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Sean Yates: 'I still suffer like a dog on my e-bike'

14 Feb 2020

Sean Yates's reputation as one of the hardest men in cycling often precedes him. But after years of pushing his body to the limit and multiple heart-related health scares, Yates has turned to the e-bike to keep him on two wheels.

The former Tour de France yellow jersey wearer is an ambassador for British-based bike brand Ribble and will now uses the Ribble SLe e-bike in order to keep pursuing the sport that gave him over 30 years of success.

Known for often riding a stage of multi-day races the morning before the pros as a sport director, Yates spoke to Cyclist last year about how access to an e-bike has prevented him from being 'stuck indoors' away from the bike and kept him riding as much as he wants.  

We spoke to him recently about his new-found fondness for his e-bike.

Cyclist: Why did you start riding an e-bike?

Sean Yates: My health problems are well-documented but since the start of 2003, it’s been slowly deteriorating. It got to a point where I moved to Spain to ride and realised I basically couldn’t ride. Literally, I’d go for a ride than have to stop and phone for a lift home because I couldn’t ride any longer.

Then I saw these things called e-bikes. I came across them in 2016 on a Tinkoff-Saxo team camp with these holidaymakers riding around on them and thought this is fantastic.

Then I had to make the decision, either throw in the towel or get an e-bike. So I got in touch with Ribble who supplied me with a bike in exchange for being an ambassador.

It gives you all the same exercise and you still have to pedal, don’t you worry.

The Ribble SLe road bike, ridden by Sean Yates, a Ribble brand ambassador 

Cyc: Apart from your health, what else spurred you into becoming an e-bike ambassador?

SY: Well, I think the negativity around the e-bike could be putting people off. So I wanted to show my opinion on e-bikes and how they enable you to get out and about, and to allow someone to continue to enjoy riding. It’s not cheating, it's just making life easier for something you may not be able to do.

It’s great because I can still ride with my two older sons and now I also have an e-mountain bike with a trailer in which I can put my youngest son in go into the mountains for adventures, too.

Cyc: Your training methods were considered legendary and crazy. Did that contribute to your health issues?

SY: My training methods were just long miles. Obviously, anyone can have heart problems but for me, going 30 years flat out took its toll. The heart got big, it dilated and packed up working properly.

I don't regret it because I love riding. I also loved to race and I would still race today if my heart was OK. Even now, I suffer like a dog on my e-bike. I still push myself. It’s not the same but I still push as hard as possible.

Before getting the e-bike, there were a couple of times last year where I had to get people to come and collect me. My heart is limited to 90bpm maximum which isn’t a lot when you’re riding.

It would put me in a box for the next few days. I never wanted to forsake my bike riding so I’d ride, suffer for three days, and then do it again.

Cyc: What would you say to anybody critical of e-bikes?

SY: I would say ‘you’re telling me if you had a heart problem and it couldn’t go above 70bpm, you’d deserve criticism for riding an e-bike?’

I can bet your bottom dollar that those riding with ill-health aren’t slagging them off. Would I choose an e-bike over a normal bike? No, but I haven't the option. Plus, Eddy Merckx rides an e-bike so they must be cool.

Sean Yates is a brand ambassador for Ribble Bikes. The Ribble SLe will be available for testing at the Cycling Electric Demo Day on Saturday 4th July at Lee Valley VeloPark. Check full details here