ZAP’S COLUMN: THE GREAT EMTB DEBATE
By Zapata Espinoza / [email protected]
It was less an argument that MBA assistant editor Nick was having with the guy and more like a heated discussion. Back and forth it went, with neither side giving an inch. Having just returned from a weekend of riding his e-bike at Mammoth Mountain, Nick was riding high on the pedal-assist experience. “Man, it’s the only way to ride up there,” he said. Unfortunately for Nick, the person he was trying to persuade wasn’t buying it.
That person was me, and I immediately pushed back: “How can it be the ‘only’ way when I’ve ridden up there for 30 years without a motor?”
Yes, I’m the guy that came home from the Eurobike show in 2012 and first spoke of e-bikes to our publisher. And, when he decided to venture into the realm with a groundbreaking e-bike-specific mag (Electric Bike Action), I even volunteered to oversee the endeavor. And yes, solely as a reflection of their growing popularity, for the last few years I’ve been the guy pushing to get e-bikes included in the pages of MBA.
For Nick, the level of intellectual dissonance was too much. “It doesn’t make sense; you helped start EBA, so how can you say you don’t like to ride them?”
“Easy,” I said. “I decided to oversee EBA because I’m a magazine guy, not an e-bike guy. I also believe that e-bikes are a great thing. It’s not that I don’t like them, I just don’t like riding them.”
Nick’s next point of argument went to the very fiber of my being: “Okay, but you grew up racing motorcycles, so how can you not have a natural attraction to riding an e-bike?”
Nick was right about that. I grew up only wanting to race motorcycles as a profession. To me, motocross was—and is—one of the greatest sports in the world. When Motocross Action editor Jody Wiesel tapped me on the shoulder at a dusty SoCal motocross track back in 1986 and asked me if I wanted a job, I couldn’t have been any happier. Getting paid to twist throttles, go to the races and interview MX heroes like Roger DeCoster and Bob Hannah was a dream come true. Having to also work on a start-up mag called Mountain Bike Action never even occurred to me.
PEDALS VERSUS THROTTLES
Although it took a while (and a few serious injuries), eventually I grew to appreciate pushing pedals more than twisting a throttle. Not that racing motocross is easy, but pedaling a bike became an even more attractive physical challenge. Whether it was the lower-back strain of doing epic five-hour rides in Crested Butte or feeling the lactic-acid burn of sprinting to the finish of a NORBA national downhill race at Mt. Snow, Vermont, the pain of pedaling outweighed the thrill and bodily exhaustion of racing motocross.
Another distinction between motorcycles and bicycles was just the sheer experiential simplicity of the latter versus the former. There’s just so much less “stuff” involved with riding bicycles, which is another reason I’m not really a fan of riding overly complicated mountain bikes, either. Relying on a very overused cliché, when it comes to riding bicycles, to me, “less is more.” Between rebound clickers and remote lockouts or power modes and tuning apps, I’m just not a fan of all the gizmos and doodads that increasingly permeate modern mountain bikes, be they pedal assist or not.
Don’t get me wrong, I love riding off-road, but as I have explained here before, I like doing it on a gravel bike. Yes, as Nick and many hardcore mountain bike fans have reminded me, e-bikes not only let you ride longer but also allow you to climb steep sections that you wouldn’t be able to on a non-assist bike. Okay, I get it. Next?
THE PEDAL-ASSIST WAY
When I was at the Yeti Cycles launch of its new e-bike in Crested Butte (MBA, November ’21), everyone was talking about how much easier the high-altitude riding was thanks to the motor helping propel us up to a 12,000-foot elevation trailhead. Yeah, it was easier, but that didn’t necessarily make it better. And yes, after the first stint (and a lunch stop), we did a second ride that day that I can guarantee I wouldn’t have been able to do had it not been for having a motor (in Turbo mode).
So, I get the benefits of riding an e-bike, and that is why I champion them…for everyone else. For me, it’s no different than my taste for Mexican food. I will heartily chow down chicken tacos, beef enchiladas and a plate of carnitas, but that doesn’t mean I’ll eat a lengua (tongue) burrito or a bowl of menudo (tripe).
I like e-bikes, because the world needs more people riding bicycles. And, e-bikes are allowing scores of new people to either start riding bikes again or start riding for the first time. My hope is that as e-bikes continue getting scores of people off the couch, hopefully someday they will eventually ditch the motor and graduate to a pedal bike.