How can it be cheating if there are no rules?

How can it be cheating if there are no rules?

E-Bikes are taking over the world. What are we going to do about it?

What the hell is an E-bike? Sadly, they are not a range of Yorkshire bikes. Instead, they are bikes where a motor assists your pedalling. Power assisted means that the motor only works when the pedals go round. So, no pedalling=no power. Simple really.

Fat E-bike

Fat E-bike

Like it or not, if you are keeping up with current mountain biking affairs, you need to have thought about them. If you want to think of yourself as abreast of current developments, then you probably ought to have an opinion about them.

Which brings me to cheating…

Disgruntled of South Angryton

I read a letter recently in a popular mountain biking magazine on the subject. The writer definitely had an opinion on E-bikes:

“E-bikes are not real mountain bikes and the people who ride them are not real mountain bikers.”

This definition of people who are different from yourself as “not real” whatever, comes up a lot in situations far more serious than mountain biking (usually associated with unpleasantly narrow definitions of belonging and nationalism). It really raised my hackles.

It also made me think: who are you to set the rules and tell me how to ride my bike?

“Road cyclists would not tolerate their world being invaded by cheating E-bikes”

Now we come to it: they’re bad because it’s cheating. Cheating whom, exactly?

The rules

There are always rules for things. A group of roadies have compiled a set of ever-so-slighty tongue in cheek Rules for riding on the road. They’re worth reading if you haven’t already.

For the purposes of mountain biking there are rules, they come in a set of broad categories:

Safety rules

These are rules that enable you to get home in the same number of pieces as you set off. Things like: make sure your bike is working properly, have a plan for if someone has an accident, check the weather and plan accordingly, don’t ride off a cliff, don’t ride the wrong way along a trail centre trail.

They’re fairly self-evident and it’s a good idea to follow them.

Legal rules

In Britain, legal rules mostly boil down to access: where are you allowed to ride? Bridleways are fine. Footpaths are not. If it isn’t a road, bridleway, BOAT or restricted by-way then the chances are you’re not supposed to be there. You can also count things like closing gates, not chewing up trails, slowing down for pedestrians and horses.

Following these rules minimises the chance you’ll get into trouble with the law. It’s a good idea to follow them.

Social rules

Now we’re into etiquette. We’re talking about things like: be nice to each other, offer to help people who might need it, don’t go haring past someone who is slower.

These rules are there to make everyone’s life that little bit better because we’re basically being nice and looking out for each other.

Level playing-field rules

This is really what disgruntled is talking about. The bikes aren’t breaking any safety rules, they’re not against the law, social rules are largely down to the person in the saddle rather than the bike.

So what rules has the E-biker broken? They’re cheating. They’re gaining an unfair advantage. They’ve broken the rules that keep the playing-field level.


Competition. Competition is about comparing things to see which one is better. In order to make it a fair comparison you need rules to ensure that you are comparing like with like. If you are comparing how fast two cyclists are, then you need rules to ensure that you’re comparing the two cyclists.

E bikes World Championships

E bikes World Championships

This is where being motor assisted breaks the rules: It’s unfair to compare a cyclist using only their legs against one who has a motor. Motors are big news in the worlds of road and cyclocross racing.

So they’re cheating then? Only if you’re racing. Only if you want to compare one rider with another. Only if the first person across the line is important.

You might have noticed that I didn’t appear at the Olympics this year.

Rio Olympic Mountain Bike- Men

If you’re not racing then you can’t possibly be cheating

Simple really. If your bike is safe, if you’re following the law and you’re polite then you’re grand. From where I’m sitting, my charges are already cheating by not carrying the havy leader’s bag that the safety, legal and social rules dictate I carry with me.

I’m not racing. Yes, I Strava my rides but I’m not going to get that upset if someone goes faster than me because I’m really not racing. In this case, the only person I’m competing with is myself.

So, if I’m not racing then you’re not cheating on your E-bike. We can go ride together.

It’s far more important to me that you’re enjoying yourself.

So, what am I going to do about E-bikes? Go out for a ride with them. That’s what.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts
Reflections on Rio

Reflections on Rio

So, what has the Olympics got to do with real world riding?

[keep reading to the bottom. There’s something in it for you]

This is Nino Schurter

Nino is from Switzerland.

Nino likes to ride his bike.

Nino is incredibly fit.

Nino is a staggeringly capable bike handler.

Nino is Olympic champion.


I’d like to be like Nino, but the sad truth is that I am, at best a pale imitation. I’m relatively fit, I’m reasonably capable at handling my bike and I’m definitely not from Switzerland.

This is Jenny Rissveds

Jenny is from Sweden.

Jenny likes to ride her bike.

Jenny is supremely fit.

Jenny is an insanely gifted technical rider.

Jenny is also Olympic Champion.


I’d like to be like Jenny, but I know she is far faster, fitter and stronger than I’ll ever be. Nor am I Swedish.


Where I am like both Nino and Jenny is that I really enjoy riding my bike.


So, the Olympics then.

For years I’ve had a thing about “cross-country racing.” It somehow never really lit my fire. It seemed to combine all the least interesting bits of road cycling (weight obsession, ludicrously high fitness level, lack of technical interest) with the worst bits of mountain biking (The best bits of singletrack are no use for races because you can’t overtake and there’s no way of designing a long course that doesn’t have boring bits on it, the best bits of a ride are often the social ones). I’d kind of written it off as flat-barred cyclocross.

To sum it up I heard (second hand) someone say of XC racing: “Don’t go looking for the pain. It’ll find you soon enough.” Does that sound like any fun at all?

I heard someone say that mountain biking has more in common with surfing than road cycling. There’s some truth in this. That majority of people who ride mountain bikes have little to no interest in racing in the sense of donning lycra and standing on a start line. There’s far less of a club culture with informal groupings of riders being the norm. There’s also far more of an emphasis on exploration and enjoying the kinaesthetic experience rather than going as fast as possible towards a finish line. There’s a reason that XC racing is not a big deal in Britain.

Having said that, quote someone else: “No general rule is universally applicable.”

So I sat down and watched the Olympic mountain biking more out of a sense of obligation than anticipation. I was expecting flat-backed, lycra clad almost roadies awkwardly doing battle with a farmer’s field that had a few rocks strategically placed in it.

Peter Sagan, Tour de France stage winner and current road World Champion had decided to ride the mountain bike instead of the road race because he thought the course suited him better. Doesn’t that say a lot?

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan

How wrong can you be?

Very, it turns out.

Something has happened since the last time I watched a cross country race. Something very good.

Riders have become more capable. Far more capable. They are no longer stiff-backed road cyclists on the wrong bike. Now they are real, genuine mountain bikers who revel in technical, demanding trails. They’re happy with their bikes in the air, they’re happy with drop-offs, they’re happy with steep rock gardens. They’re riding full-suspension bikes because they’re more capable.

This means that the course designers have had to up the level of technical difficulty to engage these riders. When I say “upped” there were several bits of the course where I thought “I’d quite like to take a look at that before ploughing into it”. I certainly would be wary of facing them when I was knackered. The course looked like a red trail centre. For the first time in years I even thought: “I’d like to have a go on that”.

In short, it’s turned into something that was recognisable “mountain biking”. These races managed to combine some of the best bits of road riding (the supreme physical effort, the gladiatorial combat at the sharp end) with the best bits of mountain biking (rewarding skill, significant technicality & speed, risk and commitment when taking on features).

It was great. I was hooked for the whole race.

To answer my original question: it’s got far more to do with real riding than I expected.

For the dedicated, here’s the entire men’s race:

And here’s as much of the women’s race as I can find:

But it’s not the be all and end all

Having said all that, you’re not going to see me grace the start line of an XC race any time soon. It did, however, inspire me to get out and ride.

If it’s inspired you, and you’ve got this far I want you to get out and ride your bike too. So here’s a little something to help you:

Here’s a 10% discount code for you. Simply enter “fiverings” on any ride for the rest of the year and you’ll get a discount. You can use it as many times as you want, on as many rides as you want.

I look forward to seeing you.


Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts