For the first time, cyclists with GranFondo dreams can sign up with their e-bikes, at least for Whistler's 55-kilometre Medio category.
"We embrace that change in technology. What we want to do, as we've done with everything else, is stay at the forefront and create an opportunity for people to cycle," Neil McKinnon, RBC GranFondo Whistler co-founder, said. "We don't think the introduction of e-bikes is dissimilar to any other category of cycling."
The added advantage of the e-bike, however, is also why they will not be part of the timed event. McKinnon said the organizers would not be able to accurately tell when the power assist offered by e-bikes is used during the Medio, so the focus for e-bike participants is to enjoy the experience, instead of racing against the clock.
"I think the purists would probably say that there's no place for e-bikes in an international event like the GranFondo. We agree with that, that's why we've limited it to the Medio portion of the event," McKinnon said. "Other people have said they welcome it because it allows for more inclusion."
Last year, the Medio was rerouted to begin and end in Whistler, giving all cyclists the chance to experience the rush of the starting line and flair of a big finish. It's the family-friendly category, with a speed limit at the beginning to keep all riders safe.
"We wanted to keep the Forte (152 km) and the GranFondo (122 km) as those physical challenges, those aspirational events that people put in their calendar. But the Medio, and what e-bikes represent, is allowing people of different ages or different athletic abilities to participate," he said.
Even with the addition of e-bikes, RBC GranFondo Whistler organizers aren't expecting a huge fleet of electric bicycles to hit the Sea to Sky this fall.
"Though the industry of e-bikes is growing quite significantly, it still represents a small percentage of bicycles on the road. A lot of people use e-bikes for transportation and commuting purposes," McKinnon said. "I think the first year we'll probably see a small percentage, but I suspect as word gets out and people feel comfortable being on their e-bike in an event, it will probably grow over time."
McKinnon said the 55-kilometre segment has five times more cyclists registered than last year's event, which already saw twice the amount of riders from the previous year.
So far, 1,500 cyclists have pre-registered for the Sept. 7 RBC GranFondo Whistler, and organizers are expecting 4,500 to race along the Sea to Sky this fall. The 2019 event in Whistler will also feature the World Series qualifiers, and the World Champs will be held on the same course in 2020.