Riding An Ebike On A Big Cycling Event Was Amazing

Experiencing the Santa Barbara 100 on a Yamaha ebike.

Climbing the coastal mountains above Santa Barbara, two of three Team _Cycle Volta_ members take a break to take it all in.
Climbing the coastal mountains above Santa Barbara, two of three Team "Cycle Volta" members take a break to take it all in.Courtesy of Yamaha | SB100

Suffering is the honor of the dedicated roadie, the state we always seek as we earn our speed and conquer the steepest grades. “It never gets easier, you just get faster,” goes the old Greg LeMond quote.

Let’s rethink that.

I have been a pretty dedicated analog roadie (and mountain biker) for most of my life. In recent years I’ve commuted about 3,000 miles on my unpowered road bike on a reasonably regular basis. I’m proud when I am in shape and feel strong, and sad when I am not. But I always keep trying

More than 900 riders participated in the 2019 Ride Santa Barbara 100. This was the first year that an ebike class was included.
More than 900 riders participated in the 2019 Ride Santa Barbara 100. This was the first year that an ebike class was included.Courtesy of Yamaha | SB100

I have to admit a few years ago when I got passed by an ebike on a particularly steep climb as I headed home from work one night, I was pretty bummed. After I thought it over, it occurred to me that I was applying my normal competitive reference standard, and focusing on that rider’s boosted speed was misusing my energy, attention, and focus.

I’ve since logged a lot of road and dirt miles on ebikes, and I love it as a supplement and alternative to going full analog. So when I saw Yamaha Power Assist Bicycles had sponsored the event that is officially known as “Ride Santa Barbara 100” with an ebike class this past October, I was ready to attack the course—with the assistance of an Urban Rush Class 1 pedal-assist bike. This $3,299 aluminum-frame road-style commuter and touring bicycle has Yamaha’s PWseries motor with 250W nominal (500W max) power and a 500Wh battery. It’s essentially a lot like my “endurance” road bike, meaning it is sporty but comfortable for a drop-bar bike with wide-ish tires. (To read a full review of the Yamaha Urban Rush, click here).

Our chosen 100-kilometer course included 7,000 feet of climbing, meaning there were lots of descents too.
Our chosen 100-kilometer course included 7,000 feet of climbing, meaning there were lots of descents too.Courtesy of Yamaha | SB100

Added benefit was that the SB100 has, since 2011, supported local charities, and now that it’s under new ownership by Easy Day Sports has focused exclusively on Project Hero. “We were proud to help raise funds and awareness for this important organization that is ‘…raising awareness of the national PTSD mental health crisis and making a difference in the lives of thousands of veterans and first responders, as well as their families and communities,’” said Jamie Monroe, Easy Day Sports owner and RideSB100 race director, who is also a Navy SEAL veteran.

This was the first year for ebikes in the event, which is billed as “a ride, not a race,” and overall attracted more than 900 participants this year. The only real difference for the ebike class is that there were no rewards for times. The rest was just a beautiful bicycle ride.

Event sponsor Yamaha Power Assist Bicycles set up a support tent and offered ebike demo rides. Company staff was cool enough to work on any brand of bike.
Event sponsor Yamaha Power Assist Bicycles set up a support tent and offered ebike demo rides. Company staff was cool enough to work on any brand of bike.Courtesy of Yamaha | SB100

“We were excited to have Yamaha Bicycles participate in the event this year,” Monroe said. “This has always been an inclusive event welcoming all ages and abilities with multiple routes from 100 miles plus Gibraltar (a famously steep road ascent) to the 34-mile fun ride. With more ebike riders expanding and changing the cycling community at large, the event felt it was a great opportunity to include these riders in a more official way this year, and Yamaha stepped up to support the entire RideSB100 cycling community.”

Even ebike riders were glad to have full support from snack and hydration stations along the course.
Even ebike riders were glad to have full support from snack and hydration stations along the course.Courtesy of Yamaha | SB100

Drew Engelmann is the sales and marketing manager for Yamaha Power Assist Bicycles, and brought Yamaha to the event. In addition to offering bicycle demos, he was happy to work on just about any bike a participant brought to the fully equipped “shop” tent. “A number of riders took Yamaha ebikes out on the course—from 100-mile to 34-mile loops—allowing riders to go farther than they might have before, and ride with friends or family that they otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to ride with,” Engelmann said. “Ebikes are opening up cycling to more riders, and helping riders enjoy new experiences.”

Sena bluetooth helmets were available for demo. Team _Cycle Volta_ used the R1 to communicate on the ride.
Sena bluetooth helmets were available for demo. Team "Cycle Volta" used the R1 to communicate on the ride.Courtesy of Yamaha | SB100

The last point was particularly true for me. While I do a couple of rides a week on analog and electric bikes, I’m not at my fittest, and I’d never have considered doing the event without extra electric wattage. Of the available routes (including a 100-miler with 9,000 feet of climbing) my two co-workers and I chose the 100-kilometer option, which ended up being 66 miles with about 7,000 feet of climbing, including the legendary Gibraltar Road climb. We headed south from Leadbetter Beach not far from downtown in early morning sunshine, cruised inland and up Gibraltar Road, taking us generally north and up in elevation. After that, we descended into Santa Barbara again north of Leadbetter Beach and wound our way on roads and bike trails to the finish.

A perfect day on the road in some of the finest scenery in the land.
A perfect day on the road in some of the finest scenery in the land.Courtesy of Yamaha | SB100

It was a remarkable experience through some of the most beautiful country in the world.

After the ride, I talked it over with my two riding partners. We all felt like we’d ridden about 35–40 miles on flat ground on a standard bicycle. Yet, I used by far the most battery. The level of perceived effort related to our differing fitness levels was about the same since I switched between Max Boost and Standard modes, while the other guys switched between Eco+, Eco, and Standard, rarely dipping into Max.

Start and finish segments ran along Leadbetter Beach.
Start and finish segments ran along Leadbetter Beach.Courtesy of Yamaha | SB100

We three shared an epic ride in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without ebikes. We all worked pretty hard—the perceived “40-mile” feeling is still no joke as it regards activity. I’d say I ran about 100 watts on average over the course of the ride, while clearly my co-riders had put in 150 to 200 watts over the course of the ride.

We all worked hard to the degree that we could, and I simply compensated by using more battery power. On the final descent into town, my battery was down to 10 percent while our fittest rider was still running about 40 percent. He’d used Eco+ and Eco modes as interval training on Gibraltar, taking his heart rate up to 150–160 for a minute in Eco+, then resting a bit in Eco, which offers a bit more boost. If he wanted to cruise, Standard was his choice.

Beachside atmosphere was tops following the ride, with a festival feeling and drink from local brewer Firestone Walker.
Beachside atmosphere was tops following the ride, with a festival feeling and drink from local brewer Firestone Walker.Courtesy of Yamaha | SB100

The social nature of the ride was enhanced by the fact that we weren’t perhaps in the same competitive mindset on this day, and we all completed the course together. Added bonus was using Sena R1 Bluetooth bicycle helmets, so we could chat about the course, road hazards, and share the sights and sounds more. It was one of the most fun group rides I’ve ever done.

It was just my luck that our fastest guy was as fit as his is: He was kind enough to swap batteries with me on the road so I could continue burning electric watts, enabling me to hang with our group of three as we rode to the finish.

Plenty of bike parking was available, but organizers were lucky not all 900-plus participants were hanging it up at the same time.
Plenty of bike parking was available, but organizers were lucky not all 900-plus participants were hanging it up at the same time.Courtesy of Yamaha | SB100

I have an ebike to thank for giving me some freedom to do a ride I otherwise couldn’t have or would have been desperately miserable trying to complete. Doing the event on an ebike has motivated me to ride analog more and increased my overall activity level since I can take the electric option to ease my climb-heavy commute or extend my weekend fun rides.

Yamaha Power Assist Bicycles brought demo units from its product line.
Yamaha Power Assist Bicycles brought demo units from its product line.Courtesy of Yamaha | SB100

I am still a dedicated roadie who wears suffering as a badge of honor. I just get to choose when and how I suffer, and that has improved my cycling life.