Two of my favorite things are eMTBs and STRAVA. Wait, no, that’s not right. I despise eMTBs and STRAVA. While STRAVA (Stroking The Raging Arrogance of Vain A—-les) itself is not evil, it unearths the sad, selfish, needy, and clueless core of cyclists everywhere. Likewise, eMTBs per se are simply a tool—an evil, soulless tool of destruction.
One of the things STRAVA users seemingly fail to understand is that most of the joy of competition lies in human interaction. Whether or not you are making friends or having conversations with your adversaries, the most rewarding aspect of winning is being able to see the despair of your vanquished foe in real-time. Sprinting side-by-side for the top of a climb, or finishing first with so much time to spare that your sweat has dried and your heart rate returned to normal, being on the same trail at the same time as your rival is the most critical ingredient when engaged in a race. “Racing” against someone who is sitting at their desk is not competition: it’s onanism.
Unfortunately, the worst effects of STRAVA aren’t limited to pitiful attempts at self-validation by people who went through childhood friendless. There are already several instances of land management officials shutting down trail access to mountain bikers based on data gleaned from STRAVA. Complain all you want, but the result of displaying your high-speed rides on multi-use trails should be obvious. Even worse are those so desperate for recognition that they post rides on secret trails.
Now, what could possibly be as detrimental to mountain biking as STRAVA? Here are some clues: it’s something that looks like a mountain bike, uses all the same components as a mountain bike, and is even made by mountain biking’s top brands. But be assured, it is not a mountain bike.
Even at this early stage of its evolution, I’m fairly convinced that the eMTB is ushering in an epoch of darkness, plague, and suffering, and will probably be the steed bearing the Fourth Horseman on his apocalyptic ride. If searching for positives, however, I will concede that for the injured or out of shape rider, eMTBs can serve as a great equalizer, occupying the place of stand up paddleboards and longboards in surf culture. And while mountain trails are not crowded surf-zone line-ups—there will always be plenty of dirt for everyone, no matter how clogged the parking lot is—there are still sure to be bottlenecks causing flared tempers on popular trails. Luckily, eMTBs are regulated as motorcycles on most public land, keeping them off of many trails frequented by mountain bikers.
Currently, eMTBs are more trouble than they’re worth. In order to make a charge last for a several hour ride, pedal assist power has to be so low as to be barely worth the extra weight of the battery and motor. And heaven help you if your charge runs out in the midst of a ride. If you’re not fit enough to pedal a non-motorized bike up a hill, you’re going to have to leave your $8,000 kook wagon out in the wilderness for the mountain lions to enjoy.
Assuredly, battery technology and power output will improve over time, eventually making eMTBs a viable option for “real” mountain biking. They will get faster, have longer range, and eventually justify the existence of fat bikes by giving four-inch tires—which are perfectly suited to eMTBs—a reason to exist. As eMTBs gain range, tires widen, acceleration ramps up, and top speeds match those of internal combustion vehicles, we’ll look around and realize we might as well be riding motorcycles. And motorcycles are cool but mountain bikes they are not.
There is, however, a valid purpose for eMTBs in my life, and that is to bring about the destruction of STRAVA-ranked egos. While not suited for all-day expeditions into the hills and mountains, eMTBs are perfectly suited to blasting up climbs, as long as the technical level isn’t too high. The wannabe moto machine can definitely tear up a STRAVA leaderboard, and that’s what I intend to do. Here’s how: After picking a hotly contested segment, setting power output to High, I’ll take the KOM by one second—just enough to maintain a facade of “fair play.” Then, when the segment’s rightful KOM holder retakes the crown, I’ll beat their time by one second again. And again. And again… All without breaking a sweat. Gradually, the target STRAVAnaut will experience deep anxiety triggered by simply logging into their account, and eventually will be unable to even ride their bike. Then I’ll move down the list, eventually eliminating an entire leader board’s worth of riders from the trails.
There is one possibly horrible side effect to my STRAVA sabatoge, which will require focused and dedicated execution of my plan to avoid. In order to avert a battle of attrition, where everyone purchases an eMTB in order to maintain their narcissistic STRAVA status, my deeds of destruction will have to be performed strictly at night. Otherwise, I’ll actually be the vector spreading the disease I wish to eradicate, filling the trails with eMTBs. Then I’d have to get a road bike. And that would suck.