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Last year we started asking Singletracks readers if they were interested in articles about electric mountain bikes, and found that in 2016 about 82% of you said no. We asked the same question this year, and fewer–77%–said no this time around. This seems to indicate that consumer resistance to electric bikes is slowly wearing off.

Frankly, this decline isn’t surprising. Almost every new technology faces early resistance and uncertainty, only to become more accepted as the technology improves and consumers become educated. But today, consumers are getting much of their information about electric bikes from manufacturers who tend to talk up the benefits without completely addressing the downsides.

Not that anyone should blame them; corporations are in the business of selling things, not necessarily educating consumers. If I’m trying to sell you a pencil, I’ll talk about how lightweight it is and how you can erase whatever you write. But I probably won’t mention the fact that it doesn’t draw lines as dark as a pen. It’s sorta like whenever a mountain bike is updated with a slacker head tube angle and a brand touts the “improved descending performance.” The flip side to that is the bike probably doesn’t climb quite as well as it used to, but everybody knows that, right?

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe it is the media’s job to educate the public by presenting both sides of every story. The media doesn’t always get this right, but it is still an important goal for most good publications, including Singletracks.

Motorized or non-motorized?

For many reasons, electric mountain bikes are an emotionally-charged topic among our readers. Electric mountain bikes are still a new concept, at least here in the USA, and they exist in a gray area between motorized and non-motorized vehicles. Depending on which side you’re on, this may not seem to be a gray area–hence all the heated arguments–but legally speaking, there is no consensus on whether electric mountain bikes are even motorized or not.

For example, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, both US Federal agencies, have decided that electric bicycles are indeed motorized, and therefore are not allowed on trails that have been designated for non-motorized use. Generally, state and local governments follow federal guidance, but local governments have and will continue to come up with their own interpretations.

I recently spoke with representatives of the Tarheel Trailblazers at the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte where electric mountain bikes are currently allowed on the trails, but motorized vehicles are not. I was told the state of North Carolina doesn’t have a legal definition for motorized vehicles that covers electric bikes, nor does the county or city, so land managers for the Whitewater Center came up with their own interpretation. Will e-bike haters stop riding at the Whitewater Center in protest? Perhaps.

Ignoring the e-bike in the room

The passion around this debate has led some to say they never want to read a single article about e-bikes, and that’s okay. But to think that e-bikes won’t impact the sport of mountain biking at all is naive, and so as invested, passionate mountain bikers ourselves, it’s our duty to occasionally talk about e-bikes, good or bad.

Look, we get the argument from the anti e-bike crowd that even talking about electric mountain bikes legitimizes them, potentially putting e-bikes in the same category as human-powered bicycles. But at the end of the day, we believe it’s up to land managers and ultimately the public to make that call–not e-bike owners, not brands, and certainly not the media. We honestly don’t have a dog in this fight–we’re merely observers and chroniclers of this crazy sport called mountain biking. Will e-bikes one day be accepted into our tribe just like fat bikes, or will they find their place in the motorsports community instead? No one knows for sure, which makes it all the more interesting to follow.

So we’ll continue to note that electric mountain bikes are heavy, but they’re easier to pedal. That electric bikes don’t handle as well as regular mountain bikes, but that riders can see more sights in less time. And that there are many trail systems where electric mountain bikes are banned, but others where they are allowed.

If the media is silent on e-bikes, consumers will have no choice but to get their information from manufacturers. Not that the e-bike manufacturers are bad folks–it’s just not their job to present a truly balanced perspective on the products they are selling.

For readers who may be wondering, this isn’t meant to be an announcement or anything–it’s just a reminder that we’ll continue to cover industry news, share our experiences with relevant products, and give voice to the people, like trail builders and riders, who make our sport great.

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# Comments

  • ericshell

    Im a purest. I will never be in favor of these bikes. Kinda defeats the purpose of a human powered MTB. If you want a mini bike just buy one.

    • EvanB719

      Exactly might as well buy a dirtbike if you don’t feel like doing to work. With an e-bike your buying speed not skill

  • Rebus

    Saw an old guy (maybe 60-65 range) at Blankets Creek on an e-bike. I thought, hey, if it gets him out there, let him have his fun.

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    I would say I’m the sort of person eMTBs are being marketed to. I can afford to buy one. I’ve been riding MTB four years. I’m 58 years old. I ride up and over the mountains I live next to every time I go for a ride. It took me most of my first year of riding to become strong enough to get up, over, and around those in mountains. I did a lot of walking, including some sections of fire roads, my first year. When I ride those same sections today I don’t need to walk but I do need to use my lowest gear (30t with 42t rear). And it’s not exactly something I look forward to doing every time I go for a ride. What would happen to my current physical ability to climb those mountains if I bought an eMTB and used it instead of my regular bike? Over time, I would gradually lose my ability to climb those mountains. If I ever wanted to go back to riding a non-assisted MTB I would have a difficult time doing so. It would be like starting over again. Would an eMTB be fun? I’m sure it would be. Would it make the climbs easier? You bet! Would I want to own and ride one? No, I wouldn’t. I appreciate the fact that every time I’m climbing a steep fire road in my lowest gear than I’m staying in shape and, hopefully, becoming stronger every time I ride.

    • onesojourner

      And for those that need a lower gear there are 26t chainrings and 10-50 cassettes. eMTBs should be banned, though I would be ok if there was a medical allowance with a doctor note.

    • stebenoz

      It wouldnt work like that AJ , you would do more volume of riding and push just as hard on the hills and just go faster. But it would allow you to have more volume at an easier intensity as well. You would get off your EMTB and ride the other bike faster. Thats what happens to me. Not all riding on an EMTB is at max assist, you will venture further and ration your battery power so ride at low assist and on a heavy bike that is similar to no assist.

    • John Dennis

      AJ, great for you if you can still get it done at your age. It sounds like you may have no need for the ebike. For others, they are unable for one reason or another to ‘Get to the top’. Buying an e-bike has actually put me in better shape. Rather than not riding because my heart could not handle it, now I ride and get exercise. I imagine many of those that have not tried ebikes are misinformed about how most people ride them. It’s not just riding a motorcycle to the top. I use the least amount of pedal assist (level is adjustable 1-5) to get to the top. I still get a workout the entire time, but I’m actually able to do it. Some days I feel better and use almost no pedal assist, other days are tough and I have to dial it up. Should the time come that you can’t ‘make it to the top’ ebikes will provide an option without giving up the sport.

    • Orinda8

      Unfortunately you are still living with the 20th century assumtions that the harder you exercise the better for your heart and overall health. The 21st century data shows this is not true at all (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, multiple artcles including one this month from Kaiser Permanente). Excercise at a low/moderate level seems to be the healthiest. E-bikes will definitely keep you in shape; as a twenty year mtn biker I now get plenty of exercise on my e-bike

    • rmap01

      My general concern with eMTB is outlined in my comment below. With that said, I personally have no issue for those of you with heart issues that truly need the extra “assist”. I’d like to say that if I were diagnosed with a similar condition I would still have the same general opinion but since I’m not it’s unfair for me to make such a blanket statement. Assuming eMTB does no more damage to trails than a regular MTB I think its hard to argue against their use for MTB’ers whose health is at risk. My issue is with the broader marketing. This is not about a couch potato getting an eMTB to get fit. With two thirds of Americans overweight (many of whom are obese) eMTB is not a solution nor would I expect it to appeal to that segment. (You have a hard enough time getting those people just to walk further than to the kitchen). This is about today’s generation of “I want it now”, many of whom don’t understand – or desire – to put the physical effort in to achieve a goal. It’s all about instant gratification in American culture today and that’s my beef. And it will appeal to those semi-active millennials that think MTB is cool but they don’t want to put the effort in.

      For Orinda8, the studies I’ve read regarding high intensity exercise are being misinterpreted by the masses. In the absence of a heart condition, high intensity exercise is highly beneficial to your health. The following is excerpted from a meta-analysis conducted by Dr. Paul Thompson. “There is no evidence that there is a level of exercise that is dangerous or too much for a normal, healthy person. The exception to that is if you have a heart condition. FREQUENT exercise training at HIGH INTENSITY causes ‘profound changes in cardiac physiology and structure’. But in the process, the heart adapts and changes. Its left and right ventricles enlarge. It begins to look quite different than a non-athlete’s heart. For most people, these changes are beneficial and also necessary for successful athletic performance. But in athletes with atheroschlerosis or inherited heart abnormalities these changes can be harmful”. And for most people who MTB, I’d be hard pressed to say that that they are working their heart any where near their max heart rate (even on climbs) and certainly not for any extended periods.

  • captainbri1

    The issue as I see it is when these E-bikes cause a problem at a trail system, All MTB’s will or can be grouped together. IE. No more bikes can be used here.
    I believe that there will be issues. We have issues now with other user groups and faster speeds will only make that much worse.
    When you come around a corner and meet Mrs Mom and her kids, you have a chance to stop or slow. And still get that death look from the Mom. Coming across a family at a higher rate of speed will make that worse. Same holds true for the horse rider or dog walker.
    While there may be some 65 year old guys who can handle a bike, I believe some will not be able to just jump on a bike and be able to handle mountain biking.

    • John Dennis

      You are assuming most ebikers are riding faster than regular mountain bikers. That usually is not the case. Most of them are just using the extra power on the climb to keep up with their friends. I have ridden local for a long time and no one has ever even noticed I’m on an ebike

    • ericshell

      Ebikes should be only allowed on motorized trails only.

  • Franklin M Gauer III

    One phenomenon I’m observing lately is people who should not be up on anything close to a mountain, with any bike whatsoever, are thinking that an e-bike gives them the ability to do so. About a month ago my wife and I were on a somewhat high consequence part of the Colorado Trail when we came across a couple of ladies who where attempting that climb on some e-Fatties. It was very clear to us that they were having a very difficult time handling the bike’s weight and temperament, and that any slight loss in either physical or mental focus could have disastrous effects. We recommended that they turn around and they actually agreed that things we too tenuous with or without the battery assistance, and they did so.

    E-mtb’s are really fun. I really enjoy them personally but I’ve only rode them in demo situations and do not plan on buying one in the near future. However there may be a dangerous perception growing that e-mtb’s gives a license to anyone to trail ride in situations where you need a great deal of skill, awareness, technique, and mindfulness in order to have a safe ride. We might be looking at a perilous situation growing here…and I’m not sure what the answer to this is.

  • Gordon Seslar

    BLM and NFS seem to have it correct, put a motor on it and it’s a motorcycle. The idea that it should be allowed for some people and not others does not make sense, if you want to ride an ebike have fun just make sure you stay off the no motorized vehicle trails. There are plenty of trails that allow them and that’s what they’re for.

  • Sharkbyte

    I have taken a Specialized Levo out on our local trails in Auburn California right after they came out. My son worked at a local shop and we had a couple of demo bikes. I will admit they are a lot of fun to ride. They are still pedal assist and it takes “Some” effort to pedal. That said, I prefer pedaling my Ibis HD4. By the way even early on when they first came out one fellow mountain biker cast a disapproving look our way and made a comment. However, I know they have sold them to people with health issues and some older folks. I grew up in the Bicycle business in the San Francisco Bay Area. I can remember when Mountain Bikes first came out and they started to take over all the floor space in the shop. I remember a company called Specialized that only made tires coming into my fathers shop to talk to him about tires. The industry is going to change as it always does. Are E-Bikes a good change? Tough question to answer. I really don’t wan’t to see a bunch of young guys ripping up our trails on E-Bikes or folks with no business on the trails in dangerous situations getting hurt just because they can now get there. However, a person with health issues or older folks like I will be some day soon as I am 55 now. Makes me think they may have their place. I wonder at my age how much longer I can really continue to ride the challenging trails I love so much. It will be a sad day when I have to hang it up. Could be an E-bike would allow me to keep doing what I love so much.

  • mtnryder

    Standard Singletracks article heading worded to draw controversy, almost clickbait in nature….at least to actual mountain BIKERS. As you can see by the overwhelming majority of comments posted here, the opinions on e-bikes are NOT shifting. 90% of the people I ride with on a regular basis are 50+ and not a single one of them would entertain buying an e-bike. We all share all of the concerns mentioned above. I just came back from Sedona and saw m ore e-bikes there in (4) days than I’ve seen in all other places combined. I probably saw 20-25 people on e-bikes **but** they were all riding on the road where they belong. Everybody that I got a good look at were definitely older and appeared that they would physically not be up to the challenge of riding them on dirt anyway.

  • tonylapy@aol.com

    The biggest argument is that they are not allowed on the trails here in NC, period. If you are physically unable to ride a normal bike, how in the heck are you going to handle a 50 lb beast down a rocky, rooty trail fraught with many dangers. I can see them riding up on the fire roads if it’s exercise you want, but right now not on our trails.

    • Jeff Barber

      Not sure you read the article. As I mentioned as an example, the USNWC trails in Charlotte allow e-bikes. There are certainly other non-motorized trail systems in the state that do as well.

  • rmap01

    This is so typical of how American culture has evolved… find the quickest, easiest way to an end. What makes MTB such a great sport is the challenge. It requires a level of skill and fitness that’s dependent on the level of difficulty of the trails you ride. I started MTB’ing 5 years ago. Although I was in excellent “running” shape (and decent cycling shape) at the time the sport kicked my a$$. In the early days i was forced to walk steep semi-tech climbs, ate quite a bit of dirt and broke a few bones along the way. But that only made me more determined to improve my skills and overall fitness. My riding has grown by leaps and bounds but only because I had to – and continue to – put the effort in. To me eMTB is an affront to the sport. I’m over 50 and I realize at some point in the future my strength and skills will decline preventing me from riding certain trails that challenge me now. But that’s my motivation to keep pushing myself physically and mentally. Let’s not succumb to the easy out. I’d rather but forced to walk a section than to “clean it” e-assisted. Plus, what’s next? swing-assisted golf clubs?

    • ericshell

      Awesome response. You nailed it. I cant believe that laziness is even creeping into mountain biking. Im an old ex Marine at 54 and I will pedal until I cant do it anymore. I would rather crawl up a trail, dragging my bike behind me before I sit my old ass on a ebike.

    • sl983

      I think that is a pretty good description. Tennis is a difficult sport to play well, although you cannot make it better with a motor. There used to be a huge tennis scene in my area, and now it is an extreme rarity to see anyone on a tennis court here. And if you do, it’s the usual scene: some people get together, hit the ball everywhere, laugh, pick them up and go home, put the racket on the shelf. I would expect e bikes to be the same thing–and probably because they actually won’t make riding as easy as anticipated! You still have to handle the machine on sketchy terrain, and I bet those heavy things are a handful for the inexperienced (if not downright dangerous). I suspect they’ll be a icon of past experiences cluttering many a garage in the future. Everything has a boom–and a bust. Those of us who love the sport will keep doing our thing regardless of the available tech.

  • Gottatrysomething

    I always said if one wants an ebike so freakin bad, why don’t they use it on a dirt track?! There is no place for ebikes on our trails! Laziness is an understatement

  • Orinda8

    Nevada’s legislature has already passed a bill legalizing ALL e-bikes on state park trails. As a long time mtn biker I decided to demo an e-bike and was so impressed I immediately traded my mtn bike in for a Giant Full-e 0. Living in the Sierra Nevada at 5000 to 10,000ft elevation with climbs over rocks at 20% grade, I find the e- bike is much better for the heart. Multiple studies recently have shown that exercise that is too strenuous is just as bad for the heart as no exercise at all. The e-bike is the perfect bike for high altitude riding. The handling is essentially the same as my Giant Trance advanced but the extra help pedaling gets me up climbs I dreaded before. I know a lot of mtn bikers like to show how strong they are, not realizing they are shortening their lives. The Nevada legislature did the biking community a good favor with their bill

  • Don Bradbury

    I am 70 years old(I know that sounds old to you, but you’ll be here in the wink of an eye, I assure you!) and riding strong on the single track trails in my area. I ride for the health benefits, the mental benefits, the friendly competition with my friends on Strava, and the simple joy of being out in the woods enjoying the fresh air, changing seasons, wildlife, and freedom from the everyday. When I jump on my bike and peddle out of my back yard on the trail I built to access our trail system, I re-experience the freedom of my childhood… when I peddled off into the countryside on my bike after school and the world was mine until my parents called me for dinner!
    When I find I don’t have the horsepower to ride our trails, I WILL be on a full suspension peddle assist E-bike, on our trails, and reaping the benefits of all of the above, rather than wasting away on the couch thinking “I used to be able to go for Mt. Bike rides” 🙁
    Get off your high horse Bobby Pena, and learn to share the trails! I think we’re all out there for the same reason, “the pure and simple joy of propelling oneself on a bicycle as a kid.”

  • ironhead700

    There are enough different trails out there to accommodate ALL levels of skill and physical limitations for those riding non-motorized mountain bikes. The ‘excuse’ that: “I ride an e-bike so keep up with other riders” or “I can’t climb that section anymore”…. etc is simply an ego thing. RIDE TRAILS WITHIN YOUR ABILITIES. For those with injuries/age, etc that feel the need for riding e-bikes find some “e-bike friendly” trails. There are plenty of those out there also.

  • ProphetZarquon

    As with any other subject among enthusiasts, this topic provokes strong opinions, even knee-jerk responses.

    I personally am very enthusiastic about electric bikes. I ride in the city every day (sadly, my bike is lucky to spend 1% of its ride time on a trail), & would love to have a second bike (or a decent bolt on solution) with an electric motor. Having test ridden quite a few, I will state unequivocally that current mainstream offerings are unsuitable for intense long duration rides & frankly, *none* of them are well made for large riders over 200lbs. (I am 6’10”, 240lbs, & most products simply are not built for that. Custom is often the *only* practical choice, not that I can afford it. Lighter riders almost always seem to think a given product will hold up fine & are almost always wrong. In general I find that the extreme focus on light weight, & sizable budget of serious mountain bikers has led to products which perform well, but lack true durability. If it needs to be replaced in one year, it is worthless to me.)

    On a brief trail ride, or a longer leisurely ride, I have no doubt that many people who are not physically able to sustain a hill climb could have very positive & safe experiences on an electric-assist bike. If I could afford one powerful enough to drag me up a long hill without overheating, I would buy one immediately. I have yet to ride such a monster e-bike, as the more powerful models are far beyond my price range & no amount of engineering can yet make a 250w system sufficient to move someone of my size.

    The real problem here is the classic “tragedy of the unregulated commons”, where providing fair access to all requires more than simply throwing open the gates; Careful consideration will be required, not just on trails, but in all environments, in order to safely & fairly accommodate non-motorized, high-power motorized, & mobility assistance vehicles, as we move into the future.

    “No motorized vehicles” was a catch-all term that made sense 50 years ago, when small motor-bikes were loud gas powered contraptions. Today, we must consider pedestrians, bicyclists, helper animals, off-road electric wheelchairs, & even reasonably sized electric-assist bicycles, when planning which routes will be open to which vehicles.

    Here in Colorado we have many technical trails which under *no* circumstances should be attempted by anyone not capable of carrying everything with them on their back if necessary. Not all areas are safe or sane to access for people with (even moderate) physical disability. Some trails absolutely should be open to *all* visitors, whether they require assistance or not. Others are simply too far removed from emergency & commercial services to be suitable for usage by short-range electric platforms.

    Bottom line: e-bikes *are* motorized vehicles, as are mobility scooters. If it has a motor, it is motorized, by definition. Trails posted as “no motorized vehicles” mean just that. If they wish to allow electric bikes or any other form of mobility assistance, they’ll need to specify the limitations: No motor assistance above 25mph, 60lb vehicular weight limit, “no engines”, 55db noise limit, no motor without handicapped badge, et cetera. Otherwise we *will* end up with 400lb 2.5kw 70mph electric motorbikes tearing around the bends in what are currently quiet, motor-free zones. Alternatively, many people who could be enjoying our country’s many fine public resources are limited unnecessarily by regulations written without consideration for the mobility impaired, much less for the wide variety of mobility aids now available. Most of our current laws & rules on this subject are so outdated as to be both unfair & insensible. It’s time to update the language. Get specific, folks.

  • ericshell

    My concern is that they will get faster. As with any technology they will improve these bikes. Make them faster and easier to handle. Will there be a day that these bikes are do 40 MPH on the trails. Is it safe to have older folks who are too frail and weak to ride a pedal bike riding these bikes instead? really? Just a thought

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