By Sal Ruibal
I've always wanted a "Warp Speed" button on my bikes so I could do that Star Trek infinity streak effect going down the trail. That's probably what it looked like for Lance when the juice kicked in on L'Alpe d'Huez.
There are some kick-ass electric bikes out there that come close. I've been riding the Stromer ST1 Platinum electric bike for a few weeks. When I kicked it into full throttle and max pedal rotations, the trees and clouds and stars seemed to streak past.
Well, about 30 mph of streaking.
I'm a bit torn about the whole electric bike thing. It is a "motor bike," but with a catch. That catch is called "pedal-assist." The bike won't go forward if you don't push on the pedals. But even a tiny push will make the Stromer twitch like a thoroughbred stallion that has smelled a mare in heat.
The Stromer has a burly mountain bike drivetrain that's a bit on the industrial size. I didn't take it out of the big-ring very often. Go big or get a skateboard.
And there's another caveat: The bike is not street-legal. Says so on a sticker on the top tube. For "off-road use only." Uh-huh.
Stromer and the Specialized Turbo are among a handful of bikes whose makers have designated them as off-road, which everyone knows is legalese for "haul ass" because it’s kinda hard to tell a fat-tubed MTB from an electric bike with fat batteries.
And you really don't want to ride these heavy beasts with only human pedal power. They didn't name the Stromer "Platinum" for nothing.
I can't speak for the heft of the $5,900 Turbo because Specialized has not responded to my requests to try one. That might be because I proposed riding it in the gran fondo version of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. I guess cobblestones count as "road."
I have tried and reviewed the $2,650 Trek Valencia commuter, and while it is a much more nimble and affordable electric bike, its top speed of 20 mph lacks the sheer frickin' audacity of a 60-pound, stealth-black beast rumbling down the Fairfax County Connector Trail at 30 mph.
(Legal disclaimer: The CCT is not paved in all sections and many paved sections are cracked and crumbling, so any reasonable person would consider said sections as "off-road.")
So, is the Stromer Platinum a "mountain bike" or something else? It is somewhat of a Frankenbike, a monster that was built with good intentions but has the capacity to wreak havoc when in contact with the general public and non-steroidal bicycles.
I think the authorities are wrong to restrict these 30 mph bikes to gravel grinders and power-line trails. The $4,400 Stromer is way too heavy to work as a single-track bike. The optimum surface would be a paved bike lane with banked corners and the occasional high-speed passing area. Or the Talladega Speedway.
I live in an area where a lot of people work at the Pentagon. I have been asked by total strangers on the trail if the Stromer is, "that stealth combat patrol bike DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] is working on at Quantico?"
There are whispers about ultra-lightweight backpack batteries and rear-wheel motors made of metal-carbon composites and Google Glass heads-up displays that can send intel in real-time.
I'm all for giving our troops the best electric combat bikes they can imagine. But remember: Don't ride on the road. It's way too dangerous.