SHOULD AN ELECTRIC MOUNTAIN BIKE BE YOUR NEXT RIDE?
As editors of a mountain bike magazine we are constantly bombarded with questions from friends and acquaintances on what bike they should buy. In the last year there has been a steady increase in whether or not that bike should be an e-mountain bike. The answer is not always crystal clear and really depends on an individual’s needs. Like anything, there are pros and cons to going “e” that must be considered before you buy an electric mountain bike.
Before you give an eMTB too much thought, start with researching your legal riding options. An eMTB does you little good if you have nowhere to ride it. Don’t rely on friends, bike shops, forums or Facebook groups for this information—all are sources of misinformation. Go directly to the land manager’s website or call them so you know for sure. And even if e-bikes are banned in an area but the rules are not being enforced, what happens if they suddenly are? Let’s face it, there are less places to legally ride an eMTB than a regular one. In some areas, this just means riding fewer trails, but in others it means not riding at all. This is the most important step in deciding whether or not you should purchase an eMTB.
One of the beauties of the bicycle is its simplicity and the e-bike gets us a little further away from that. Although incredibly reliable, the battery system, wire harness, display and motor itself are all one more potential failure point. And diagnosing a problem can range from turning it on and off to taking it to a shop for diagnosis. And then there’s charging. After every ride you have to plug it in. It sounds simple because it is, but it’s one more thing to remember. And when you forget or don’t plug the charging cord in all the way, it’s a real bummer when you head out for the next ride.
If you’re the type to push longer on rides and/or use a lot of the higher-output assist settings, eventually you will run out of battery on the trail. The idea of running out of juice might simply cause added stress to the ride as your charge gets smaller and smaller. Most eMTBs pedal surprisingly well without assist, but it’s typically the last thing you want to do late in a long ride.
Then there are the apps, Bluetooth pairing, and other electronic bells and whistles that come with going “e.” Although most of the apps are solid and so are their connections with the bike, nothing of this sort is foolproof, so there might be a time where you’re fumbling with your phone trying to get it to pair with your bike instead of simply riding away like you would with a mountain bike.
E-mountain bikes are a lot of things, but inexpensive is not one of them. The added electronics, motor and battery can add roughly $4000 to the cost of the bike. You can buy another fairly high-end mountain bike to add to the quiver for that! Quality eMTBs do exist in the $4000 to $5000 range, but those are typically consumer-direct brands, and they do not always come with the highest quality components. With inflation and demand driving prices up, there is simply nothing cheap about owning an eMTB. And speaking of costs, eMTBs tend to be harder on drivetrain components, wheels, brakes and tires. Expect to go through more of these items due to the extra power, weight and mileage you’ll get with an e-bike.
If you’ve got a bad back, keep in mind that eMTBs weigh a lot more than a normal one, and you’ll notice it every time you pick it up. On average, most Class 1 e-bikes weigh in the mid 50s, give or take 5 pounds. There are exceptions like the Specialized SL versions and Orbea’s Rise line that offer lighter weight but with less assist power and battery capacity. These lighter versions still weigh in the 35- to 40-pound range. Simply lifting an eMTB into a work stand reminds you to bend with your knees, not with your back. And, loading them onto a vehicle or rack will test your upper-body strength. Speaking of racks, you’ll also have to make sure yours is rated for the weight of your eMTB, because not all are. Some racks come with a built-in loading ramp, so there are solutions available.
Then there’s the hike-a-bike. Lifting a heavy e-bike over a large downed tree can be, well, a heavy lift. Thankfully, almost every eMTB comes with a Walk mode that allows them to self-propel up steep hike-a-bikes as you walk beside it. And yes, we know how to spell “Led Zeppelin.”
WHAT PHYSICAL LIMITATION?
At some point in all of our lives we will likely be faced with a physical limitation of some sort that either prevents us from riding or seriously reduces our capacity for physical exertion. For some this is just the natural aging process, while for others it’s injury- or disease-related. An eMTB lets those with physical limitations ride at their old pace or simply ride again, period. For these riders, going “e” makes all the sense in the world. It’s also worth noting that certain physical limitations allow e-bike use in otherwise restricted areas. Check the regulations to learn what is and is not considered a physical handicap.
“Think of your pedals as the throttle—the harder you pedal, the faster it goes, and the more fun you have.”
You know those big rides that you rarely do or shy away from because they’re just too big to be fun? Well, they are a total blast on an e-bike. If you can imagine it, you can do it within the limitations of your eMTB’s battery capacity and assist-level management. With many eMTBs offering a battery capacity of up to 1000Wh, chances are you will run out of juice before the battery does.
RIDE EVERY DAY
Nobody can ride hard every day, even if our brains want us to. With an eMTB, you can get in a really easy ride that lets your legs get some active rest while your brain gets the action it craves. For a racer, it could eliminate the problem of going too hard on a rest day—and racers out there all know we’ve done it. Few things undo the good of training than not getting proper rest.
Nothing bridges the gap between fitness levels better than an e-bike. Slower riders can run high assist levels, while fitter ones can turn them down or even off at times to level the playing field. Instead of being strung out on a climb and waiting for riders to catch up, everyone gets to ride together, keeping the continuity of the ride intact. One of the greatest aspects of riding is the social interaction with others, and e-bikes provide that in spades. E-bikes let everyone ride together, chat and share the moment. Some would put this in the negative category, but our advice is to choose your riding partners carefully, especially when going “e.”
Some of the MBA wrecking crew swear that they ride their mountain bike faster after spending time on an eMTB. This may seem counterintuitive, but our theory is that the e-bike recalibrates your brain’s idea of what a normal pace should be. If you’re familiar with road bike motorpacing behind a moped, the concept is similar—training your brain and muscles to operate at a higher pace. This benefit will likely apply to fitter riders who do not need the assistance of an e-bike as opposed to those who rely on it to ride a regular pace.
RIDE THE UNRIDEABLE
Just like the big mileage loops that are beyond reach, there are trails so steep, technical and gnarly that they just don’t get ridden by mortals. The eMTB changes the game and makes a rideable chess match out of what would otherwise be a hike-a-bike. Not only do e-bikes make these otherwise terrible trails fun, but they open up new loop opportunities that are otherwise out of reach. Being able to ride more trails is always a win.
“Being able to ride more trails is always a win.”
LEAVING IT ALL ON THE TABLE
Another wrecking crew eMTB favorite is riding an eMTB in the lower assist levels while others are on higher ones. You can ride right on the edge of blowing yourself up until you do, then simply crank up the assist and soft-pedal your way back or to recover and do it all again. The bonus here is there is no fear of getting too far out or going too hard and having to limp your way back, a shell of the rider you were when you started. You can finish an intense ride, leaving it all out on the trail without fear of taking things too far.
A lot of us have our favorite rides that we shuttle with vehicles, but the e-bike not only eliminates the need but makes the experience better. Instead of breaking the ride up by getting off the bike, loading up in a vehicle and cooling off while you get car sick and subjecting yourself to the stench of your buddies’ stinky knee pads, an eMTB lets you remain on the bike riding the whole time. And, you can do it by yourself or with one riding partner instead of needing a crew of four-plus to make vehicle shuttling logistically efficient. Lapping our local downhill trails on an eMTB is one of the wrecking crew’s favorite pastimes.
MORE SMILES PER MILE
The most simple and obvious reason to go with an eMTB bike for your next ride is because they are just plain fun. We challenge anyone to take one for a pedal and not return with a smile on their face. They are a blast to ride and let you cover more ground than a normal bike. Instead of getting 10 miles in during that hour you have after work, you can get closer to 20. And, it still requires plenty of effort, so the workout benefit is still there. Think of your pedals as the throttle—the harder you pedal, the faster it goes, and the more fun you have. It’s that carrot on a stick that gives you a workout. We will argue that the smile-per-mile ratio is higher on an eMTB than any other type of bicycle out there. And, isn’t fun the reason we all started riding in the first place?