Debunking Electric Bike Myths
Electric-assist bikes, otherwise known as e-bikes, have been causing a stir throughout the cycling industry. Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve likely heard both the pros and cons of these new-age machines. The electrified debate over e-bikes is a necessary conversation to have, as some riders fear electric-assist bikes will close down trails, while others argue that e-bikes can bring more people and money into our sport. Both sides raise valid points; although, with the growing popularity of e-bikes, we aren’t likely to see electric-assist machines go away any time soon—or at all. We’ve even heard rumors that some larger bicycle manufacturers have said e-bikes will be a big part of their business in years to come. The e-bike debate has shifted over the last year or so, as more and more riders have begun to gain first-hand experience with them. Today, many riders agree that e-bikes have a place in the market for commuters or for other utilitarian purposes, but tension still grows when people discuss electric mountain bikes. Companies such as Specialized, Trek, Giant, Cannondale, Pivot and many others have jumped into the market with electric-assist mountain bikes, further proving the point that these new-age machines are here to stay. So, whether one likes e-bikes or not, the time to discuss them is now. Our test riders have ridden many of the e-bikes offered by the companies we listed earlier, as well as a few other electric-assist bikes for “personal research” reasons. We decided to combine the knowledge of these testers with top-level pro riders to help educate the masses.
Common E-Bike Myths
1). ELECTRIC BIKES HAVE A MOTOR; THEREFORE, THEY’RE MOTORCYCLES
This is an argument we often hear from hard-core mountain bike enthusiasts who hate the idea of electric-assist bikes on their local trails. Sure, we agree that an e-bike will get you to the top of a climb easier than a traditional pedal bike would, but to compare an electric motor that offers 250 watts or so of assist to a 50-plus-horsepower motorcycle is like comparing a moped to a Ferrari. We did the math and found 250 watts roughly translates to only 0.3 horsepower. The idea of an e-bike throwing roost like a motorcycle just isn’t reality. And if you really want to drive this point home, check out the wattage of your household blender. We promise you, you’ll be surprised.
2). ELECTRIC BIKES WILL LEAD TO TRAIL CLOSURES
This is a legitimate concern, as we agree that inexperienced riders blasting up hills at close to double the speed of a regular pedal bike is a recipe for disaster; however, in our experience, most e-bikes tend to descend slower than pedal bikes due to their added weight, which makes them less maneuverable. Most trail users get upset with mountain bikers who race downhill against their fastest Strava times. Climbing speed is not generally an issue. We’re not saying uphill battles couldn’t become an issue in the future, but we don’t believe e-bike riders will be shredding down the trails any faster than riders on traditional pedal bikes. To keep our trails safe, keep e-bikes off trails that specifically state that e-bikes are not allowed. You wouldn’t ride your pedal bike on a hiking-only trail, so treat your e-bike the same way. Hopefully, greater acceptance of e-bikes will result in more dual-purpose trails for everyone.
3). ELECTRIC BIKES ARE CHEATING
This statement makes us laugh, as we’re not really sure who we’re cheating when we toss a leg over an e-bike. Sure an e-bike provides less of a workout, but do you only ride for a workout? If yes, then you are indeed cheating, but if for you riding a mountain bike is about being outside, enjoying nature and having fun, then is it cheating to use a tool that allows you to explore further and ride longer? For that matter, is shuttling cheating? Electric bikes do take some of the pain out of climbing, but they don’t do the climbing for you. The majority of e-bikes we’ve ridden only add to the power you’re personally putting out; therefore, you still have to work to conquer the climbs. Is this cheating? Well, sort of, but if you just want to have fun on two wheels, then who are you really cheating?
4). ELECTRIC BIKES ALLOW YOU TO RIDE TOO FAST
Any rider who gives an electric bike a try will quickly notice that these bikes have a power cutoff that is much sooner than expected. Most e-bikes stop providing assistance around 20 mph. Sure, that’s fast, but it is not an unattainable speed by a strong rider on a pedal bike. An e-bike allows a less fit rider to sustain a higher speed, but all riders are limited to the same cutoff speed. This means that any rider traveling past the cutoff speed is pushing a 40-plus-pound bike under his or her own power until he or she slows down enough to begin receiving assistance again. For comparison’s sake, a top-level downhill racer can easily achieve speeds of 30 to 40 mph during a race run down a World Cup track. Of course, we are aware that these are professional racers on a closed course, but it goes to show that an electric motor with a limiter would offer these pros zero assistance while pedaling at those speeds. It’s also interesting to talk about watts. As we mentioned, most e-bikes offer around 250 watts of assistance. It has been reported that the average rider puts out around 100 to 150 watts of power, while a top-level Tour De France road racer can average around 400 watts. So even with an electric bike underneath you, you won’t be as strong as a top pro.
THE MATT HUNTER INTERVIEW
MBA : Tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience with e-bikes.
Matt Hunter: I’ve been mountain biking for about 25 years. I like fast trails, jumps and riding in remote areas. I got a Turbo Levo a couple years ago. It’s pretty wild what it is capable of. I ride it maybe once a week or so. I use it for all kinds of things. It’s a great tool. I can shred to the grocery store in record time with my son on the kid seat. I also love it for exploring. It’s a weapon for trail building and maintenance too. I can throw my chainsaw in my pack, zip out and cut out dead-fall. It’s really sweet for use as a retrieval vehicle when doing DH shuttle laps, and it’s also great for trips when you have a lot of gear.
MBA : When did you first ride an electric-assist mountain bike, and what was your impression at that time?
MH: When I first rode one and found out what it was capable of, I sold my Honda 450! My Levo has become a great tool for exploring new zones or doing trail work.
MBA : Many people fear that e-bikes will close down trails. Do you believe this is due to less experienced riders being able to ride faster than their skill level?
MH: I do share that fear, but not for those reasons. I do not believe that e-bikes descend faster than mountain bikes. And really, they only climb a little faster than normal bikes. I do not think that the difference in speed is an issue.
MBA : While riding your e-bike, do you feel you have the same level of control during descents?
MH: I feel a similar level of control on descents. I don’t charge off jumps the same way on my e-bike, but most other things are just fine. I don’t think e-bikes are as playful as normal bikes. They are still a lot of fun but with a much different feel.
MBA : What are some major pros and cons of e-bikes? How do you feel they will change our sport in the future?
MH: They take the sting out of the climbs, that’s for sure. They can replace a car for short trips. You can haul tons of trail tools or kids. You can get out for a quick ride if you have a limited time and still go far. The cons are just when the battery dies. I don’t feel they will change the sport of mountain biking as long as we make sure they are ridden where they are allowed. That’s the tricky part.
CURTIS AND DYLAN INTERVIEW
MBA : What is your background in mountain biking, and what were your first thoughts regarding e-bikes?
Dylan Dunkerton: I’m a mountain bike enthusiast who has been wired on riding since childhood. I grew up on the Sunshine Coast just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, when the North Shore was just developing. At a young age the sport of mountain biking grabbed my attention and I was hooked. I have seen products come and go throughout the years. The industry has progressed so far, and now it’s progressing even faster. New, progressive ideas are often met with much skepticism, and it’s no surprise that e-bikes are no different. Did I ever think e-bikes would actually happen? And if it did, was it really going to be a good experience? I wasn’t convinced. In fact, I was skeptical, but why not just try it?
MBA : When did you first ride an e-mountain bike, and what was your impression at that time? How has your opinion changed since then?
DD: My first experience with an e-bike was short-lived. I first tried a common downhill bike decked out with a high-powered bolt-on motor. It was really fast, and I didn’t even have to pedal the thing. But, it didn’t take long to realize that with this bike’s big, bulky motor and a backpack-tethered power pack, it was to me nothing more than a bad dirt bike with twice the price. That was over four years ago, and so much has changed since then. Fast-forward a few years and I hear about the Levo and the concept of pedal assist. I understood the concept, but I really didn’t know how it transferred into the riding experience, and most of all I didn’t know what the disadvantages would be. It wasn’t until I got the chance to set up an e-bike the way I wanted and go for a hard ride that I could see that the Levo was still a purebred mountain bike.
MBA : Do you believe e-bikes will cause trails to close down due to people riding too fast?
DD: Let me start by saying that I am a firm believer of pedal assist. I really don’t agree with any throttle-twisting high-speed bikes. If you’re not pedaling, it’s not a bicycle. I think this is a huge part of the debate. I’m sure a million people will jump on me and say, “If it’s got a motor, it’s a motorbike.” My answer to that is, go try it; you may be surprised how your opinion can change. I was a hater too. Mountain biking is pretty extreme these days. The bikes are well prepared to take those big hits and high-speed downhill sections. People already get themselves in over their heads and go way too fast without a motor, so I really don’t think that it’s going to affect people’s speed. If anything, the heavier bike will slow them down. In the case of the Levo, the motor shuts off at a certain speed, so it’s certainly not an advantage on the downhills.
MBA : In what ways have you adapted your riding style for your e-bike?
DD: There is a period of time where you’ll need to adapt to the heavier bike, but after a week of riding, I was switching between my bikes without noticing a difference. Expect to get a much greater upperbody workout while riding, as it takes more effort to throw the bike around and pick it up off the ground. I honestly feel far more in control on my Kenevo or Levo strictly because of how it corners. I have never had a bike that corners so well. And you’re thinking, “Yup, that’s because you get paid to say that,” but that’s not the case. That extra weight down low really affects the handling in a positive way. Gravity goes to work, and you end up with a bike that corners like it’s on rails and stays very firmly planted on the ground. My riding style doesn’t change, but there are limitations. A few things I have learned are that you can’t whip it out like a regular bike, and it’s terrifying to ride over steep rollers because of the BB clearance. It’s also hard to hop the bike and keep the chainring out of the ground/trail features. And last, wheelie drops are a no-no, as it’s easy to go off with way too much wheel speed and slip out.
MBA : What are some major pros and cons of e-bikes?
DD: At the moment, they have a bad image, create endless debate on land access and really get people all worked up. I think as the information and experience spread throughout the industry, more and more people will begin to understand how much of a positive impact these bikes could have. The technology is ahead of the politics and its time. I think the cons will slowly slip away as proper guidelines are put in place to ensure continuous land access in the U.S. and abroad. There are so many obvious pros to these bikes— from people with chronic injuries getting back on a bike all the way up to park rangers patrolling the backcountry. The access and freedom it provides to so many people is the biggest pro.
MBA : Are there any other thoughts you’d like to add?
DD: For me, an e-bike can never replace the rawness of a true trailbike, but it sure is close to it. Would I choose one as my only bike? No, but it’s certainly a unique tool to add to the stable. It does what it does well, which in the end lets you ride more trails in less time. Who doesn’t like riding more trails?
MBA : How did you discover mountain biking and later electric bikes?
Curtis Robinson: I’ve grown up in the small town of Roberts Creek, British Columbia. The area was shaped by early industries like fishing and logging, with road networks dating all the way back to the early 1900s. The access left behind from all those years has slowly been adapted into a dream mountain bike trail network that happened to be two minutes from my home. My youth was spent exploring these old roads and trails, and the older I got, the more I would find. Naturally, trail building became a very strong passion along with riding. Living in a place so suited for exploring with endless terrain, you would be a fool not to take advantage of it. Now, with the rapid growth of technology in mountain biking, there are all new kinds of innovators out there trying to explore different areas and potential, much like early pioneers did. When the Levo came out, I wasn’t sold on it. I thought it was a gimmick. That was until I had the opportunity to try one. Now I ride it whenever I can—to the mailbox, the store or out to clear trails. It’s a unique tool that I feel has a place in the stable.
MBA : Tell us about your first experience with an e-bike.
CR: The first time I rode a Levo was about a month or so before we shot our “Skeptical” video last November. I set the bike up like I would my Enduro—800millimeter bar, 40-millimeter stem, regular 27.5 x 2.5 Butcher and a DH 2.5 Hillbilly cut spike on the rear. The bike surprised me. It cornered well; it even jumped well, and obviously it went up well. The weight of the bike took a few rides to get used to, but I found it helped glue the bike to the ground and held traction well in the corners. It’s like anything new—if you don’t try it, you will never know if you like it. I use mine a lot, even just for goofing around in the driveway doing uphill wheelies.
MBA : Do you believe e-bikes will cause trail closures?
CR: Where we live, there are all types of trail users out here and all types of trails. I think on any bike, regardless if it has an assist built in or not, some people ride outside of their skill level and others don’t. It happens every day. Common trail courtesy is a regular thing where we are. If you wish to pass a rider, you let them know. These bikes don’t make you 10 times faster then everyone else or transform you into a jerk. They only allow you to climb better, easier and maybe ride longer than you usually would. It is no different riding this bike with a group of buddies on non-assist bikes. It’s all about your bike control, not the bike. If you are an experienced rider, then you are only going to ride down as fast as you are comfortable with, and an expert rider will be able to do just the same. Everyone says these are going to shut down trails, but there is the other side of it where there are people like us using these bikes to maintain and open trails that otherwise wouldn’t happen.
MBA : Do e-bikes handle as well as pedal bikes?
CR: With my preferred setup on my e-bike, it handles really well. It likes to go fast with the added weight down low, but you have to manage your speed on steeper terrain. I noticed with the added weight behind it that I can actually jump the bike pretty well and get it sideways. I am honestly shocked by the overall handling. MBA : What are the pros and cons of e-bikes? CR:I believe they will get others on bikes that might have never hopped on a bike before. People are afraid of change, but whatever happens, happens. The industry has added yet another amazing tool to your availability, and that’s all right by me. The pros of an e-bike are that they are a multitool on wheels. They are an absolute blast to ride and can be very useful. The cons are that you have to keep them charged. My favorite part about my e-bike is when I make others jealous doing an uphill wheelie with a [water] bottle in one hand.
MBA : Are there any other thoughts you’d like to add?
CR: I genuinely think these bikes will be around for a long time, and I don’t think you will see e-bikes take over. No way, but it does allow a completely different experience that a lot of people might relate to. It’s just a mountain bike after all.