Mother has an e-bike. It weighs 18 kilograms, and she has crashed twice in one year, both times going 30 kilometres an hour. The data on her computer established that. Mother is 69 years old and has just had knee surgery. The family doctor tells us she’s probably not going to be able to walk straight again. At the hospital we sat there taking in the information.
After a moment of silence, the family doctor pulled out his phone.
“I read your last piece.” He said.
I looked up. “What?”
The family doctor then showed some photos of his latest cycling trip to the Alps. All Rapha. He had just gotten a new Pinarello. He pointed to a picture. “Because I follow you on Instagram. You ride a Pinarello,” he said.
Tears were rolling down Mother’s face.
“Now, now,” said the family doctor and put the phone into his shirt pocket. “There is always swimming.”
Mother is 167 centimetres tall, she weighs about what Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen weigh, and she is afraid of water. That remark was out of place. Mother likes her bike as much as Fabian and maybe not so much as Tom, and it’s the only exercise she gets. The initial plan was to ride between home and the office, and then she retired but kept riding because, well, because I ride. I’m an only child, and so this is a reverse thing. See, children emulate their parents, because of fear of not being accepted and then abandoned. Mother loves her bike because she needs me in her old age, and who is going to look after her, when Father is always in the Alps doing his thing. She calls it self-preservation.
Mother’s problem is that her bike is too heavy. It also goes too fast and she has no handling skills. In fact, two of her three problems are the same problems the pro riders have with the super-tug. They, like her, do not have the skills going that fast unless it’s in a straight line. Remember Philippe Gilbert at Le Tour flying over the barriers? Well, when the best rider in the world overcooks a corner you should make a mental note that you will probably overcook every one. The super-tug is too dangerous and there was the proof. Mother doesn’t do super-tug for that reason. I made her promise me when she got the e-bike.
Us bike riders come across people on e-bikes all the time. Let’s say you are out riding, and you see a person on a bike up the road, and that person is clearly not on a racing bike, and that person is clearly not in cycling clothes, and that person is clearly going too fast. Closing the gap is not as easy as your mind is telling you it is. It’s both amusing and annoying. How you can’t close down an old lady as fast as you’d think it should take you. And so, once you get close to the old lady, it just looks odd. The pedalling doesn’t fit the speed. The upright position. The clothes. Everything about the whole set-up looks, well, it looks odd and also ridiculous, if we are totally honest about it.
Some years ago, I was riding my bike with Jan Ullrich, because I live a better life that the reader. Yes. Everything you can come up with in terms of cycling, I do a better version of. So we are riding up this mountain in Austria, and an enormous man on an equally enormous mountain bike flew by us. He carried a back pack and had on big boots.
“Hello,” he said with a smile as he rode by us. It was my first encounter with an e-bike, and I didn’t understand what I was witnessing. Already on the limit I, blurted out, “What the hell is that!? That can’t possibly be EPO? Is that EPO, Jan?”
Jan said. “It’s an e-bike.”
“Well,” said Jan, reaching for his bottle. “Remember Cancellara dropping Tom Boonen at Tour of Flanders?”
I think that was what he said.
E-bikes and e-sport is the future, people will have you believe. Well, so is death. People commute on their e-bikes, and I have no problem with that and neither should you. And being indoor attached to a fitness machine telling you how you are doing, well, we might as well get used to it. Because most of us die alone in a hospital bed going full gas in a minor interval panic attack anyway. Why not try to push Phil Gaimon off the chart while going out?
E-sport is dress rehearsal.
So, okay. If you are a person riding a racing bike who thinks you need to get a racing e-bike, you should stop reading this. If your reasoning is that you might become tired when racing a racing bike, and how you would need help to get home, you should stop riding a racing bike also. If you think you need help going up a climb, you probably have missed the point on why you are going up a climb. You need help with your average speed? Forget it. Stop riding. Do us all a favour. Do darts or bowling. We don’t need your kind sitting around at the cafes. Because what are your stories riding a racing e-bike? Whatever wave the cycling industry will have you believe we are about to ride, racing e-bikes is not it. It’s not. If you are standing in a bike shop, semi-confused about what the seller is throwing at you, ask yourself why you are exercising in the first place.
Meanwhile, the family doctor led us out into the corridor. I supported Mother with one arm. The crutches were going to take some getting used to. We stood there, not sure how to end the session.
“I’m divorcing your Father,” said Mother.
I looked at her. “What?”
“Ann,” said the family doctor.
Mother then said how she wanted half. How she was going to take half of everything. She just said it while adjusting one of her crutches. “Everything!” She said
“But not the e-bike, I assume.” said the family doctor.
“Please!” I responded, but he continued: “What? Your mother just bought a home trainer. That friend of yours, Brad Stevens. She’s on What’s App with him all the time.” He turned to Mother: “You’re going to marry him now!”
Mother leaned into me: “That Brad Stevens, he’s lovely. Him and Phil Collins.”
I composed myself and dragged Mother out of the place. We left the hospital and I drove her home in silence. Inside, we made coffee. In the living room the home trainer stood in front of the TV.
“He wasn’t kidding?”
Mother pointed at the trainer thing: “I just did Milano-Sanremo with Nibali!”
“Listen…” I began.
“And I texted him about you. I asked if he had read your Lance Armstrong story.”
“Mom, I don’t think…”
“This was during the race. He didn’t respond. Wasn’t Michele Aquarone supposed to run Zwift?”
“How are you getting this information!?”
“Well, wasn’t he? Because I talked with Andy from Rouleur.”
“You talked with Andy!?”
“That man cannot write.”
“Well, clearly. But why did you talk to Andy?”
“I told him. Those awards. He should be ashamed. Your story on Ullrich was so much better.”
“Mother. You can’t just write these people. They pay me!”
“As much as your Father and me pay you?”
“Hey! I work goddamn hard for the money you send me every month. But this is business.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
We stood there. I was both confused and proud. As always Mom was in my corner. I thought about that for a moment.
“How do you mean my Ullrich story was better than the Lance piece?”
Mother went into the bathroom to change clothes. I took the crutches and leaned them against the turbo trainer.
“I have a Zwift session in 20 mins” she said from inside the bathroom.
“Wait, what? With whom? We don’t know anyone who owns a trainer!?”
“I have a session with 60,000 retired people and Elvis von Honkytonk!”
“Edwig. It’s Edwig van Hooydonck.”
She came back into the living room. “You know,” she said climbing onboard. “Zwift is really the future for my generation. Especially if you are a little on the heavy side.”
I look at her. “Wait. Is that…”
“Yes! You like it?”
“Is that Pas Normal? I didn’t know they made those… sizes.”
“Yes. All retired people who need to lose weight wear Pas Normal. Have you not seen their profile on Instagram?”
She began to ride the Zwift thing. I saw how people were climbing onboard with her. The numbers kept rising. Then my wife called. She wanted to know how the hospital session went. I walked into the kitchen.
“Well. Knee is shattered. And so, as with all good amateurs, she is now on her trainer underperforming when she should be resting.”
Mother turned her head. “I heard that.”
“Also,” I continued. “You know how Dad swears by Rapha. Well, Mother is fully kitted in Pas Normal. They are getting a divorce and so… Listen, I have to go. Jens Voigt just joined her group ride.”
Morten Okbo’s feature with former Giro d’Italia head Michele Aquarone will appear in issue 20.3, out soon. Subscribe here