photo: Jeff Barber

The Singletracks survey results have rolled in, and the team is looking at what you, our readers, have to say.

There isn’t a more controversial topic among the mountain bike community than eMTBs. Well, except for maybe the wilderness debate which in some ways intersects with the topic of electric mountain bikes. Even the wheel size debate has quelled and all the news about 29ers rarely ruffles feathers.

In the survey, Singletracks asked readers for their opinions on e-bikes, if they have tried them, and why opposers aren’t ready for e-bikes.

Overall, 46% of mountain bikers that responded to the survey said that eMTBs should be allowed on non-motorized mountain bike trails. 51% said no. The numbers break down for some more interesting insight after that, though.

A motorized-use trail in Idaho. Photo: Jeff Barber

Demo riders more likely to support

A majority, 63% of those who said electric mountain bikes should be allowed on non-motorized trails have ridden an e-bike. Most of those who said e-bikes should not be allowed on trails, 56%, have not tried an e-bike. Still, a sizable portion of those who have ridden e-bikes, 37%, still say that they should not be allowed on non-motorized mountain bike trails.

Most opposers says their biggest concern is that allowing e-bikes on non-motorized trails would open the gates for other motorized uses, followed by concerns about user conflict and the speed of e-bikes. Other concerns include trail damage, over-crowding, and that using an e-bike is just plain “cheating.”

What’s interesting though is that the group that was the most open to e-bikes classifies themselves as “XC riders” or those that appreciate pedal power. The other categories, trail, enduro, and downhill were all pretty evenly split on the topic of e-bikes.

Younger riders are more open to eMTB

Also, younger riders were more likely to favor e-bikes than older riders. The under-18 and 18-24 crowd were the groups most in-favor of opening trails to e-bikes. 25-34 year-olds and 35-44 year-olds appear to be the least in favor of e-bikes on non-motorized trails.

In hard numbers, 56% of riders in the under-18 category were in favor of e-bikes on non-motorized trails, and so were 55% of the 55+ age group.

Mountain bikers in the 25-54 age range were the least supportive, with results below 50% in support.

This debate is going to rage on for some time, but the survey results do give us some insight and a look at some of the main reasons for and against e-bike access. In some cases, it’s a question of “chicken or the egg?” Were those who demoed e-bikes already in favor, or did riding one change their mind?

Do 55+ riders find e-bikes more useful than middle-aged riders, and is the under-18 age group more accepting of new technology?

There are a lot of questions that will go unanswered here, but it’s thought provoking to say the least.

What’s your take on these results? (Note: Avoid sharing your personal opinion about e-bikes in the comments, and instead focus on what the overall e-bike sentiment means for mountain biking going forward.)

# Comments

    • Casman86

      I say get off of mountain bike sites if you hate the sport that much.

  • Indyshred11

    Never have ridden one, only have seen one on the back of a vehicle. Don’t see how they couldn’t be ridden on trails, when I am getting close to that time in my life, will research farther. Almost 55 and don’t see it being a problem, might be in my future if things get hard. Would like to ride to the grave!

  • Legbacon

    I’m 60 and appalled that people can be so lazy. Motor = motorcycle, not bicycle. There are motors that can go 50mph, you want to share the trail with those?

    • Malegria

      Yup, that comment matches the age. You might want to do even the tiniest bit of research before deciding on such a strong opinion. EMTBs are typically built with 250 watt motors not capable of moving without a rider pedaling and not capable of assisting over 20mph.

      A bike with a motor going 50mph on throttle alone is not an ebike, it’s a dirtbike and not even part of the discussion. You even mentioning something like that is like bringing up a shotgun when talking about airsoft.

    • Casman86

      “No motorized vehicles” has always been a sign at every trail head. It’s pretty simple. If it has a motor it cannot be on a shared multi-use trails. Now the big corporate owned soul-less mountain bike companies that should be advocating for the sport are digging it a grave. Pushing people to demo these things that nobody asked for in the first place, on trails which they have no right to be on. I’ve been stuck behind people on these at demo days, they wouldn’t let me pass because they couldn’t hear me over the vacuum cleaner sound going up the trail. It just makes people weaker, and deprives them of the sense of accomplishment which is one of the main reasons to mountain bike. Lightweight clearly defined electric motorcycles would be awesome, but when people have mopeds and pretend to be cyclists it just causes problems and ruins the whole sport. These articles are all pushed by the industry to try to normalize these things and cause acceptance. Cyclists aren’t buying these things, they’re just trying to bring in new lazy people to increase profits.

  • rmap01

    To me, there are two separate issues here. The first relates to trail impact and safety, i.e. does the use of an ebike on trails pose any greater risk to the trail or to other trail users? This can and should be able to be studied and modeled. It may well be that ebikes should be allowed on some trails but not on others. But the data should be a key determinant with the landowners making the final determination. The second issue is a bit more subjective and relates to less measurable issues and is typically expressed as to how one feels about those riding ebikes. This is where many of us (rightly or wrongly) question the motivation for ebikes.

    FWIW, I am generally not supportive of ebikes on trails although I could be convinced if the data indicated no adverse impact to the trail or other users with two caveats: (1) we are ONLY talking pedal-assist and (2) the motor would only support speeds of up to 10mph. It’s this latter point that I never hear anyone talk about. 10mph is a pretty decent speed. It doesn’t mean that you can’t make the bike go faster by pedaling more; it just means that the motor doesn’t help you go faster. We’ve all experienced what it’s like to fly around a curve or down a hill only to have to jam on the brakes for a rider coming in the opposite direction. I’ve certainly had my fair share of close calls. It’s inherent to the way most trails are designed (i.e. the ability to ride in both directions). But now take a person on an ebike who has the ability to generate pedal-assist speeds of 20+mph. Imagine flying down a trail with someone coming up at a similar speed. The margin of error becomes that much smaller and, to me, presents a safety issue to other users. Whereas I understand why someone might “want” to go 20mph pedal-assist, I can’t understand why someone “needs” to go more than 10mph pedal-assist.

    • Steve Dallas

      Most Class 1 Ped-elecs cut out their assist at 16 MPHt (20 MPH by law, but manufacturers have limited this even more) , partially to offset the weight of the bike on flat land so you can keep up with non assisted bikes. Riding up hill is faster overall with the EMTB than without for many, but still not as fast or faster than younger riders, or, yes, more in shape riders. (Some of us can’t dedicate that kind of time). The speeds have been tested by various groups and found EMTBs overall are no faster on average than non EMTBs. And due most eMTBs having 2.8″ tires with low pressure, they actually have LESS of an impact on trail deterioration. Yes, they are faster for some riders, like me, whose uphill speed on a non assisted bike may be 4-8 MPH while on the eMTB it is 8-12. Not a drastic increase in actual speed.

      The real benefit is the assist takes away the hard edge of a climb, so you are fresher and more able to enjoy, and control, your descents. Plus the ability to ride 30 plus miles multiple days in a row.

      Class 3 ped-elecs are almost solely regulated to commuter bikes, meant to get people out of cars and are limited to 28 MPH assist.

      Class 2 ebikes are throttle assisted and while limited to assist cutting out at 20 MPH, these are not the kind that people are advocating for trail use. Even among most ebikers, throttle equals ‘motorcycle’. Though, for paraplegics it is talked about making an exception even here.

      When it comes right down to it though, its not about eMTB or non (I guess you could say, digital or analog lol) it comes down to rider etiquette. An ass is an ass and just as dangerous, doesn’t matter what bike he’s on. I even find with the eMTB I am more courteous because it is easier for me to go off line and pedal around an oncoming analog biker.

    • rmap01

      Steve Dallas: I appreciate the response. But consider the following:
      1. By having the ability to double your climbing speed, you’re reinforcing my point about the decreasing the margin of error for someone coming the opposite direction.
      2. I also saw that in a separate post you indicated that ebikes “allow less fit riders to keep up” and that “some of of us have jobs most of the week”. You’re right, most of us do have jobs and families that require our time. But there are some of us that, despite these commitments, are willing to put the time in when we can. And although you probably didn’t mean for it to come off this way, it can be interpreted to mean that it’s an easy shortcut for those that don’t want to put the effort in (which unfortunately, is a sad reflection of American culture today)
      3. And what’s just as critical as fitness, is skill. In many ways, the speed you carry on a mountain bike is a function of fitness and skill (most singletrack is anything but straight so you need skill to control the bike especially with increasing speed). Now imagine that we are providing less skilled people the ability to ride at high speeds with ebikes. That would certainly put other trail users at increased risk. Do you see where traditional MTB’ers can be put off by this?
      4. And, on a final note, as it relates to speed, it’s the ability to override the max speed that concerns the heck out of me:
      NB: I am not saying that you or any other “specific” person would do this but there are clearly some that are and will. And if the trails are negatively impacted do you think that the decision makers are going to be able to determine it was a “rigged” ebike vs. a regular ebike vs. a traditional mountain bike? That’s where we all (potentially) could be adversely affected.

      Not trying to be controversial, just trying to provide some context for why they are some, like me, that are hesitant to support.

    • Steve Dallas


      Not controversial, as any new tech can be abused or exploited.
      I think I said it elsewhere that nothing stops an ass from being an ass.
      Proper trail etiquette is something we should all abide. Whether on a digital or analog bike.

      But as far as making the bikes so fast they are a danger to others, it is highly likely that a rider’s own skill level will be a much greater restriction on speed. Essentially, people will become a danger to themselves, long before they are a real danger to others. I ride with some very good riders who are on analog bikes and they are routinely faster than I am on the downhill, where there is no assist. And even if I hacked the bike, I couldn’t keep up because I’m just not that good. And I think the fear will limit speeds more than anything.

      The only advantage I have is in the climbs, and even then on long rides you have to use battery management or else you could be left with a 50 pound bike. Plus, not being a dick by leaving your buds. Though since I have gotten the ebike, they love it because now I am like the rabbit and they ride to keep up and get even better. And don’t have to wait around for me to recover after long climbs.

      And while my climbing speed increased on the digital bike, it still doesn’t surpass what really good riders can do.
      The problem I see with the issue of ‘reduced margin of error’ concern is that it is a matter of skill that will improve, just as it does for analog bikers, as a rider gets better. Again assuming the rider isn’t an ass and doesn’t hack their bike. And even if they do, they are more likely to wipe themselves out by riding above their abilities long before being a danger to other trail users. I’ve seen good riders hit 30-40 MPH on trails with analog bikes. Even a modified ebike would have trouble hitting those speeds. And deplete the battery in a heart beat.

      The 2019 Levo is actually MUCH MUCH harder Hack as well. I think manufacturers already see hacking as an issue and are taking steps to prevent it. Plus given the cost of these things, most riders really won’t want to risk blowing their warranty by modifying their motors.

      The truly great thing about the ebike is that it has actually massively increased my riding. Both in skill and time in the saddle. Since I can now do long hard rides back to back days, where before one good long hard day would wipe out my weekend. And this is echoed by others. So in part, it isn’t that I don’t want to put in the work, it is that until the ebike, physical pain made it near impossible. One thing that surprised me is that due to the increased time in saddle and riding on the ebike, I have been able to increase my rides on my rigid single speed and fat bike!

      So I do understand the concerns, but for the most part, the more people are exposed to the eMTBs the more I think they will understand and accept them as a true mountain bike. Many Enduro pros already are using them as training aids. So they can rider more miles more trails get more experience and improve their skills. The same improvement anyone can get by riding more.

  • Hap Proctor

    I hope the sale of ebikes lag until the technology is improved. Right now they are too heavy and short lived. I’m 65 years old and may want one in 10 years, but I want one that doesn’t hurt my back to toss in the truck.
    I’d rather have a self-driving car with the capability of being sent to TH locations. I could make my own shuttle rides with that feature.

  • automatic120

    Like rmap01 said, speed needs to limited. We have all had that close encounter on the trail. Having someone blast past me scares the crap out of me.
    Pedal power is what drives me and I’m sure most others in our sport. I might be a lot old school though.
    I know someone who is unable (due to heart issues) that is unable to make the steep climbs in our area (6500ft). Maybe a limited use permit should apply.

    • Legbacon

      How are you going to limit it? Why are people so lazy?

    • Jeff Barber

      To be fair, there’s nothing stopping anyone from driving a motorcycle on a MTB trail, or a mountain bike on a hiking only trail. In most places, trail access is already regulated, with the assumption that enforcement is going to be imperfect.

    • rmap01

      Jeff, while I agree with your comment generally we are talking about something a little different. In the instances you cited it is obvious that someone is violating trail usage ‘by being on the trail’. In the instances of someone rigging an ebike on a trail where an ebike is allowed that’s fundamentally different and much harder to manage.

    • Jeff Barber

      rmap01, land managers are already stretched so thin they can barely maintain trails without a volunteer labor force, let alone enforce existing rules. I don’t want to speak for all land managers, but my guess is managing who uses a trail on a daily basis is pretty low on the priority list.

      I agree, picking the eMTBs out of the crowd of regular MTBs will be hard, but that assumes someone is actually concerned enough (and has the time) to do it in the first place.

      Another argument is that hikers or other trail uses will raise a fuss if they see eMTBs using trails, which could jeopardize existing access for regular mountain bikers. But this argument assumes folks will be able to tell the difference, which I think we both agree is hard.

    • Jeff Barber

      “We have all had that close encounter on the trail. Having someone blast past me scares the crap out of me.”

      As a dedicated mountain biker, I hate to point this out, but this is what hikers have been saying about mountain bikers all along. Now us analog bikers aren’t the fastest cats in the jungle, and we’re getting a taste of our own medicine. 🙂

  • RalphVT

    I agree that, speed-wise, eMTBs can be tricky on a trail. But distance-wise… if a small motor enables me to ride on for longer, say about 1.5 to twice as long; count me in! Not to mention the ride home from local trails, I go to per bike… sometimes I’m broken after a long ride and having some e-help on the ride home; I’d welcome that! The only ride aid I currently have in such situations, is to curse my way home 😀

    I think if you look at an eMTB as something that’s just quicker, lazy and leads to poor stamina, you’re missing something. I think if you have the stamina and ride an eMTB, you’ll simply shred on for longer both ride-wise (longer rides) and age-wise (higher age) than you’d do on a normal MTB.

    Long story short: with the self-pushing mindset most MTBers seem to have, you’ll probably push yourself harder on an eMTB to try and compensate for the little aid you’re getting. So, all will be balanced out in the end I guess. And because you’ll be tempted to push harder, an eMTB might actually improve your stamina.

    Speed-wise I hope the engineers focus on torque (great for climbing) and distance/stamina aid, rather than top speed. Let the rider decide the top speed of these things and we should all be fine on the trails.

  • David Matthews

    The sport must follow the demographic trend of older riders wanting to continue riding into their senior years. I’ve got two pals in their 70’s riding with our group and they love it. Can’t see any negatives. Gonna get one in a few years.

    • paukana

      Amen to that David! I will be 58 this year and my left knee is bothering me for the past year making my rides not as enjoying as it could be. I am passionate of this sport so I always love to hear what the buzzwords are in regards to emtb. I am getting concerned about a lot of the comments I read and that if I can no longer ride because of an unavoidable ailment it will be tragic for me to no longer enjoy my passion. I’m hoping someday everyone enjoying this sport will all agree and continue to be out there for the fundamental enjoyment of this sport.

  • Steve Dallas

    After another extensive ride, 35 miles with 3,400 feet of climbing, I can definitively say that ebikes (class 1) are NOT “Faster” than analog bikes. Period. Anyone who believes as such has not ridden an ebike. While abusing the ‘turbo’ mode may make a rider faster than they normally would be, you cannot ride with that level of assist for long. And, the ebike is NOT faster than a ‘fit young’ rider. Now, the only reason to oppose Class 1 ebike access to trails is pure selfish bigotry. Ebikes are not faster nor do they cause more trail damage than any analog bike.

    This weekend’s ride was a 35 mile, one battery, test. I finished with 10% left and averaged 8.4 miles an hour. And was PASSED on one climb by an XC rider.

    • craige

      Steve Dallas, you must be my long lost brother. I’m 65 and have no health issues that I’m aware of but have been riding eMTBs for going on three years now, out of my 30 years of mountain biking. You’re observations (all of them) are spot on. What most noticeable for me is how my bike handling skills have improved since ebiking. I ride in eco mode almost exclusively but still can get to the top of a climb without being totally gassed, which leaves me the ability to focus on descending smoothly and competently rather than just trying to survive.

  • Whistlepig

    So, 53% of the respondents say that motorized bikes should be allowed on non-motorized trails?

    How does this make sense?

    • rmap01

      It’s 46% overall. According to the article, younger (<25) and older (55+) riders were generally more supportive.

  • James Rolls

    I’ve now been riding an eMTB for three months for reasons that I won’t disclose and here is what I’ve learned.

    1. A class 1 eMTB is limited to 20mph and requires pedaling for the motor to be active. There is no throttle
    2. The amount of motor assist can be adjusted by the rider. Those who want to work hard can work hard.
    3. Due to gearing and motor control strategies, a rider is unlikely to engage the motor when riding downhill, so an eMTB is not faster when traveling downhill.
    4. The eMTB does no more damage to trails than analog MTBs. See the IMBA test results.
    5. An eMTB is nothing like a motocross bike. Not even remotely. I’ve ridden motorcycles since I was 10 years old and I still ride them. Put it this way: If I wanted a motocross bike and someone gave me an eMTB instead, I would be hugely disappointed.
    6. Riding an eMTB takes the same skills as riding an analog bike, plus some new skills that you won’t learn until you actually ride an eMTB.
    7. Every rider who has ridden my eMTB liked it and expressed interest in getting one. This includes some super hard core MTB riders.

    • paukana

      May I ask what emtb you ride

  • James Rolls

    I’m riding a 2019 Specialized Turbo Levo. It’s super-fun to ride. There’s a thumb switch for mode control and a battery indicator visible at all times. It’s intuitive and you ride it the same way you ride any MTB in terms of shifts and cadence. The Specialized phone app allows for fine tuning the modes and has an interesting feature that makes sure you’ll get home before the battery runs out (although this could cause your phone battery to run down). But maybe the most important thing is that it’s a good ride.

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