Cycle Tour: Will I get caught by an e-bike?

Rob Houwing (File)
Rob Houwing (File)

Cape Town - I will probably know when it is happening … unless (that great, great Cape Town Cycle Tour curse) there is an aggressively whistling south-easter on my nose this Sunday.

E-bikes make a subtle, whirring sort of sound, though still enough for those mega-thousands of us, more accustomed to conventional muscle toil on an orthodox bicycle, to be painfully aware of a cold fact: we’re about to be hauled in.

More so, too, if you happen to be cranking sweatily up Smits, Chappies or Suikers at the time. Then, holding ‘em off truly will be a forlorn hope … yup, just faggeddit.

“Are friends electric?” was the title of a Gary Numan/Tubeway Army song at the height of New Wave in the late 1970s: I may not be alone in twisting the words slightly to inquire four decades onward “can an electric cyclist be your friend?”.

I have already had reason to answer this for myself, and my verdict - the affirmative - may not find favour with every single one of you, I concede.

You see, on one of my occasional MTB weekends out of town with a bunch of mates, I willingly (too willingly, it was alleged; a bit like a politician banking a bribe in a flash) accepted Grant’s invitation to cross over – just for half an hour of solo, eye-opening fun - to the dark side.

Yes, Grant, the subject of much playful derision from the group when he first made the switch to “e”, let me loose in the boondocks on his beloved new, neurotically-maintained machine.

Aside from reasoning that Grant is a good enough bloke not to expunge (on the altar of jealousy?) from friendship anyway, the experience was enough to convince me that one day - when I am older and more decrepit than my currently old and decrepit near-56 - I, too, will seek the mischievously mini-artificial, seductive pleasure of an e-bike.

Those blissful little surges up a gnarly, crumbly hillside - even when you have confined yourself to the most temperate, eco-mode setting on the machine - are as pleasurable as the cancellation of an Eskom load-shed on the eve of a televised Newcastle United match. (Try very hard to believe me, at least the Newcastle bit.)

E-biking is NOT a complete cop-out ... not by any stretch. You still get a fair old physical workout.

You can just glide that little bit further, across this country’s often sublime, multi-varietal terrain, for that little bit longer.

And now e-bikes will have their first-time crack at the most famous, timed mass cycling event in the world.

No complaints from my side. The sort of moderate-level customer as likely to be overtaken along the unfailingly splendid, 109km route as I am to overtake, I may be too deliriously fatigued to even notice if a slightly chunkier-looking amidships bike-frame scuttles past on my left or right.

Yes, Mr or Ms e-biker, you revel in your unashamedly specialist race time, and I’ll revel (at least that’s the plan) in mine. All’s fair in love and war ... and in dogged manual versus partially-powered cycling.

Even so, I will be just a tad curious over whether my starting time - an hour or so ahead of the 300-plus anticipated e-debut-makers, who’ll comprise the last group - at City Hall on Sunday is a sufficient head start to see off the kernel of them to the Sea Point finish.

At least part of that wish involves the hope (against hope, I fear; e-bikers seem quite precise and pedantic souls) that some will have committed the cardinal night-before sin: forgetting to charge-up properly.


But a devious little scenario also comes to mind, something that could do wonders for Tour bonhomie between the “e” and “non-e” communities: what if some of us are struggling, in crippling heat, up Suikerbossie, and a kindly soul with extra power between the pedals offers a helpful prod - Grant has been a lifeline to me before, albeit out of competition - up the unforgiving incline?

Although the good folk among the organisers suggest there’ll be no specific censure in such cases, I’m going to suggest that accepting uphill aid from an e-biker on Sunday, if you are half-serious about your time, is not a million miles from being like a golf cheat.

And who’d ever want to be that, eh?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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