HAPPY TRAILS: THE GREAT DEBATE ABOUT EMTB COVERAGE IN MBA
Beating a dead horse...
By Ron Koch
It was exactly one year ago when I penned the “Happy Trails” column titled “Everything Changes.” In it I shared my own journey with eMTBs, as well as those of some of my friends. And, it was there that I said Class 1 eMTBs were going to be a permanent part of this magazine. When I joined the MBA team, we were only dabbling in electric bikes, and I thought that was crazy. E-bikes were all over the place on the trails I rode and in the shops I visited. The future is clear—e-bikes are here to stay, and we can either ignore them or embrace the technology and embrace the future. I strongly believe that as mountain biking evolves, we either evolve with it or become irrelevant.
We have made mistakes. I will admit that in retrospect there have been a few issues that were too eMTB heavy. Making a monthly magazine happen with a small staff often means shooting for the moon and seeing what comes together. Content often gets pushed back and shuffled around in what I like to think of as a distillation process where the good stuff is left. It’s hard to find the perfect balance or know where that is. Our goal is to have at least one electric bike review and some sort of related feature in every issue. On the flip side, some issues have been light on eMTB coverage. It’s difficult to be everything to everybody; in fact, it’s impossible. What we strive to do in each issue is deliver everything from vintage mountain bikes to cutting-edge technologies and everything in between that makes mountain biking amazing.
DIVIDED WE FALL
The great divide, or perhaps one could even call it a chasm, seems to come down to whether you believe a Class 1 electric mountain bike is a mountain bike or not. I strongly believe eMTBs are mountain bikes. They ride like a mountain bike, are built with mountain bike parts, are sold in bicycle shops, and are built by bicycle manufacturers. Oh, and they are also ridden by mountain bikers. I often hear those against electric mountain bike riders say, “They didn’t earn it,” like there is some sort of Scout merit badge that goes along with being a mountain biker. Rather than looking down on these riders, I choose to be stoked seeing people out enjoying the sport, many of whom would not be able to if electric bikes did not exist. And, there are plenty of hardcore riders who have either transitioned from pedal only to electric assist, or integrated an eMTB into their quivers.
One of the most common arguments against having e-bikes in Mountain Bike Action is that we have Electric Bike Action. My reply is, and always will be, that mountain bikers do not want to read about electric motorcycles, urban mobility bicycles and electric scooters. Mountain bikers want to read about mountain bikes and gear 100 percent of the time. Why? Because they are mountain bikers. Electric Bike Action is awesome and does have lots of Class 1 eMTB coverage in it, but the mix is not for everyone.
I also see including eMTBs in Mountain Bike Action as an opportunity to educate riders. Many of these riders are new to the sport, so they may not know proper etiquette or even the complicated rules surrounding eMTBs. We have already included pieces on rules, regulations and overall etiquette with more to come. Ignoring this or any segment of the sport is a huge opportunity lost.
We continue to get mixed feedback. Some praise the inclusion of eMTB content, while others leave us because of it. It pains me when a reader leaves, but I respect the decision. Most mountain bike media outlets include both human-powered and electric-assist mountain bikes. I am not going to pretend there are not some that do not, though. They exist online and in print. But, remember this: those magazines are quarterly. Mountain Bike Action is the last monthly mountain bike publication left in North America. Even with the electric bike content in our magazine, you are not getting more mountain bike reviews or content by going elsewhere; you are actually getting less. I understand leaving on principle if you believe eMTBs are not mountain bikes, but not because you are getting cheated somehow.
We have no agenda. Nobody here thinks everybody should ride electric bikes. We simply want to be inclusive of a growing segment of the sport. I just want Mountain Bike Action to be part of the evolution of mountain biking, as it has been for the last 36 years. As with other innovations, such as clipless pedals, disc brakes and suspension, electric mountain bikes are part of our path forward. This does not mean that we will eventually ignore regular mountain bikes. In fact, the majority of our content will be focused on human-powered bikes. Will that change over time? Most likely, it will. How soon and how much is hard to say, but if we don’t evolve with the sport, we won’t be here to tell the story.