The Sea Otter Classic, held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas, California, is the country's biggest cycling festival, and it’s now in its 26th year. It offers four days of recreational and professional bicycling in April for men and women and for young children to seniors.

This year's event, April 12-15, will offer a traditional schedule of mountain, road and gravity races. But it will also include a new cycling division considered cheating in many competitions — motorized cycling.

Who would have ever thought bicycles with motors would be included in the same event that has featured cyclists who have competed in the Olympics, World Championships and the Tour de France?

Motors illegal in pro cycling

In recent years, several riders in a few disciplines at the top levels of cycling have been caught pedaling bikes with tiny, hidden motors. It’s another blemish for pro cycling, a sport that despite significant athleticism and beauty is still in a mess of illegal drug issues.

But the motorized event the Sea Otter Classic will be legal and it should be embraced at least for one reason. It could bring more people into recreational cycling.

The new event is sponsored by Haibike and Bosch, companies that make mountain bikes assisted by motors. It’s a new trend in cycling, often used by those recovering from injuries or illness. Bicycles with motors are also popular among those starting exercise programs for the first time in many years.

Some cyclists who commute on bicycles use the motor-assisted options on their bikes while returning home after long work shifts on their feet.

Pedal hard, but a motor helps

Several-dozen men and women have signed up for the electric mountain bike division called eMTB at the Sea Otter Classic. It will be held for a 60-minute duration of a 1.5-mile single track hilly loop in the foothills surrounding the raceway’s track.

Reaction to the new event hasn’t been complimentary, with the exception of those who’ve signed up to participate in the April 15 event. One comment on a prominent cycling forum, read: “I hope all E-bikes catch fire and blow up.” Another detractor wrote: “What has the world come to?”

Last year, the Sea Otter Classic introduced a tandem mountain bike division.

Only a dozen teams competed — husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends and high school friends. Not as many teams have signed up this year, and certainly it’s a niche event in cycling, just like the new electric bike division.

This year’s Sea Otter Classic is also offering a new folding bike division, and that's a story for another time. But while its field will also likely be small, it also complements the Sea Otter Classic's goal. The festival seeks to offer as many events as feasible to cyclists of all ages and abilities.