If you want to charge up a room full of tired cyclists, just ask what they think about e-MTBs, but brace yourself for the very heated discussion it might ignite.
That’s what happened in our bike tour company. One of our advanced MTB guides went to a bike festival and had a chance to try a top-notch enduro e-MTB on very gnarly trails (Lago di Garda). Once back, he told us how much fun it was and we destroyed him with a series of comments and gave him nicknames that I can’t really say in public. This was three years ago. What may seem like a short time is in fact a long time span in an industry that evolves at the speed of light.
I’m a curious person by nature, I’m open to changes and I embrace novelties. Marketers call people like me early adopters. But to be honest, these e-MTBs were and still are confusing me a lot. I’ve been actually postponing this article for more than a year because I’ve been giving myself the time to see the matter clearer. I’m not there yet so I’ve decided to take a different approach and to share with you a series of notes, thoughts, observations and experience I’ve had in the last few years working in the bike industry.
E-MTBs are the present
First and foremost, e-MTBs are coming, actually they are already here. Whether you want it or not. And they are here because the bike industry wants it. All producers are investing huge amounts of money to promote them. It’s a completely new market. New sales opportunities. The new goose that lays golden eggs after 27,5 and 29 wheel sizes. Elite MTB athletes have to post a ride on an e-MTB from time to time. The idea behind this is easy, to convince ordinary people that if it’s okay for a top mountain biker to ride one, it’s okay for them too. They shouldn’t be ashamed.
Therefore, I think the smartest thing to do here is to accept the fact and try to handle it properly. To regulate it. To find common ground between regular mountain bikers and e-bikers.
Are e-MTBs any good and do they last enough for a good ride?
They are great. The industry is investing a lot in R&D and it is making giant leaps. Batteries have got very powerful and they are integrated so well in the more expensive models that, although the bike is very heavy, you can still enjoy riding downhill very much. A few years ago, to get such a bike you had to spend from 6 to 8 thousand euros. Now you can have that bike for half the price. Batteries are getting better and better. The 500 Wh 13.8 Ah can last long enough for you to enjoy a proper ride. Of course, you need to ride smart and use the motor correctly. Also, the charging times are getting better for certain models. For example, you can charge up to 60% in about 1 or 1.5 hour. You can carry the charger with you (it’s way lighter than a spare battery) and while eating a nice lunch, top the battery up a bit. This way I was able to ride more than 100 km with a 1000+ elevation gain on one of our Giant Stance. Not bad, huh?!
E-bikes instead of shuttles
I often go to ride in Finale Ligure, one of the top world destinations for enduro MTB riding. For those of you who don’t know the area, it’s a region in Italy squeezed between the mountains and the sea. Villages perched on hill tops or on cliffs overlook the sea. It offers a lot of great steep trails in remote areas, accessible only by narrow minor asphalt roads with steep gradients. These little roads have got very busy over the last few years with many, many vans shuttling bikers up all day long. Recently, many local MTB companies have decided to switch to e-MTBs to avoid the use of shuttles. I think it’s a smart move that will make local residents happier for sure. Here my friend Nicola from MTB Guide Finale explains why he thinks that riding an e-MTB in Finale is a great idea.
Are e-bikes eco-friendly?
Bikes have always been the cleanest way of moving around. No petrol, you can keep them forever if you wish. Now, if everybody would ride an e-Bike, we would have millions of batteries to handle. In fact, after a certain number of charges the battery loses 50 percent of its power. This means that after a few years the battery has to be replaced. But what to do with the old one? I think this is a delicate matter and it’s the thing that bothers me most of all about this topic. Car batteries must be disposed of in a battery-recycling centre or a local car supply store. I hope bike producers and dealers will help their clients with this, otherwise it will become a problem.
Can e-MTBs ride the same trails as normal MTBs?
An e-MTB can be ridden on the same trails as a regular MTB unless specified otherwise. But I think that most of the hard feelings and aversion are rooted here. Classic mountain bikers don’t see e-MTB riders in a good light. I had a chance to talk with many of them and learn about their motivations. What bothers most is the fear that more and more less skilful mountain bikers who otherwise wouldn’t ride certain trails will destroy them because of their poor handling skills. Bike parks and trail centres are getting ready for the e-MTB phenomenon by separating trails and especially separating uphills (actually uphills with e-MTBs are real fun!), but on natural trails, I don’t see an immediate solution except for the good old common sense. E-bikers need to respect other cyclists and understand that it takes time for people to get used to new things. Think about skiers and snowboarders. As a snowboarder, I still remember the angry eyes watching us while we were waiting for a gondola back in the 90s.
E-MTBs and e-bikes in general for tourism
More and more tourist destinations are investing in e-bikes. And there are more and more rental and tour companies. It is a win-win situation. Less crowded streets and benefits for the local economy as cyclists can move around and explore more secluded areas in the countryside, spending their money more equally over the area, plus good outdoor exercise. We personally have seen an exponential growth in our company. More and more families are going on our multi-day bike holidays and the weaker riders take advantage of e-bikes. Before, these families or groups of friends wouldn’t probably even think about a bike trip because of the less fit members in the group.
Is e-MTB cheating?
I was very surprised after my first test ride. I did one of our hardest MTB trail tours and I thought I would come back as fresh as a daisy, but in the end it was a completely different story. Because we were riding e-MTBs, we did all the trails available (which is normally not possible in one ride). I was just as tired as I am after a regular ride. In fact, when e-mountain biking you still need to pedal a lot, and if you want to do a longer ride, you need to use the battery in a smart way, which means not using the maximum power all the time. In the end, I don’t think using an e-MTB is cheating in most cases. You can just ride longer if you wish and have a great work-out all the same.
Prague is a very hilly city with a lot of traffic problems. E-bikes are one of the solutions. For example, I ride my kid to school every day. After that I go to BIKO, our shop, and work as a bike guide. Sometimes I have very fit clients, so day after day it can get hard. In my case, I could use an e-MTB for the school commute, then enjoy some great trails on the way to BIKO (my way to work through stunning nature is so much fun!) and be fresh for work.
E-bikes in the EU are limited to 25 km per hour. It’s not much. What happens is that at the maximum speed allowed, the motor automatically shuts down and you experience a loss of power. At first I thought it was bad. But to tell the truth, every day I see on the main Prague cycling paths some people who hacked their bike and go faster… too fast. E-bikes are much heavier, therefore it takes more time to stop and they hurt more if they hit people. In the end, I see why the EU did that (although 30 km per hour would be better, win-win).
I must say that I am happy about e-bikes in general. I think that not only do they give a chance to less strong people to enjoy nature and to work out, but they have many positive aspects overall. Once again, it’s all about common sense. Every cyclist should respect the others. All tribes, one clan to cite the Endura’s motto.