. And I did it because my mother had been diagnosed. (She’s been diagnosed twice now and has beaten it both times). I also had my fair share of demons to chase off, and this challenge seemed like a great way to face all of that.

So, to say that The Ride meant a lot to me is an understatement. Which is why it was so difficult for me – in my third year riding and first year as co-captain – to face the reality that I might not be able to ride.

I tore the meniscus in my right knee back in November. In April, my surgeon repaired it.

This sounds great for the long term (and it is!), but it also meant an extensive and difficult recovery period. It also made the odds that I’d be able to do the ride (or train for it) very slim.

I was devastated. I did everything I could to not fall into a dark place as I watched my teammates train and get fit for the ride. Eventually, after seven weeks being on crutches, I got the go-ahead from my surgeon to ride…but only on flats and very minimal hills.

It was now two weeks before the ride and I had no idea how I was ever going to make things happen. And then it happened. I saw this beautiful road bike – an e-bike, in fact. It wasn’t like any other e-bike I’d seen. In fact, if it wasn’t for the oversized downbar (where the battery was held) I wouldn’t have even known.

The great folks at Gears Leaside told me I could rent it for The Ride if I wanted to, and boy howdy did I want to. This was it: my chance to participate in the ride as something more than a bystander. It was perfect.

I took the bike out one week before The Ride and tried it out on the Heart and Stroke 75k Gardner/Don Valley ride to see if it would indeed give me what I needed. It did. And more.

The most notable difference with this bike was the power assist going from dead stop to full ride. There was almost no strain on my knee, which was a literal life-saver. The other big thing I noticed was the unbelievable assistance it provided on hill climbs.

It’s important to note at this time that I had the bike set to Econ mode (the lowest setting, aside from Off) because I didn’t know how long the battery would last. I was still using my gears, as I normally would, so that I didn’t rely on turning up the power every time there was a bit of a hill. Even on the lowest setting, the assistance it provided was unreal.

I’ll admit though, there were two instances during that ride where I cranked up the juice. The first was during the Bayview onramp heading back down into the city. The second was for the last 5k where I had just had enough of the miserable rain and headwind and just said “eff this.” I just wanted to be done with the day.

All told, that ride was just shy of 80k, my knee was in good shape, and I had battery-a-plenty left at the end of it. I was ready for the weekend Ride.

This year’s Ride to Conquer Cancer was probably the most enjoyable year I’ve ever had, and that’s saying a lot considering I didn’t expect to even be able to participate.

The first day, which tends to be the steeper, hillier day, was great. Again, I kept things in Econ mode and used my gears, only turning up the power for a few of the killer climbs. At the end of that day, I had ridden almost 115km and had ~20% battery to spare.

The second day – which begins with a long, seemingly unending climb – was equally enjoyable. The only issue was that the battery seemed to be draining faster this day than the day before. This might be because of the long climb at the start of the day, or the inevitable headwinds that are typical of the flat, farmland-filled route.

Regardless, I didn’t want to lose power right at the end, so I did the last stretch (roughly 15km) without any power. Let me tell you: when there’s no power, this bike is a friggin tank. If there’s a word for heavier than heavy, that’s what I would describe it as. This was obviously not ideal at the end of my second day, having already clocked over 200km. But, I got through it, and turned the power back on when I was about 2km away from the finish…really so that I could enjoy the moment of crossing that finish line with my teammates.

So…to e-bike or not to e-bike?

Well, I’ve since returned to my regular road bike and I miss the e-bike something fierce. It’s kind of like flying first class, and then having to go back to coach. I really do enjoy my bike, and while my right knee is now recovered, my left one has been acting up and I really miss being able to have that assistance when I need it. It definitely made my rides more enjoyable.

The reason I don’t have an e-bike right now (aside from cost) is not because I think it’s cheating, but because I still have my fitness goals to achieve, and the e-bike is just too tempting for me to get the exercise I need to get out of my bike rides.

However, there will come a time when I get one. At that time, I will hopefully have achieved my fitness goals, and going on long-distance rides will be less about cycling…and more about riding. The e-bike allowed me to truly enjoy my rides, and someday (perhaps sooner rather than later) that will be what I want to get out of riding a bike.

For now, I’ll have to wrap my knees, pound some Gu, and get those watts the old-fashioned way. But to those who might hesitate getting an e-bike for fear of being called a cheater or being shamed in any other way, I say “to hell with ‘em!” Do what’s best for you. Enjoy your rides. And this above all: to thine own self be true.

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