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Wed Jun 29 20:07:19 CAT 2016

Now the bicycles are on steroids

Archie Henderson | 17 February, 2016 00:39
Archie Henderson. File photo
Image by: SUPPLIED

It's enough to make one take up cycling again. If you can afford it, that is.

For just under R100000 you can now buy a bicycle that will take you up Suikerbossie - and a few other lung-bursting climbs like the one leading out of Hout Bay back to Cape Town - without too much of a sweat.

As someone who rode a Hercules with back-pedal brakes and used to hang onto the side of timber lorries to get a ride up Kowyn's Pass, it sounds like a magic carpet.

Last month Electric Mountain Bikes of the United Kingdom launched its Goat bike, which looks like any other racing bike, except that it has an engine so discreet you don't notice it.

New technology has allowed the company to install an electric motor in the frame's saddle tube and power it with a lithium battery disguised as a water bottle.

The battery will last for about an hour and the motor is engaged by a button on the handlebars. The motor keeps the crank moving even when the rider is not applying pressure to the pedals.

The British company is not the first on this particular bike.

An Austrian establishment, Vivax, sells something similar in Europe but it's not yet that widespread. Electric mountain bikes are not that prominent either, but it won't be long before they are, along with the Austrian models and probably a Chinese version that will sell for a fraction of the price.

There is just one problem with the biggest revolution in cycling since the bone-shaker gave way to the penny-farthing: it's been labelled illegal for races.

Tom Robbins, who tested one of the new electric-motor bikes for the Financial Times, says that while riding one he felt like Lance Armstrong or Marco Pantani, and "also something of a fraud".

Two weeks ago, officials at the cyclo-cross world championships were horrified when they found a hidden motor in the bike of Belgian rider Femke van den Driessche. She quickly - and tearfully - claimed that it wasn't her bike. No one came forward to claim the bike, and no one believed Van den Driessche.

David Bellairs of the Cape Town Cycle Tour - the biggest timed event of its kind in the world - doesn't believe that there will be any Femkes on March 6 when the 2016 tour of the Cape Peninsula takes place, but says it would be naïve to think that there could not be chancers like the Belgian in the future. Nevertheless, marshals have been instructed to look out for anything suspicious on bicycle frames when the tour gets under way three Sunday mornings from now on the Cape Town Foreshore.

"We don't want the tour to become open to mopeds, or 50cc motorbikes," says Bellairs and few would disagree with him.

But there is still something appealing about this new invention. Cancer-sufferers - an example that Bellairs offered - could use such a bike, or those just going out on a social weekend ride who might have previously been intimidated by hills along the route. Old riders will be able to keep up with the young ones and it will also encourage novice riders. It could even help you take the steep climb up Kowyn's Pass without the help of a timber lorry.

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