Can you imagine an e-Tour de France, the racers climbing the Mont Ventoux without pedalling, letting their electric motors haul them to the summit? Absurd? Maybe, but not impossible. E-bike racing is beginning to look more and more like the Next Big Thing in competitive cycling – although, as of now, it is limited to mountain, cross-country bikes and enduro cycling.
In August 2019, the first-ever UCI e-MTB world championships were held in Mt. Saint Anne, Canada. Power was limited to 250 watts and motors stopped assisting racers at 25 mph. Charging or changing batteries was forbidden. Top racers from cross-country, enduro, and downhill took part alongside cross-country veterans such as France’s Julien Absalon and the Czech Republic’s Jaroslav Kulhavý, dominating the top 5 finishers. This just illustrates that it’s still the skill that will win these races, not battery-powered motors.
A few months earlier, the first stage of the first-ever UCI E-Mountain Bike Cross Country World Cup was run near Monaco. After another Monaco opening race, this year’s series has been disrupted by the coronavirus epidemic. But, with the UCI patronage, this race looks to have a long and prosperous future. In addition, the Enduro World Series (also with the patronage of the UCI) has added e-bike racing to its 2020 schedule. The Enduro World Series-E was originally scheduled to comprise three rounds in France, Switzerland, and Italy with the overall winners crowned Enduro World Series-E Champions.
The electric races were to be held on a separate course from EWS’s traditional enduro races, combining technical climbing and downhill stages. “This combination will push both the rider’s physical and bike-handling limits to the max in a multi-loop and intense course, driving forward the development of e-bike technology and e-bike trail management and design,” the EWS stated.
It’s unclear how much the epidemic has disrupted these races but with the UCI behind it, there’s little doubt about its future. According to Electric Bike Action Magazine, an American former motocross racer named Troy Lee can be considered the father of e-bike racing. In 2017, while recovering from serious injuries from a racetrack accident, Lee was given a Levo e-MTB to try out. He loved the riding it so much that he not only bought e-bikes for his family and friends but also teamed up with Bosch to organize the first electric bike series in North America. He called it the Boogaloo Race Series (not to be confused with the far-right anti-government Boogaloo movement) because, as he put it, “It’s racing, but it’s really more about fun.”
The Boogaloo Race Series was short-lived but Bosch e-Bike Systems established the Bosch eMTB Challenge, which is supported by bike manufacturer Trek. That series is still going strong, though curtailed this year because of Covid-19.
So, like it or not, e-bike racing is here to stay. It’s no doubt quite a stretch to imagine the Tour de France going electric but I can imagine a parallel e-Tour de France, following MTB trails throughout the country for multiple stages. What about you? Do you like the idea?