Electric Slide into Interbike

Dirt Rag is officially in the throes of Interbike, the annual expo of the bike industry where companies show off their latest developments and newcomers have a chance to put their product in front of the eyes of purchasers and reviewers. Monday was Dirt Demo, the day to check out some of the latest mountain bikes. The herd was admittedly thin this year, with many consumers waiting in line for a long time waiting for a bike to come back for them to try. So as to not take bikes out of the hands of people who don’t have as much access to them as we do, we took the chairlift up as far as we could, then hiked to the top of the mountain. The trails were dusty, almost pillowy, as we hiked up through the pines, searching for a good spot to catch some riders shredding past us. Not many cyclists were venturing that high up the mountain, but we did catch a good view of the surrounding mountains and Lake Tahoe before heading back down. Of the bikes that did pass us, all but one was an e-bike. One guy in his 60s stopped and chatted for a moment at a fork in the trail.

“How’s that feel?” I asked.

“I feel like I’m 28 again,” he said. “It’s incredible.” I’m still sorting out my own feelings about ebikes and their place on our trails. It’s complicated, to say the least. As a 36-year-old, the youth of my former body isn’t far behind me, but I’m reminded of my younger years in the moments I bend down to tie my shoes and pinch a nerve in my back, or when it rains and I can’t lift up my arm to put on a sweatshirt. It must be exhilarating to be decades away from that feeling, only to have it brought back in a pedal-stroke’s time. But how much of the muscle memory is there, how much of the skill and fast-twitch reaction? I certainly can’t say, but it’s something I think about when people who haven’t climbed a mountain in years are suddenly at almost 9K elevation and about to shoot down a fast, loose, dusty downhill track on their new brapmobile.

A woman passed us, the lone analog bike to venture above the chair lift, cheerful in tennis sneakers as she huffed past us on the way up, then zoomed through the loose rocks as she charged back down. In a world where every sector of our lives is centered around going faster and being most efficient, even in things like meditation (find clarity in five minutes a day!) and mindfulness™, it was nice to see someone choose to take the slow road, and take it slowly.

Back down the mountain a ways, the riders showed up. Some still on ebikes, others on analog bikes. The trails snaked under my chairlift as I headed back, and I was jealous. As soon as my wrist is healed, I’ll be back at Northstar with a full-face helmet, trying to convince my fingers to let go of the brakes as I point the front wheel downward.