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photo: Jeff Barber

Any opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own, and may or may not represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

It’s my first year working in the bike industry and it’s forced me to take a hard look at e-bikes. Mostly, I’ve been skeptical of them. I haven’t let them come at me with open arms, nor have I turned them away with a cold shoulder. Mountain biking is a hard sport and every ride in the first few years is a rite of passage to prove ourselves.

For me, the sport has changed my life for the better. It’s made me more confident, more secure, more competitive at times, more relaxed at others, and mountain biking has given me a reference point for many of life’s achievements. I am more confident in my ability to do new things, because I have proved to myself that I can mountain bike.

Unfortunately, I think this same concept of using mountain biking as a proving ground has turned the sport into a militaristic sort of society that thinks no one is a mountain biker unless they can ride uphill without a pedal assist, as if mountain biking is a pass or fail test.

When I was in the Marine Corps, this is the attitude we loved, cherished, and endorsed. You are not a Marine until a drill instructor hands you the sacred emblem on the final day of boot camp after three months of blood, sweat, and tears. It was hard, and it was earned, and God forbid you let any Marine catch someone in public committing stolen valor by falsely claiming to be one of us.

But, guess what? Mountain biking is not the military. If you own a mountain bike and ride it a few times per year, then you’re a mountain biker. Maybe you’re a casual mountain biker at best and certainly not an athlete, but the defining factors after this point are modifiers and “enthusiast,” “downhill,” “athlete,” or “e” and so on let everyone know what type of mountain biker you are.

See Also
By Jeff Barber
 

I read it in comment sections at least once per week. “E-bikes are for cheaters,” “e-bikes are a sign of a softer America,” and, “e-bikes are for (insert degrading adjective).”

Trail sign in Moab, Utah. Photo: Greg Heil

Mountain bikers everywhere have taken it upon themselves to create their own definition of the sport for everyone else to live up to. Thanks, guys, for adding more barriers to a sport that’s already full of them.

To be fair, there are reasons to be concerned about e-bikes on mountain bike trails. Access for us is never guaranteed and we are still second-class recreationalists in many places. But as e-MTBs grow in popularity, it’s land managers that are the decision makers, and to date I don’t know of any cases of said land managers revoking access to all mountain bikers because they are concerned or confused by eMTBs.

Actually, as of writing this, my home county, Jefferson County, Colorado just approved eMTB access to all mountain bike trails after a trial period. This has been approved in a county with an exploding population and insane increases in the number of both hikers and mountain bikers on existing trails.

In other words, there are now way more people on the same number of trails, which should be the red-flag warning to an increase in user conflict that commenters fear. JeffCo, in their study, haven’t seen it.

When I was in college, I had a criminal justice professor who used to describe laws and libertarianism with a short sentence. “Your rights end where mine begin.”

When my rights to trail access are threatened or appear to be threatened by people riding e-bikes, then I’ll take a hard stance against them. Until then, I’ll worry about being the best mountain biker – and person I can be without putting down others for what kind of bike they ride.

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# Comments

  • Legbacon

    There are cyclists and there are motorcyclists. Putting an “e” in front of it does not make it a bicycle.

    • plasticsguy

      Don’t ever remember seeing a motorcycle you have to pedal.

    • Legbacon

      M-O-T-O-R

  • craige

    Well said, Matt. A couple of weeks ago I arranged for a meeting with the director of the OC Parks to specifically discuss eBike access in the park system. We had a local eBike only retail store (my wife and I) there, Felt, Shimano, an equestrian, a hardcore mountain biking couple and a local husband and wife couple who regularly ride their eBikes on the trail system.

    The takeaway was that the Parks have bigger fish to fry than that of eBikes. I saw that as a small positive for us as we don’t seem to be on their radar.

    • swerverider

      You are on the radar. Perhaps you missed the LCF Trails meeting a few weeks ago? We’re at serious risk of being kicked out of the parks. But hey, so long as the ebikers have their self entitlement, who cares? You know, despite the fact that ebike are not allowed in the parks. Why is it so hard for you to comprehend? Can ebikers not read? Just feel the rules don’t apply to them? Yeah, the good old entitlement. Leave it at home – along with your ebike. Or maybe ebikers will just poach after we have been kicked out of the parks.

    • Steve Macko

      It would be easier to take you seriously if you included the fact that you knowingly and blatantly poached the high use trails in Santiago Oaks that are off limits to e-bikes. Wherever you stand on the e-bike issue, flagrantly disobeying the established park rules is not the way to further the cause.

  • dtimms

    What is the big draw to E-Bikes? Is mountain biking too hard for people? I totally understand the special circumstances around disabilities or injuries, but don’t know why the big push for these motorized mountain bikes.

  • Plusbike Nerd

    I mountain bike to have a wilderness experience. Once you throw in motors that wilderness experience is destroyed. Non-motorized sports and motorized sports just don’t mix. If you think e-bikes are OK, then why not motorcycles, ORV’s and 4 wheel drives or maybe a chairlift. It’s a pretty slippery slope. Bike corporations would love to have something to sell to the large number of people who are out of shape and over weight and they don’t care what gets lost in the process. If someone wants to ride an e-bike where motorized sports are allowed then more power to them but stay out of non-motorized areas. Matt Miller, as a contributor to the best mountain bike website, I am embarrassed for you. You should be promoting fitness, wilderness, and non-motorized mountain biking. Maybe you should get a job selling e-bikes or motorcycles because your doing quite the sales job. Did the bike corporations pay you for this article?

    • Jeff Barber

      Easy now. Personal attacks aren’t going to move this discussion forward.

      I would throw this back to you and ask: What is it about eMTBs, and those who choose to ride them, that upsets you so much?

      I agree that motorcycles and ORVs ruin the wilderness experience. They’re noisy and belch stinky, gray exhaust. Chairlifts are ugly and destroy the landscape. I’m just having a harder time seeing how others’ eMTBs ruin my outdoor experience.

      I mean, I could come up with plenty of scenarios where eMTBs *might* ruin my experience, but like Matt, I haven’t seen actual evidence of this happening. And like Matt said, Jefferson County recently did a trial — a real trial, not a thought experiment — and found eMTBs were able to share non-motorized trails with other users. Other trials seem to support this as well. I’m as surprised as anyone else.

      Singletracks has never received any compensation, financial or product-related, from an e-bike company. Our motivation has always been to foster an inclusive mountain bike community and to be open to new and different perspectives.

    • swerverider

      “What is it about eMTBs, and those who choose to ride them, that upsets you so much?”
      Jeff, here in OC, Calif – they’re a serious problem. And we are really in danger of losing our access to the parks where we ride because of them and their selfish riders. That’s what is upsetting.

    • Jeff Barber

      “we are really in danger of losing our access to the parks where we ride because of them and their selfish riders”

      I’m not familiar with what’s going on there so I’d love to learn more. Has this been covered by the local news, or are there land managers we might be able to contact for more info?

    • Larry Conger

      DUDE, take a chill pill, relax, have you tried an eMTB? Class 1 eMTBs assist the rider, they are fun, and that is the whole point of MTBing, get used to technology, u wannabe MTBers ever give it a try and see what its all about?

  • Mr Mojo Risin

    Oh boy, here we go. So I want to start by saying I pedal all of my bikes. I’m a racer, I train year round and bust my a$$ to be in shape and the best rider I can be and get on the podium. I earn all of my climbs. That being said, earlier this year I met a gentlemen in the parking lot of one of my local trail system on an ebike and we got talking. The conversation led to me taking his ebike for a spin around the parking lot. WOW, yes it felt like cheating. It was so effortless to go so fast. I thought about it a lot that night. I spend many hours every week dedicated to my craft, to become better, to earn my climbs and here is this guy out crushing my times with ease. A part of it made me a little mad, so mad in fact that I flagged all of his strava activities. But at the end of the day, mountain biking means something different for everyone. For me it’s about bettering myself, being competitive, staying fit, enjoying the outdoors. Maybe for this guy it was just getting out there, going fast and putting a smile on his face. How is my view of what mountain biking is, better or more valid than his? Making the argument that it’s worse for the trails is the same argument hikers and equestrians have been making against us for years with limited proof to back it up. So reluctantly, my view is…..if it makes you happy and doesn’t harm anyone, then there shouldn’t be such a revolt against it. Life is too short to devote so much time fighting something so insignificant at the end of the day. To each their own.
    To the argument of this being a slippery slope, I still wouldn’t put an ebike in the same classification as a dirt bike. It’s not scaring off wildlife with a loud motor any more than you are on a normal bike. Its not spewing exhaust into the air. Its not in the same realm, I’m sorry.

    • Mr Mojo Risin

      There are some riders out there (not me) that are just as fast as some people on an ebike. So if they aren’t loud like a dirtbike (just as quiet as a normal bike) and aren’t spewing out exhaust and it’s merely a matter of speed, then do we need to regulate how fast people are allowed to go on the trails? If speed isn’t the issue, then what is?

    • dtimms

      I agree with a ton of what you said, but, there are electric dirt bikes that a crazy fast. They don’t make noise and they don’t spew exhaust.

      I am fine with people riding E-Bikes. I don’t get it but don’t have too, not my life. All that said, it isn’t a mountain bike, it is an E-Bike. Just like a road bike isn’t a mountain bike even though you can ride it on singletrack. Let’s call it what it is, and motorized bike or E-Bike. We don’t need to blur the lines on this.

    • Jeff Barber

      @dtimms, this is certainly an open question. Where do eMTBs fit?

      Even if we say e-bikes are e-bikes, people will still want to distinguish between electrics that are meant for commuting vs. riding gnarly trails vs. hauling cargo. Fat bikes are mountain bikes, but so are DH bikes with 10″ of travel and everything in between.

      So, semantics? Doesn’t seem worthwhile to argue over what a mountain bike is (or isn’t), which is what I think this piece is trying to say.

      I personally don’t think the e-bike companies did themselves any favors by calling these “electric” instead of “pedal assist” bikes. For me, saying motorized isn’t as descriptive or nuanced as saying pedal assist. But again, it’s just semantics… what really matters is how this all fits together.

      One of our writers actually once tried to come up with a clear definition for mountain biking, and found it was difficult to say the least. Wikipedia has a simple definition for mountain bike: “a BICYCLE designed for off-road cycling.” Going one step lower, it defines BICYCLE as “a human-powered or motor-powered, pedal-driven, single-track vehicle, having two wheels attached to a frame, one behind the other.”

      Of course Wikipedia is not the end-all, be-all source of truth and many of us will disagree with this definition. Heck, someone from an e-bike company might’ve edited the definition to include the motor-driven bit. The point is, it’s unlikely everyone will ever agree with a definition, which is why it’s important to go beyond semantics and understand how these choices affect all of us.

    • rmap01

      While we can define this many ways, I don’t think we should be defining “what a mountain bike is”. I would argue that any bike designed to be ridden off-road qualifies as a mountain bike. To me it comes down to motorized vs non-motorized and this is how many land owners have defined them. And since e-bikes have a motor they clearly fall in the “motorized” category, regardless of whether the motor is “on” or “off” at any given moment, whether that motor is doing all or some of the work, and, I would argue, irrespective of whether the engine is electric or gas powered.

      It’s after this that the lines get blurred. The question in my mind is does the existence of a motor – in and of itself – cause greater risk to trails and /or pose a greater safety risk to other trail users.

  • Azmtbkr

    Friends in the industry say that bike companies are pushing e-bikes HARD. This is a potential gold mine for them espcially if e-bikes are given widespread access to non-motorized trails.

    I still am confused as to how e-bikes differ from scooters, mopeds, and motorcycles more generally. Where do we draw the line? Additionally, if riders are in such poor shape that they can’t ride back to the trailhead under their own power after a breakdown or dead battery then that’s a problem. Everyone needs to know their own limitations, that’s the sad reality of being a human. The e-bike debate reminds me of underprepared, out of shape clients paying Sherpas to short rope them up Everest. It’s just bad ethics.

    • Legbacon

      They have more in common with scooters, mopeds, and motorcycles than bicycles.

  • cromagno

    I like the writer’s tone of conciliation but one element I’m not seeing mentioned is that physical fitness level is a proxy for overall skill. To frame it locally (as in Jefferson County), if you can climb up Belcher Road on your own, you’ve got skills…skills enough to safely descend Longhorn, an advanced bit of DH. Now if you cruise up Belcher on an e-bike, you might not know that you can really get hurt as an unskilled rider descending Longhorn’s gleeful gnarfest of vert. The uphill struggle trails like this acts as a filter for riders that maybe shouldn’t be attempting the technical DH portions.

    Another local favorite, Apex has almost too easy of an uphill. The downhill through the Apex gut can be really dangerous and I see a ton of newbies attempting something that they should be working up to over several seasons. I think e-bikes could exacerbate this trend towards newb’s attempting stuff where they could easily get seriously injured on the down and also without having had the time to internalize the code of behavior that one (hopefully) gets after a long time spent trying to share trails with others.

  • Mr Mojo Risin

    @dtimms so is it merely a matter of bike classification that is the problem with ebikes on the trail? Is that any different than an xc bike vs a downhill bike? I’m not trying to be argumentative, I’m just curious what the revolt is about.

    • dtimms

      @Mr Mojo Risin – I don’t really have a problem with them on the trail because my experience isn’t really impacted by someone on an E-bike. I think we do need to call these what they are, mainly to stay off that slippery slope of electric dirt bikes on trails. Electric dirt bikes are just quiet dirt bikes and do cause trail damage and conflicts. I say call it what it is.

      I have to say it kind of bothers me that people are looking for the easy way to do something that is inherently difficult. Totally my insecurity. I ride a SS so my brain is a little off when it comes to effort. Oh, and I hate bike companies selling people these crazy expensive bikes that are probably going to be service nightmares with software/hardware/battery updates.

    • Larry Conger

      dude you don’t have a clue on what your talking about, go learn to research the topic and go try one and see what its all about

  • Mr Mojo Risin

    @dtimms, I get what you are saying. I honestly don’t know enough about nor have I ever seen an electric dirt-bike to really make any comment about them.

    I too have a SS so I can relate to you there. That difficulty level is our personal choice however. Just because we prefer a certain difficulty level or style, we shouldn’t turn our noses up at someone who prefers something easier. Engineers will always be looking for ways to make things more efficient and easier, its what they do. Whether its having a 1×12 eagle drive train or a full carbon frame and wheelset with a full high end suspension, we’re always looking for improvements in efficiency, it’s the way humans work. Do I want that titanium driver or is it more authentic and traditional to be on the links with the 1970s wooden one? Do I want that liquid cooled motor with the wet slipper clutch or an air cooled motor with a cable clutch and carburetor? Some of this (not all of it) boils down to traditionalism and fear of radical change.

  • Mr Mojo Risin

    Okay, I see your argument now. So is a viable solution limiting power output? Similar to how some race cars are not street legal? Any ebike/e-dirtbike over a (conservative) engine level not allowed on singletrack? The easy solution is a blanket wide ban but that’s similar to how bikes have been banned from wilderness areas falling under that “no other form of mechanical transport” blanket and as we can both agree isn’t the solution.

    • dtimms

      I am pretty sure most places are putting limits on E-Bike power for this reason. I am sure people will hack them and get around the limits, but people are dicks. All that said, to me, it is really about semantics and designation (@Jeff Barber). E-Bikes are not mountain bikes and we shouldn’t call them that. They have a motor.

  • Larry Zakreski

    I started mountain biking in 1980, at the age of thirty, while I was living in Jasper National Park. This was the first time I had been on a bike since my early teens, and I loved it. I bought a brand new Specialized Stumpjumper, and enjoyed wheeling around the trails of Jasper with my faithful K9 companion running along with me, to negotiate and mediate in the too frequent encounters with Grizzly bears … who really did not yet know what a mountain biker was. Back then, back there, you couldn’t call yourself a REAL mountain biker, until you had your very own Grizzly encounter story to tell.

    Back then I was in SUPERB condition, and pedalling up or down was a joy …
    but that was then and this is NOW!

    Times change.
    I am 70 now, not as fit as I once was, especially after an argument with a step ladder this year tore up my knee … again. I have had a bicycle in my life for most of the past 40 years, usually some type of mountain bike. But for the last few years, every Spring, when the biking season starts up again, I have been finding it more and more difficult, and my thoughts turn to ELECTRIC PEDAL ASSIST.

    My Drs have told me the best thing to rehabilitate my knee, is bicycling. No big surprise there, we all know mountain biking is great for fitness and health (unless a Grizzly catches you). However, my latest K9 companion is also slowing down, and so requires a bike trailer to haul her around when she runs out endurance. And honestly, the only practical option for my situation seems to be an Ebike, for when I run out of steam along with her.

    So after forty years of mountain biking, am I now to be scorned and despised and blocked from trails because I can no longer keep up the pace?

    Sad!

    • craige

      Larry, I’m only 65 and have been enjoying/loving mountain biking for as long as I can remember. I define myself by my love of biking. My wife and I have been ebiking for over two years now. The happiness these bikes bring to us cannot be adequately described. The only downside are the frequent encounters with the haters on the trails, which seem to be about 1% of all the user groups. Yes, we pass most pedal power riders on long climbs even though we ride at the lowest power settings.

      Bikes will be allowed on all trails which currently allow mountain bikes. It will take some time though. In the meantime yes, I am a ‘poacher’.

    • Plusbike Nerd

      I’m 60. I know there is going to come a time when I won’t be able to mountain bike but that doesn’t mean I deserve to ride a motorcycle where ever I want just because I’m old or disabled. If you want to ride a motorcycle there are many place where you have access—gravel roads, 4WD roads, ORV designated areas, etc. I suspect there are more places to ride motorcycles than to ride mountain bikes. Just because you are old and disabled doesn’t give you the right to destroy wild places. If you need easy cycling , try road riding or gravel biking. I want some wilderness to be left for my children and grandchildren!

    • Billy Robbins

      Incredible story, Larry. I’ve been an avid mountain biker for a few years now and believe smiles per mile is the only way to rank this wonderful activity. Whether that’s securing a podium finish, nailing a feature that’s plagued you, or just getting out into the woods, everyone has a spot. Like all new technologies in cycling including suspension front and then rear (didn’t see that one coming, did you?), there will be a group of people accepting, and a group of people claiming it’ll make the sport too easy. Mountain biking means different things to different people, and that’s really where the line should be drawn. Being an owner of an electric dirt bike (KTM Freeride), I literally laugh when people try and draw comparisons to ebikes because the comparison can’t be made. All things are not proportional, and we must be understanding of what others want/need to get out of this sport. As long as you’re enjoying yourself and not damaging the trails, all should be welcome.

  • Adamant2319

    Ha this is how we motorcyclist feel about about you guys. I don’t mind giving you guys room on the trails, we’re all just enjoying ourselves and loving nature but every year you take more and more of the trails that we blaze and ban us from them. I have to ride well over an hour just to hit any trails.

    • Jeff Barber

      I keep reminding myself that hikers probably see mountain bikers the same way mountain bikers see motorcyclists (and now e-cyclists). Trail access doesn’t always have to be a zero sum game.

    • Plusbike Nerd

      I disagree! It is a zero sum game. Have you ever ridden some place where motorcycles are allow? I have and it stinks and it’s loud. Before very long, the whole area is trashed with tracks going everywhere. Are we going to continue to pollute and destroy the environment just because we’re having a love affair with motors. However, go some place that bans motors and even if heavily use by hikers and mountain bikers, the place still retains it’s wild character. It’s the motorized vs. the non-motorized! Pick a side!

    • Adamant2319

      Bro I’ve picked up more trash from popular MTB areas than back country trails with motorcycles. I will admit there are a ton of dirt bikes that do trash areas but they generally stay in areas such as rampart Range OHV areas. I ride with a lot of older guys, some of whom blazed the trails near Boulder some 50 years ago that now ban motorcycles. I’m a firm believer in minimizing your impact and staying on the trails but I also believe that if you blaze it you can’t be banned from it.

  • TchncnDen

    I’m pretty sure this is the same Matt Miller I rode with a couple years ago in Keystone, I also live in the same county in Colorado. I think the mistake Jefferson County made was to do the trial on a wide open area. No blind corners, no technical riding. That means hikers aren’t going to be surprised and hikers or bikers won’t be passing on difficult terrain. Now that they made ebikes equal in all parks/trails this could be interesting.

    My take is this. There are many hiker only trails in the county, zero bike only trails. I’ve seen several trails closed to mountain bikes in my 16 years here and I think there will be many more closures once the ebikes gain popularity. With the population boom we’ve been having, the trails are getting seriously crowded and I can see bike bans in the future regardless. Ebikes will have people going fast up the trail and slow down, because they won’t (all) be the best riders. This will lead to even more problems.

    I can see reasons why an ebike would be fun and I think there should be places to ride them, just not everywhere. Lumping them into the same category as all MTBs is just going to get all MTBs kicked out of more places. I hope I’m wrong.

    • eyekickbootie

      The trial in Jeffco covered ALL trails. There were no more conflicts reported with eMTBs than with MTBs in general.

    • networkcowboy

      TchncnDen – actually Jeffco recently made part of Longhorn bike only (and one-way downhill only too)

    • plasticsguy

      Plusbike Nerd, your knowledge of ebikes is sorely lacking. Call them a motorcycle all you want but they are NOT. A motorcycle doesn’t have pedals. Then you say you’ve seen how motorcycles have torn up the trails and insinuating that ebikes are doing the same. This is a lie, which anyone who has rode an ebike or with others on ebikes can attest to. They go no faster than a fairly fit rider. We ebikers do not want to ride away from the group, we are there for the camaraderie, the group ride! Some of us are unable to keep up but don’t want to give up riding with our friends through no fault of our own and yet folks like you would take that away from us for no other reason than your lack of knowledge or tolerance of what doesn’t fit your definition of what should and shouldn’t be allowed on the trail. You sir, are what’s wrong with mountain biking. You are the one that would define us as something to be hated, vilified and shunned. You are the elitist type of people our sport doesn’t need. You seek to divide us, to seperate us, to make us less then what we can be as one. Like it or not ebikes are here and with the amount of fun that they are they won’t be leaving, they are here to stay.

    • Legbacon

      A bicycle doesn’t have a motor. Call it a moped, motor and pedals.

  • eyekickbootie

    Every comment section on every website that ever dared to present a positive spin on eBikes ends up with the same ignorant people pretending to be the gatekeepers for the Holy Sport Of Mountain Biking, 95% of whom have never even ridden an eMTB and couldn’t even describe how one works.

    I’ve ridden hundreds of MTB races and ridden thousands upon thousands of trail miles in about twenty states, so save your holier-than-thou dick-waving about “earning” anything. A Class 1 eMTB is just a bicycle. I could ride way faster in my prime on a hardtail than I can on my Class 1 eMTB. Thirty-five years later, i still ride my MTB on most rides, but on those days when I am riding 4000 feet of vertical over 40 miles, or just trying to keep up with some younger riders, I’ll grab the eMTB and have way more fun than I have in years. Like the author, I live on the Front Range of CO, and between the Jeffco trails, the state parks, and the Forest Service motorized trails, I have all the eMTB fun I want. It has been years since I have seen an MTB on Kingston Peak. I rode my eMTB up there twice last year and had a total blast. eMTBs make for more riding possibilities and more fun, but only if you can put aside your social media-fed judgemental egos and just have fun. it really is mountain biking at its finest.

    I have run into two different members of the MTB Hall of Fame in Moab who were riding their Levo’s. I asked them what they do when someone disses them for riding an eMTB, and they both said they just tell them to f** off. If you are on a legal trail, it is no one’s business whether someone is on an eMTB or not. Its all just riding bikes, bros.

  • Plusbike Nerd

    Just like IMBA couldn’t figure out that they were supposed to be a pro-mountain bike organization, it seems that Singletracks needs to figure out if it is a pro-mountain bike organization. Is Singletracks in the pocket of bike corporations? Part of what makes me suspicious is that I have never seen an anti-ebike article published by Singletracks. If your going to write editorials present both sides.

    • Matt Miller

      @Plusbike Nerd, maybe you should search for Greg Heil’s opinion article “E-bikes are the spawn of Satan” that was published on here for a piece that wont offend you. Both sides have been presented. Save your embarrassment, I stand by what I wrote. Comments like yours are what inspired me to write this.

  • Plusbike Nerd

    Remember the words of Joni Mitchell. “They paved paradise and they put up a parking lot”. Keep wild places wild!

  • Dane Clay

    BS to any negativity concerning E-bikes. Until all have experienced time on one you will soon see that it us much ado about nothing. My personal experience has been positive. In many ways an E-bike is less invasive by 20 mph limiter, better traction due to weight and plus tires which seems to be the new norm for trail bikes. I break and disturb trail much less then full pedal bikes going up and down. Going down is slower by far you have engine break and weight of bike after 20 mph.
    I have a full squish and two hard tail non E-bikes that I would never give up for what they offer but an E-bike brings other elements to the table, recovery days, trail maintenance bike with trailer, feels more exploratory and a definitive playfulness. Americans egotistical and misinformational view on E-bikes will diminish over time when more swing a leg over one and open themselves to a new experience. Naysayers and the ignorant will come to pass

  • Sea Loam

    Nothing against these motor things just as long as they have there own designated fire trails. Keep them away from cyclists unless climb speed is limited to 8mph.

  • bild

    Matt, you’re attempting to blur the distinction between motorized bikes and human-powered bikes; a profound distinction that makes a world of difference but IS consistent with your bike industry paymasters. Moreover, you totally miss the most important issue here while failing to draw a rational conclusion. I’m not buying.

    The fact of the matter is that if (a big if) e-mtb’s proliferate in any seriously significant way and are not specifically (enforced) restricted in where or when they can be allowed, there is a very real likelihood that human-powered trail riding and riders will suffer and have to sacrifice (properly understood as giving up something they value more for something they implicitly value less) to one degree or another.

    Just imagine 5 or 10 years down the road riding your mountain bike on a lovely Saturday on your favorite and challenging single track trail only to find literally packs of riders mounted on e-bikes clogging up the trail. Or, imagine riders on e-bikes frequently rolling up from behind you at speeds only an e-bike can sustain on difficult terrain causing you to have to stop your ride to let these riders roll on by – on a trail section that requires a steady grind and effort to handle, thus ruining the whole ride for you while you allow an e-biker (or group of them) to enjoy their relatively effortless day in the sun just so they can get a selfie up top. All of this could easily be missed by a half-baked survey of rider frequency, or some convoluted notion of fairness applied to trail access. The fact that it may very well happen (and not the frequency) is the salient point.,You’re talking about motorized bikes here and they will only become more powerful, lighter, and more agile with time.

    Think I am being extreme? Keep in mind that, on balance, we have relatively limited amounts of single track trails and the vast majority of them are designed specifically for human-powered riders. Also note who, on balance, has paid for and committed untold hours of labor to see become a reality (I have participated in both funding and donated my time and efforts in trail building and maintenance). Additionally, I would argue that it is clearly the strategy of the bike industry and its participating e-bike retailers to promote the very type of half-minded arguments you’re making so as to increase the volume of e-bikes sold, and thus manufactured, so that they can justifiy a far lower price point in due course. What happens then? They market and sell a huge amount of E-bikes at a far lower price, but on balance make much more profit (which is not evil, in and of itself). And they will get there by promotion and advertising that e-bikes can be ridden ANYWHERE a regular mountain bike can. The result will be that e-bikes will proliferate significantly and manifest in ways you simply have no way of projecting (and in all fairness, neither do I – but clearly without restrictions there will be conflicts).

    Then there is the issue of how we leave our legacy to those coming up. Kids and their kids. Do we promote a vision of riding e-bikes because it’s easy, faster, and more profitable for retailers and bike makers? And to a kid with no other reference frame, more fun? Why do all that work when you can just jump on the e-bike and reverse the laws of causality? We already have legions of entitlement-premised people looking for a free ride, the last thing we need is for the cycling industry to promote it further. But make no mistake, that’s exactly what much of this is, and the major beneficiaries are the bike manufacturers and e-bike centric retailers. This implicit vision of the bike manufacturers and e-bike centric retailers who lobby heavily (or engage in influence pedaling) in counties like Jefferson, Colordo to allow for e-bikes on trails designed for human-powered riding is what has-and will be-driving e-bike trail access.

    The real question and issue here is why should I as a rider have to sacrifice anything for someone who rides an e-bike on trails designed for human-powered riding? Before any further advocating for e-bikes, how about you lay out the philosophical world-view that supports such a sacrifice rather than some relativistic line-blurring that tacitly obligates my sacrifice so you can engage in yet another flavor of instant gratification (which is actually what an e-bike subsumes), or some convoluted form of virtue signalling.

    Now, having said all of the above, here’s the rational conclusion that should be drawn regarding e-bikes. Get this – I actually have no problem with the development, marketing, manufacture and sales of e-bikes! But, like a lot of other things, there is a rational and thoughtful use for them and it’s not on single track trails designed for human-powered use. If the bike industry wants to profit from all of this it is their obligation to fund the construciton of dual use or motorized use bike trails. Moreover, on currently designed public trails (clearly built with human-powered riding, hiking, or horseback riding in mind) there needs to be strict enforcement of e-bike prohibition. Where do they make sense? On roads, bike paths, two-track forest, gravel road areas, and the aforementioned industry-funded multi-use trails. Areas and locations where conflict is clearly not going to be an issue is where e-bikes are perfectly suited.

    But please, let’s not let the e-bike genie out of the bottle on the precious (and in wilderness areas shrinking) miles of sustainable single track we do have. Rather, let us promote rational use of e-bikes and in doing so strive to maintain the grand traditions of effort and learning curve so that those kids coming up will be able to experience many of the same rewards you espouse in your article, and you and I will not have to sacrice for others relatively effortless pleasure. We owe it to the sport/activity we all love to stand up to profiteering at the expense of a far greater value, not to mention taking a stand against sacrifice on its face.

  • Manwell

    Honda 500.
    The problem with ebike is simple. They are easily modified (look on youtube). And the tech is changing so fast that in a few years they will have the power to weight ratio of …(see above).
    Best not to open pandora box.

    • Legbacon

      So true, there are ones capable of 50mph now. Who’s going to police this?

  • Dane Clay

    I see both points, but nonetheless e-bikes are here to stay and growing worldwide exponentially. In and around my area eastern Pa there has been no repercussions from e-bikes sharing all trails. Other then friendly banter. Most of those purchasing them like myself are expert to pro rider level for self shuttles. It only took one rider to squash anti e-bike sentiments. Now half a dozen of us are out there enjoying the benefits. Each to his own but if you haven’t spent time on one then you have no authority to express any negativity.

    • Jeff Barber

      Haha, great find.

    • Legbacon

      This is absolutely wrong because neither of these have a motor.

    • dtimms

      I would say DH’er to XC or Fat Biker is more like skier vs snowboarder.

  • CAVU

    I’m new to this forum, wow very emotional topic. I took some time to do a little analysis. Of 51 comments and numerous replies,… here is what I came up with. (Subjecive as it may be) 68% Con 23% Pro 11% Neutral
    From the Con group, 20% made an impassioned thoughtful argument, 80% ranged from simply claiming a side to outright bigotry, hate, and the equivalent of slut shamming. The Pro side mostly tried to make their case without passing judgment on those who feel the opposite, though very few recognized the potential of ruining it for everyone else. The neural stayed safe but all focused on the need to build bridges not walls.
    I’m 62 to
    I work in the mtn bike industry
    I ride: bikes; trail and road, motorcycles; trail and road, cars; road and track.ive ridden in the past ATV and side by’s….
    And I want to buy an ebike, a hard tail with some front suspension. Why? For all who posted think of every reason you do and it is the same for me. I can’t make it up the hills anymore but if technology will help why not. I’m not going to be passing anyone up or down. I don’t heal well anymore and after a total of 600 stitches and some broken stuff I don’t push it anymore. While riding or driving all of those different modes, I never saw a human riding/driving an a..hole, but I saw plenty of a..holes riding or driving there choice of transportation. You get some young stud riding there ebike like a maniac scaring people and putting them in danger..police your own peers/community. If you happen to see some old fart beeing an idiot, educate him / her on what they risk for everyone. And remember until the late 70s hikers equestrians didn’t have to share with anyone. I’m guessing they fell a lot like native Americans, it doesn’t matter they were here first

    • Adamant2319

      Very well laid out argument. Thank you for presenting both facts and unemotional logic

  • rmap01

    For the eBike crowd, I think it’s important to understand that there are legitimate concerns re: eBikes being expressed that I don’t think should be dismissed out of hand as they impact all of us. As a starting point, we need to recognize that MTB’ers are already considered the red-headed step child and are at risk of potentially losing access to trails. We’ve seen this happen in a number of areas already at the federal, state and local levels. Now add a bicycle with a motor into the mix. Does that further increase our risk of potentially losing trail access?

    The main questions in my mind are (a) do eBikes pose a greater threat to trails and (b) do eBikes pose a greater risk to other trail users. In most simplistic terms this comes down to two factors: weight and speed, with speed having a far greater impact. If the same person rode a MTB, and eMTB and even a motor bike at the same speed I suspect that the difference in trail impact (for most trails) would be minimal. However, as you increase the speed – and acceleration – the impact of each would generate more force thus impacting the trails more. It’s this increase in speed – and acceleration – that also potentially increases the risk to other trail users.

    If speed could indeed be limited – and I would argue there is no NEED for pedal assist over 10mph – and not hacked to go faster I would have little issue with eMTB (at least no more so than those non-physically limited people that park in a handicapped space that could just as easily walk the extra 20 feet 😉 But unless the issue of speed gets addressed I believe we wind up putting all forms of mountain biking in an even more precarious situation than we already are today… and that’s not good for anyone.

    For sake of simplicity I’ll put this in two categories. Cat A: those that are physically limited in some way due to age, injury,physical handicap, etc. and Cat B: those that are not physically limited.

    • DaleRider

      You realise that ebikes are not faster than regular bikes, right? They just require less effort. So if you’re worried about speed, you’ll probably need to ban all Cat 1, 2 3 racers from riding too.

  • DaleRider

    Ebikes are the best thing to happen in a long time. They’re bicycles. They ride like bicycles but you feel like you’ve got fresh legs every ride. It’s freaking awesome. I’ve been riding and racing mountain bikes since 1988 so I’ve been riding long enough to remember when mountain bikes first got full suspension. Back then some people claimed it was BS and now bicycles were turning into motorcycles and they were going to be able to go so fast on the trails that people would get hurt or banned. That was STUPID and lame. And the anti ebike argument is equally so and is based on stupid notions and preconceptions. I have a whole house full of mountain bikes and yes, I own an EBIKE. In fact I enjoy riding it so much I find myself on it more than regular bikes. I think a lot of the problem is that people just don’t even understand what an ebike is, how it rides, or what is about. They read bro comments online about how these are motorcycles. It would be laughable if some people weren’t taking it seriously. I’ll be damned of someone is going to tell me I’m a lazy ass who doesn’t want to pedal or someone who doesn’t belong on trails. I’m someone who loves the sport and loves riding and has been there, done that, built that, ridden that and ebikes are another level of fun. There are quite a few pro racers who have begun using ebikes as part of their training routines. They don’t give a damn who rides what because they know they’re faster than you, ebike or not. Their ego’s don’t rely on strava segments or the worry that someone on an ebike might take their KOM. There were quite a few enduro guys on ebikes using them to pre ride World Cup and Nationals courses this past year, same with cross country. Enough with your pre conceived notions of who or what an ebike owner is.

  • collinWade

    I manage 2 trail networks in Vermont, and I am a proponent of eBike use on appropriate trails that have been designated for eBike use. But, eBikes are in fact motorcycles (no question) and as such there use is not appropriate for all trails.
    What I believe should & will happen is that the default position will be “no eBikes”, and networks will open up access specifically welcoming eBike use.
    As one of our trail maintenance tools, we have a fat tire, pedal assist,eBike, that has racks to carry a chainsaw, fuel, and other tools to enable or crew to use their time efficiently while clearing blow-downs, to scout the trails for issues, and importantly it’s available for search & rescue missions. But, that bike is not used for general riding, only for work tasks, because our trails are all posted to eBikes.

  • epaul2011

    I ran into an elderly gentleman a few summers ago several miles from the trailhead. He was riding with his son and he was on an eBike. I asked about his bike and he went in the defense “it’s either this or I don’t bike at all.” I had to explain that I wasn’t one of ‘those guys’ and I asked if I could tag along with them for a bit. I made up my mind on eBikes that day when I saw a man in his late 70s ride like he was in his 30s. He had arthritis, a disease that crippled my mother. Yet there he was, overcoming the physical pain with adrenaline and the joy of mountain biking. Remember, for a lot of us, biking is about comradery and the adventure of getting out in the woods…. the things that heal your mental health while feeding your physical being. To add another bit to the story…. my wife has had a valve in her heart replaced twice by the age of 25. We recently found out she needs another valve repaired. She loves mountain biking. I’ll be buying her an eBike so she can continue to love mountain biking. And if I can’t keep up with her on my 5010cc, I’ll be buying myself an eBike. Cheers y’all

  • MTB_Chumley

    Greetings,

    I am new to this site so be gentle…

    There is a TL:DR at the bottom just above my signature. Everything between here and there is just my opinion.

    My current ride is a 2010 Gary Fisher Marlin I call “The Boss Rig” for no particular reason. I don’t have a big-dollar rig because frankly, I don’t feel I need one.

    Full disclosure: I infrequently MTB in the ‘classic’ single-track sense these days. I am much more into rail-trail gravel-type distance/overnight-camping type riding (~2500 miles this summer). I currently use the local reservoir’s trails more for walking my dog but I have spent many days in the saddle of both MTB and dirt motorcycles over my 56 years.

    As a long-term bicyclist (my first 1K mile trip was in 1981), once-upon-a-time motorcycle racer (’91-’95; a former WERA Formula Clubman Mid-Atlantic Regional Champion – yeah sounds impressive but the trophies float in water…), and dirt-motorcyclist who still rides both motorcycles and bicycles I gotta say: E-bikes are motorcycles. Call them glorified mopeds if you want, but once you put a motor on a cycle, it is by definition a motorcycle.

    My ‘anti-ebike’ thoughts are mostly about trail usage, specifically erosion, and rider overall safety.

    Erosion: Once you put a motor on it, you increase the amount of erosion it causes. More power to the wheel equals more opportunity for tire slip and all slippage causes erosion. That, in my experience, is unavoidable. So my biggest concern when it comes to ebikes is that, eventually, they will cause trail use issues not due to speed but due to increased erosion. Once the hikers and state park rangers etc. start noting this, access for all bicycles will get restricted or we will have to work hard to retain it. At my local reservoir where they allow MTB, there are already serious restrictions about how close to the water you can ride (too close? $100 ticket!!), and those restrictions are all about erosion caused by pedal bikes. You can hike those close-to-the-water trails but you can’t bike them. Sure it won’t happen as fast as if we all had big-bore motorcycle-size horsepower, but it will happen.

    Safety: My other ‘anti-ebike’ thought is one of speed differential. Speed doesn’t kill, the differential between the relative speeds kills. You die hitting a wall because of the difference between your speed and the wall’s speed. Bicycles have a built-in protection against this in some part because speeds are restricted to how fast you can pedal, ergo speeds between riders is relatively same-same (all things being somewhat equal). But put a motor into the equation and suddenly you have much greater differentials. Say you are climbing the local killer hill at 4mph on pedal power alone, and someone comes up from behind you on e-power at 12 mph. Now that dude has to pass you with 8mph in hand, 4x your speed (!), on a single-track trail. Not only does the danger come at you from behind where you cannot see it nor do you likely expect it (at that speed differential anyway), but it comes at a rate that can hurt you (200lb rider @ 12mph = 100 (1/2 Mass) x 144 (Velocity squared)=), 14,400lbs of kinetic energy. Since you are both going the same direction we can take away your energy (100lbs x 16 = 1600) and you have a kinetic energy equal to 12,400 lbs. That is 6+ TONS of kinetic energy available to be transferred from him to you if he hits you from behind. He will toss you into the weeds like you weigh nothing. You wont likely enjoy it. Also, that additional speed equals additional braking distance, and assuming the person is using an ebike because they are not the fittest, and they are not the fittest because they don’t do this all that much (experience level)….and you have a recipe for hurt. I hope that dude has insurance because when he breaks my hitting me on his motorized vehicle he IS going to pay for it. Racetracks do not allow small-bore and big-bore motorcycles on the track at the same time for these speed differential reasons, and the same should apply to pedal and ebikes on trails.

    That same speed boost is dangerous to the rider too. Say you are somewhat fit, what speed can an ebike on full boost combined with a fit rider pedaling do then? And if they are ‘only bicycles’ is the safety gear most people ride in going to be effective? What about modded motors? Ever hit the ground at 25-30mph in what is effectively a t-shirt and shorts? Yeah this can occur on pedal bikes in certain scenarios (talking about average riders here) but motors make it able to occur everywhere and so it will. Once this starts happening to people who don’t ride a lot, and aren’t wearing helmets or proper gear, or didn’t walk out their front door prepared to be hurt like all experienced MTBers do, the lawyers will start singing and the insurance companies will start voicing their opinions to no-ones benefit but their own. I think this will be exacerbated by the ebike making the unskilled rider go places they are not ready for, and that their natural lack of ability would otherwise preclude them from. So on top of the speeds you have people going places they aren’t prepped for in any way, and the result will be people hurt, lands/trails closed to bicycles, and insurance companies sticking their noses into bicycling worse than ever. You will have to purchase bicycle insurance one day, and prove you have it before you are allowed to ride public trails, if this scenario comes to pass.

    I understand the CPSC (U.S. federal regs) has a 20mph limit on these vehicles but that’s on electrics alone. Add the rider pedaling and a lot of people who don’t ride much will be able to go faster than their safety equipment can handle.

    That being said I can see the view of others, especially those who say ebikes allow more people to participate who otherwise couldn’t. I am 56 so that 70yr old eMTB-ing with gusto gives me great hope for my future. Although, I don’t want to be around when he hits the dirt too hard and can’t get himself and that heavy ebike out of the woods but that is his life-call, not mine. Also, living in Maryland where there is no place to ride a dirt motorcycle on public lands outside of state parks that restrict you to the dirt roads and 15mph, I get that we need to give e-bikers a place to ride. So it is seems unfeasible to outright ban them on all trails.

    As to anger about ‘cheaters’ or whatever, I simply don’t have any. I have been passed on a climb by an ebike , and all I thought was “Why do they let motorcycles on this trail’? I don’t consider them to be bicycles at all so they are no threat to my admittedly delicate ego.

    Additionally, to riders reviews about how the ebike feels so different, especially ‘plowing’ on downhills. I would say that is likely because they are riding a motorcycle like a bicycle, and the details are distinctly different. Once you have a motor you don’t use gravity or pedaling the same, you use the motor, and trying to not use the motor, or not knowing how to use the motor properly, will only slow you down. Since you don’t pedal like you would without a motor the balance, pedal positions mid-corner, and drive/braking points (where you apply -or don’t apply- power) are, in my opinion, quite different. You don’t ride a 200cc motorcycle like you do a 450cc one because the power is distinctly different, and to me the same applies to pedal vs ebike.

    Continuing, I believe ebikes will not be particular ‘good’ for bicycling in general in the long term. They are not bicycles in truth, but bicycles are being lumped in with them and once they cause issues ALL bicycles will be banned etc. So overall I think ebikes are bad for our sport as long as people continue to consider them bicycles. I also think that once the novelty wears off and the motors/batteries get better we will see the pedals disappear because who will need them then? Once you see some old couple sitting on the side of even a rail-trail with a broken/discharged ebike they can’t get back to their car, you likely wont see them again out there until they have an ebike that has the range and such that pedaling isn’t required. So pedals will disappear and your riding a motorcycle unequivocally. To this point I feel that any bicycle manufacturer positioning their e-bike as a bicycle, and using their voice to lobby to keep them on the same trails as pedal bikes, is doing the sport a great disservice just to make a buck.

    Remember, when reading the above paragraphs, that I am talking about ebikes used by the ‘general population’ much more so than hard-core dedicated MTB-ers. YOU might be fine forever on an ebike because you are an experienced hard-core bicyclist, but the ‘great unwashed masses’ are coming because ebikes enable them..and it’s going to change our sport forever for the worse if we allow these motorized vehicles to be on the same trails as human-power-only pedal bikes.

    Ebikes could offer a sort of entertainment to pedal-bikers though: When I ride my dirt motorcycle and find some poor sap on an ATV out in the woods with a broken A-arm or other steering/suspension bit that has them unable to get back to their car because the front wheels are pointing different directions, I just laugh out loud. What did they expect? ATVs are NOT dirt-bikes either! I expect this will be the same for ebikes…you will find them out in the woods huffing and puffing to get their broke-butt or battery-drained ebike back to the car. Smile as you pass them 🙂

    To me, the only solution is to restrict ebikes to places that allow motorized vehicles, or create ‘ebike only’ areas/trails. I agree it is not a perfect solution but there simply isn’t a perfect solution here in my view while ebikes are considered to be pedal bikes. The key is they are motorcycles, NOT bicycles, so don’t treat them as such. Motorized and non-motorized vehicles using the same trail is just a recipe for disaster both ecologically to the trail and physically to the riders.

    Just my 2 cents! I appreciate all comments etc but as I asked for…be nice! 🙂

    TL:DR: Ebikes are motorized vehicles that introduce increased erosion, speeds possibilities above the ability of standard bicycling safety gear to cope with, and increased speed differentials between riders that will contribute to injuries, lawsuits, and insurance-related land closings and regulatory actions.They are not bicycles anymore and they don’t belong on the same trails as bicycles.

    Cheers!,

    Chumley
    (named for the Walrus from Tennessee Tuxedo, not the moron on TV)
    2010 Gary Fisher Marlin “The Boss Rig”

  • epaul2011

    What do you think causes more erosion?.. an ebike pedaling 12 mph up a 4 mph hill, or a person pushing their bike up the same hill with their feet outside of the singletrack trampling the vegetation that prevents erosion. Also, as many trails are maintained through local IMBA chapters in the form of volunteer man hours and membership $dollars, would allowing ebike owners to purchase memberships and accepting their volunteer man hours hurt or benefit the trails?

    • Sea Loam

      Should be on motorized vehicle trails….PERIOD

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