Photo: Jeff

Photo: Jeff

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular opinion column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, the opinions expressed in this commentary are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

“Ebike” is probably the most controversial word that you can utter in mountain biking circles today. That’s compounded by 10 times if you follow it with the word “Wilderness,” but for today’s discussion we are going to leave Wilderness largely out of it. What’s curious to me is how hot the topic has been in mountain bike circles over the last couple of months. Part of me wonders, “why now? Why is this an issue now… why are people just now realizing that ebikes could be a serious problem?”

Because I first rode–and started writing about–ebikes quite some time ago. In fact, my first ebike ride was during Interbike 2013–which will be 3 years past when the next rendition of Interbike rolls around. So it’s nothing new on my radar, but apparently, only now is it a big deal to mountain bikers at large since Specialized has launched several ebikes in the US, and Trek and Giant are poised or bring their ebike offerings to North American shores. Yes, they (esp. Trek) already had e-mountain bikes (eMTBs for short)… they just haven’t sold them in the US yet.

It’s also surprising to me how few people have even tried out an ebike yet–even within the bike industry. In a recent video produced by Vernon Felton, Vernon even says that he hasn’t ridden one yet, so he can’t form his own opinion. Fair enough, Vernon, but as I dive down the rabbit hole, I need to make one thing clear: I have ridden ebikes. Several of them, in fact, and as recently as Outerbike this past fall, to see if and how the technology has developed over time.

The author gaining some perspective aboard an e-fat bike at Outerbike 2015.

The author gaining some perspective aboard an e-fat bike at Outerbike 2015.

So, just so you know: my opinions haven’t been formed based on what people have told me. They’ve been formed from personal experience. They’ve been formed from riding ebikes and seeing how they perform. They’ve been formed by keeping an eye on land access issues across the nation and observing how various land management agencies have dealt–or not dealt–with the ebike issue. I’ve been watching, observing, and keeping tabs for the past three years, and here are the opinions that I’ve formed.

And while perhaps articles like this one can help you shape and form your own opinions, I encourage you to do the same things I did: test an ebike for yourself. Pay attention to trail access issues, both locally and nationally, and observe what happens as trails are closed to mountain bikes, and riders fight to maintain access to singletrack across the nation. Get out there, and form your own opinions for yourself.

But since you asked, here’s my long-form take on why ebikes are the spawn of Satan (mostly).

Motor + Bike = Motorbike

Before we go further, let’s be clear: if you have a motor on your bike, it’s a motorbike. It is no longer a bicycle, and it is especially not a mountain bike.

The inherent problem with ebikes is that the companies that make them, the people that ride them, and indeed, even some government entities (we’re looking at you, State of California) are trying to define pedal-assist ebikes as bicycles, aka nonmotorized vehicles.

This isn’t even an opinion, guys, it’s a fact: if your vehicle has a motor, then it’s a motorized vehicle.

“Well no shit,” some of you are thinking. And while I personally don’t feel like I need to argue this further, there are plenty of people and companies who are, in fact, arguing that these mini motorcycles are actually bicycles.

I would have no problem with ebikes, ebiking, ebike manufacturers, and ebike riders, if we called ebiking what it is: Its own distinct sport. I would be cool with it if we acknowledge that ebikers are a category of trail users wholly separate from mountain bikers. If ebikers had their own advocacy organizations. If they had their own manufacturers, their own media outlets. The problem is, none of the ebike parties involved are taking that approach.

The Sea Otter Classic's first dirt bike race. Photo: Jeff

The Sea Otter Classic’s first dirt bike race. Photo: Jeff

The “Mostly”

Now here’s where the caveat “mostly” comes in. Since ebikes are motorized vehicles, ebike owners are already totally free to legally ride anywhere that motorized vehicles are already permitted. This includes roads, and motorized trails.

As a short aside, I think ebikes on pavement are friggin’ genius for commuting purposes. Let’s say that you live 15 miles from your job, and you’d like to bike to work. Now of course if you really sack up, you can commute 15 miles each way. Even at a decent clip, that’ll take you roughly two hours round-trip on a road bike. Not only can an ebike cut down that commute time, it can also keep you from getting nasty from sweat, and let’s face it: most people aren’t going to pedal a 15-mile commute every day. But if you can do it in 30min each way on an ebike (most ebike motors are limited at 28mph from the factory), not only are you enjoying the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, you’re reducing carbon emissions from your car, and reducing traffic on the road. Heck, it’s a win-win-win. I have absolutely no argument against ebikes for commuting purposes.

I have plenty of arguments against eMTBs in all forms and fashions, but my arguments aside, legally you should still be able to ride them anywhere that motorized vehicles are allowed. This includes jeep 4×4 roads, ATV trails, and even motorized singletrack that’s already open to dirt bikes.

Now in some parts of the country, there are very few places to ride singletrack on your dirt bike. But here in the Rockies, we are flush with excellent singletrack dirt biking opportunities. In fact, some of the most popular mountain bike trails near my hometown of Salida, Colorado are motor-legal, including the world-famous Monarch Crest trail. So, if you owned an ebike, you would be completely within your legal rights to ride the Crest, as long as you don’t descend Silver Creek, Starvation Creek, Fooses Creek, or Little Cochetopa trail off the Crest. Please note, that still leaves you two epic singletrack descents, Green’s Creek and Agate Creek, as well as three different dirt road descent options.

And then you start talking about other moto-legal trails that are awesome to ride like the Rainbow Trail and Canyon Creek, and you quickly realize: there are plenty of places to legally ride ebikes.

The Problem: Ebikes on Non-Motorized Trails

“So if ebikes can ride on all these motorized trails, what’s the problem?”

The problem, then, is all the riders, companies, and government agencies who want to get ebikes allowed on non-motorized trails, because it is adding unnecessary complication to our mountain bike advocacy efforts.

The waters have already been muddied for decades with mountain bikes being equated to motos in the amount of trail damage we do. Sorry moto guys, but it’s true: motorcycles cause significant trail damage. Mountain bikes, on the other hand, cause about as much impact as a hiker. Finally, land managers are starting to understand the distinction between mountain bikes and motos

Now along come ebikes, and the waters are muddied again. As we fight to maintain access to trails around the nation and bike companies are claiming that their ebike is a bicycle not a motorcycle, the environmentalists ask, “why should we allow you to continue using this trail, or have access to this trail that was closed to bikes at one point, if you want to bring motors along with you?”

The problem is, from the vast majority of mountain bikers, the answer is “we don’t want motors on our trails either!” But if you listen to the marketing hype from companies like Felt and Specialized, just to name a couple, they aren’t satisfied with their ebikes being labeled as “motorcycles.”

Arguing against eMTBs in all forms and places.

At this point, I’m going to take a turn with this article, and I’m going to argue that eMTBs are the spawn of Satan in all applications–even where they’re legal. Again, I have no issues with ebikes for commuting, as the sheer utility of it is simply genius.

But on a personal level, I have issues with the simple existence of ebikes. But arguing that ebikes suck, even where they’re used legally, is a bit of a stretch, I’ll grant you. So if you have a problem with this, please refer to the disclaimer at the beginning of this article–this is my opinion, so feel free to take it or leave it.

But since you asked, I think that ebikes are the spawn of Satan.

Why don’t you just buy a moto?! AKA ebikes are slow and expensive.

If you’re buying an ebike and you’re only going to take it on motor-legal trails, I’ve gotta ask: why don’t you just buy a dirt bike?!

Ebikes aren’t cheap–they range from around $3,000 on the low end for a hardtail up to over $7,500 (and even more) for a full suspension ebike. Compare that cost to a used dirt bike, which can often be had for less than $1,000, and factor in that you can go so much faster and you don’t have to pedal it, and I’m left scratching my head about why anyone would buy an ebike. Heck, I just saw a his & hers pair of dirt bikes for sale on my local Facebook buy/sell page for $3,300. A little over three grand for a pair of quality dual sport dirt bikes in great condition. For that price, you can pick up a low-end hardtail ebike with mediocre components. Just one ebike, mind you.

Simply put, if I want a motor, I’m going to ride a motorcycle. But if I don’t want a motor helping me, I’m going to ride my mountain bike.

These Satan-Spawn Contraptions will Destroy the Soul of Mountain Biking

It’s true that what mountain biking is is different for everyone who participates in this great sport of ours, but in my mind, these Satan-spawn contraptions will destroy the soul of mountain biking if we let them.

To me, mountain biking is all about the challenge. Part of that challenge is the technical challenge of the trails, the speed, and getting down the mountain as fast as possible. But another part of that challenge–perhaps even the biggest part, depending on how you look at it–is getting up the mountain, before you go down.

At its very core, I think mountain biking embodies the yin and yang between pain and pleasure. We mountain bike because of the euphoric adrenaline rush, but that adrenaline rush is made all the sweeter by the pain endured on every single ride.

In the video mentioned above, ebiking was referred to as “fast forwarding through the commercials,” aka the climbs. Isn’t the desire to skip the difficult challenge of the climbs, so we can enjoy the sweet reward of the descent as soon as possible, so symptomatic of our fast food, instant gratification culture? Perhaps ebikes aren’t the problem, then. Perhaps they’re simply the solution that a bunch of lazy wannabe riders have been begging for because they don’t want to endure the pain of the climb.

Photo: Jeff

Photo: Jeff

Responding to Arguments

One common argument made for ebikes and how they make the ride easier is that they’ll allow people with handicaps to ride who couldn’t otherwise. I call BS on that argument. Not only do you still need all of your faculties to control the bike, but there are plenty of badasses out there who mountain bike without an arm, with an injured or partially-amputed leg–you name it, a mountain biker has probably overcome that injury.

It is possible that an ebike could help someone who is out of shape or past their prime travel further than they could under their own power, but again, if you can’t get there under your own power, where’s the sense of accomplishment in achieving that feat thanks to the use of a motor? And personally, I don’t count anyone out, no matter their age: there are plenty of guys and gals out there who are twice my age and can probably smoke me on the climbs. Saying that you’re too old to ride is, in my mind, simply another cop out.

See Also: Discovering Mountain Biking at Age 65

One final application where ebikes may make a lot of sense is for riders who have some sort “cardiopulmonary, neurological, or musculoskeletal disability,” as Michael Paul, our resident doctor, so succinctly put it. And as long as people with such disabilities are using ebikes on motor-legal trails (see above), these machines make absolute perfect sense! However, arguing that because a person has a disability that they should be able to use a motor vehicle on a non-motorized trail is a dangerous argument to make.

Rather, I think we need to realize that sometimes life deals us a crappy hand. I personally haven’t been injury-free in over two years, and that has seriously limited my ability to travel to the wild and beautiful places that I so love. But at the same time, I realize that that’s life, and sometimes life sucks. Sometimes we don’t have choices about what our bodies are capable of.

I think when we hit the limits of our bodies’ capabilities, we have two choices in how we respond to that challenge. Number one, we can work harder to overcome our obstacles. Number two, especially if number one doesn’t work, we can learn to accept that we have biological limitations, and find a way to be happy and whole despite the possibly bad situation that we’ve been dealt. I do not think that one of our choices is to risk damaging others’ enjoyment of wild places by demanding to use a mechanism that has been deemed illegal in a specific area. The last thing I would want is to selfishly argue that ebikes need to use non-motorized trails, and subsequently have all mountain bikers banned from that trail as a result of my actions. Instead, I would rather simply take my ebike, and use it in a place where it is deemed legal.

Some may equate the argument I just made about not fighting for ebike access and claim that I’m contradicting myself, since I advocate that we should fight for mountain bike access in Wilderness areas. However, this is not the same situation, because mountain bikes do not currently enjoy access to Wilderness trails. Arguing that mountain bikes should have access to Wilderness does not carry the risk of removing any current user groups, aka equestrians and pedestrians, from their current use of those wilderness trails. Whereas the danger posed to the current user group of mountain bikers by the introduction of ebikes as a part of that user group, is very real (see “The Problem,” above).

One final common argument for ebikes is that these contraptions, since they do make the climb easier, will help our sport to grow and help more people to enjoy mountain biking. I’ve already argued that we don’t need any more mountain bikers, and if we have to cater to laziness and sloth in order to attract more people to the sport, than I would doubly assert that we don’t need those people in our sport or our industry. Let them keep doing whatever they were doing before–not everyone needs to be a mountain biker.

And if they do want to be a mountain biker, tell them to either pedal up the hill, or see above: buy a motorcycle.

eMTBs Suck to Ride

The final nail in the coffin, the final insidious act of these evil-incarnate machines, is that they simply suck to ride. Most ebikes–even with the latest technology–weigh about 50 pounds. This extra weight is obviously due to the battery and motor. And while the added power counters the extra weight as you climb, my real beef is when it comes time to descend. These absurdly-heavy bikes are awkward and cumbersome to maneuver when the actual fun part of the ride arrives. As a result, the part that we discussed above as the blissful reward isn’t actually so blissful.

Forget getting air. Forget skimming nimbly over the tops of rocks and roots. Instead of flying down the trail, descending on an ebike feels more akin to navigating a boat through a sea of roots and rocks, ploughing through the waves of the singletrack as you slowly make your way ever downwards.

There are plenty of other technological issues, such as distance limits and bugs in the system, that contribute to ebikes’ overall suckiness to ride. I’ve expounded on the possibility of getting stranded on your ebike here, which at the time was theoretical. Since I wrote that article, I’ve heard several stories of this exact scenario happening to ebike riders.


In conclusion, I’d have no problem with ebikes if they kept to themselves, created their own sport and culture, and were only used on motor-legal trails. But since ebike manufacturers seem hell-bent on convincing us that these motorcycles are actually bicycles, yeah, I have all kinds of hate for them.

Electric mountain bikes are in their infancy and they are already confusing our advocacy efforts, they cater to and enable our instant gratification culture instead of attempting to destroy it as we ought, they’re stupid-expensive even on the low end, and they simply suck to ride. I can only conclude that they are the spawn of Satan.

# Comments

    • Ruti

      As if trying to clear giant land based obstacles is not enough, we NOW have Greg to get over.

      I am 61 and have been athletic for 46 years, you know what that makes me? Nearly disabled. Knees, hip, wrist, and shoulders and I can get enough of mountain biking. Pedal assist makes possible what is now impossible or very limited. I started riding dirt bikes at 15 before I could legally drive in the Boston area, I rode for years in Miles Standish State park which had about 50 miles of single track for motorcycles, now mountain bikes are allowed 5 days a week and motorcycles just two days a week, is that not ironic?

      Speaking of IRONY Greg did you get paid for this ? “Shimano Announces Ebike Drivetrain/Motor Built for Mountain Biking”

      In fairness when I started riding in the woods the only other people there were other motorcycles, now we have all gone to the woods, if I tried to ride a motorcycle where I used to in 1970 I would be shot. Fair enough but trying to call 250 watts the same as a gas powered motorcycles is EXTREME and stinks of American exceptionalism of one group trying to claim oversight control over another. Perhaps it would be helpful to think back to when all bikes were rigid and steel framed , how the never ending debate over wheel size, how about dropper posts, or if you haven’t heard oval shaped chainrings. Have these these innovations made MTBing better yet less challenging? Do you want to give up the “new-fangled” or should we limit trail access by order of antiquation.

      I’m going to try the Specialized Levo and if it works I’m going to buy it and ride it I know that as a practical matter where I ride is unsupervised what I am concerned about is other riders who grant themselves editorial purview to the extent that they feel not merely entitled to an opinion but far worse their right to set policy trailside with pedal assist biker’s. I am not ready to act age appropriate and give up my new found love of biking in the woods because some younger more abled rider has the opinion of someone who is not 61 years old YET!

      It’s worth noting that the very Miles Standish trail’s that were cut by (primitive by today’s standards) motorcycles are still being used today by mountain bikers, the trail did not erode the park into two pieces much to dismay of conservationists who never step foot this deeply into the woods but nonetheless have had to find other specious claims to try to keep us out of the woods. Now I have to contend with like minded conservationist mountain bike “purists who are fearless on the trial but cowardly in the face of innovation or the imagined threat of trail loss as if an ebike could cause that, let’s not volunteer any rights prior to it being an actual problem

    • rws1019

      I could not agree more Ruti! Keep riding that ebike as long as you can!

  • oppressor

    Judging by the circlejerk in the comments this really hits you guys hard in the US. Like some other EU rider above mentioned, I’ve yet to see this attitude in Europe. At least where I live in, the 250W pedal assists are categorized as bicycles, and are therefore allowed to be driven in wilderness (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_to_roam), and I don’t really see that they could be used as a (lousy) excuse to revoke that right, so I’m not worried about trail access with normal MTBs. In EU, the speed limit for assist in these bikes is about 15mph, so among dirt bikes you’d just be in the way (yes, I know the top assist speed can be “tuned”, but it’s still not a dirt bike). Dirt bikes are also heavy and noisy and mostly use boring ICEs and they don’t go anywhere without power, unlike a good quality ebike, so comparing dirt bikes and e-MTBs just isn’t working.

    Nevertheless, I guess you guys over there have your reasoning. Maybe it’s the trail access thing, if they’re already being limited, and some fool is already using eMTBs as a pretext to shut down trails, but don’t resort to the cheap “it’s cheating” argument or the likes.

    • Hunter411

      It’s all about trail access here in the US. If all trails were open to everyone like in your country then we wouldn’t need to worry. Greg isn’t pushing Mtb’s he is only stating what the effects of using or pursuing ebikes on non motorized trails.

      Thanks Greg. Your article is right on! Now if only the bike manufacturers would read this and understand instead of looking at only the $$.

  • Steve55

    A self flaggelating luddite . I could argue this till the cows come home but it’s hardly worth the effort.
    In my country, New Zealand, human rights legislation forbids indirect discrimination where ever public land is at stake so if you have a physical need for pedal assistance of a e bike then you ride them anywhere a bike can be ridden, all tracks all Public land. Further more they are legally defined as a cycle along with your humble push bike and land managers do not arbitarily decide the law.
    Finally they are not pigs to ride at all. Its relative. I have just as much fun on mine downhill as I ever had riding my mountain bikes in all the years past, and a while new paradigm in ridding uphill. More fun than Ive ever had.
    Robust debate is good for mountain biking and the stakes are high. There is a tidal wave in future demographics and over a third of us will be 55 plus by 2021. Beter get used to e mountain bikes they’re here to stay and grumpy old mountain bikers can just drown in more beer

  • fatlip11

    What all of you non-Americans don’t seem to understand is the fact that our (American) laws are different than yours. Great if your country wants to allow them… super! Ebike away!

    Here, it took years to have the opportunity to ride in a lot of wilderness areas and we are want to protect them since our laws are different. If you can’t understand that, then this post is probably irrelevant.

    No motorcycles on the non-motorized trails! Right on Greg!

  • Sam Policky

    Best article about ebikes i have read. You made some great points. Mot people dont understand that emtb suck to ride. Hopefully emtb will become a failed experiment like the seat shock that we will look back at and laugh.

  • rws1019

    OK, motor + bike = motorbike, I get it. BUT, it looks like a bike, it pedals like a bike, it goes no faster than a bike, it does no more trail damage than a bike. It uses no gas or oil like a bike, it makes no more noise than a bike. ITS A BIKE!!!

  • FattyHeadshok

    I’m with you all the way Greg. I hate these things and I’ve never ridden one. So I guess it’s just the idea of these “bikes” that I hate. No I don’t want them on my trails. You’re right, it’s just another reason for the horsey riders and those elitists that walk around with their little aluminum poles to keep us horrible mtbers out of the woods for good. “See! They want to bring electric motorcycles in and tear up our trails”. It’s all the excuse they need. Nope I’m not an e bike fan.

    • Iain Simpson

      Have you seen the damage a horse does to a trail ?!?!?! lol thats an amazing comment, wet weather and horses = trail that resembles a ploughed field !.

  • Steve55

    The sanctimonious views cropping up in the comments have reach almost religious proportions. The land access needs to be kept in context. They are not your trails not my trails not a self flagellating mountain bikers trail. Its public land and its everybodys trail.
    Simplistic arguments comparing pedal assist to motor bikes do not hold weight in any coherent debate . The answers lie in educating the shared users of trails. Not conflict with them. But I do see their point of view with riders hooning along tracks at breakneck speeds which might be part if the problem of your current access restraints.

    EMTBs are not a passing fad and a read of this
    Will hammer the point home. And by the way they do not suck to ride. Throw a leg over a specialized levo, properly set up in tyre pressure, preload and geometry for your build and you’ll see why.

    • FattyHeadshok

      Steve, I understand that your from NZ. Given that you perhaps don’t know the history of Mtb here in the US. This is a much more mean spirited country than yours I’m afraid. Back in 1984 the Sierra club and a few other environmental groups lobbied congress hard to change the wilderness access laws in order to ban Mtb. For no other reason than they simply didn’t like mtb on their pristine trails. That’s it. Since mtb was a fledgling sport at the time we had no voice. The end result of all the political manouvering of the horse and hiker crowd it is actually illegal for anyone to even push a baby in a stroller through a trail designated as “wilderness”. (That counts as mechanized transport according to the law.) This was done in order to keep us mtb folks out! You sir are fortunate enough to live in a progressive and civilized country. We do not have that in the US sadly. I agree with your stance in principle and wish my countrymen saw it as you do. Sadly this is not the case. Can I come to NZ???

    • morristrainor5

      While Steve is clearly a proselyte for e-bikes, his view is certainly not typical of all mtbers in NZ. His quoting of anti-discriminating clauses in our Human Rights legislation does not guarantee e-bike users access to conservation land. Original Dept. of Conservation (DOC) policy in the establishment of our National Parks intended to block access to motorised vehicles unfortunately included bicycles in its definition. Recent years have seen exemptions to this blanket policy for certain mtb-friendly tracks, sometimes restricted to ‘off-peak’ times of the year. The fact is that e-bikes are such a new development on the NZ mtb scene that the current legislation – whether pertaining to human rights or conservation land access – makes no specific provision. Despite the legal definition as a cycle that Steve quotes, they quite clearly have a motor and that brings many other factors into the debate for both land managers and other trail users. Steve is free to advocate for their acceptance in traditional mtb environments but to suggest that the argument is already won in NZ is far from the case.

  • waveMike914

    I want to emphasize more of What Greg H says. Regarding Jeff’s comment: “Part of that challenge is the technical challenge of the trails, the speed, and getting down the mountain as fast as possible. But another part of that challenge–perhaps even the biggest part, depending on how you look at it–is getting up the mountain, before you go down” I say that the challenge is even more skewed toward the climb! Getting down as fast as possible is great but it’s more for racing because no one wants to descend at a pace so fast as to risk the safety of those coming up! If ebikes have their way, we will be besieged by a mass of less skilled lazy slobs coming down at us at speeds just waiting for a fatal head on. Imagine someone coming down your local fire road that you use to get to the single track right at you at 30mph on a +50lb ebike and out of control! Like they say about injuries in motor-cross, it’s not a question of IF it’s going to happen, it’s a question of when.
    Where Jeff says: “but there are plenty of badasses out there who mountain bike without an arm, with an injured or partially-amputed leg–you name it, a mountain biker has probably overcome that injury.” Well folks I am one of those people. I lost a kneecap at age 18 on a motorcycle and now mountain bike not only for the challenge and pleasure but also to keep that leg in shape! Allowing ebikes where bikes are allowed will not only demoralize the people who do it, but also rob them of the comradery and opportunity to actually invest in something and immediately see the reward. I agree with Greg %10000

    • springelgato

      I think it odd that you believe newbies will ride down a trail faster than they are capable of. You think a newbie on a regular bike is more skilled than one on an emtb? You imagine scenarios that are unlikely to occur. 30 mph downhill on a fire road. No newbie would do that. How did you ride when you first started mountain biking? IA 50 lb bike with a 150 lb rider is no different than a 30 lb bike with a 170 lb rider going down a hill. Just because you can get up a hill doesn’t mean you are reckless coming down. Just because a bike is capable of 15-20 mph up a hill doesn’t mean the trail conditions allow it. Neither does it mean that you will WANT to go up that fast.
      I’ve been knocked off the trail 3 times in the last year by mountain bikers bombing down the trail, and leaving epithets in their wake. They were not lazy slobs either. Who gave them the right of way? Their ego.
      I’m 68 and i a few years I’ll be riding an Emtb because neither you nor greg will keep me off trails that I’ve use all my life in one way or another.
      Kudos to those rare exceptions who can ride with one arm etc. Situations are different.

  • russ2550

    Two years ago, I probably would have agreed with just about everything in this article reference ‘evil ebikes’. Well, except saying that eMTB’s are essentially dirt bikes, that’s a hell of a reach, man. Just because they may fit the exact definition of a ‘motorbike’, doesn’t mean you’re going to go share off-road trails with dirt bikes, quads, etc. I do think here in the US that they could potentially cause an access issue, but I don’t see them decimating the bike industry either.

    I used to have the same mindset essentially lumping all people, and injuries, into one category. Either you suck it up and do it or you don’t. Yes, there will always be those people with extreme disabilities that can do some incredible stuff, including mountain biking, and can probably ride circles around best of us. But to say everyone should then be the same seems like a pretty narrow argument.

    It wasn’t until I was in a bad car accident leading to chronic and daily pain in my T-Spine and leg, that I almost gave up biking, or even considered owning an eMTB. I made a legitimate effort even after to stick to my regular full suspension mtb, but it became only about severe pain with no pleasure as mentioned. It was pretty demoralizing to no longer be able to ride the same way you could just a year prior with no end in sight. No longer being able to finish even shorter rides, and struggling on even the smallest of climbs while your friends wait gets old pretty fast.

    I was skeptical of buying an eMTB, but now that I did I couldn’t be happier with my decision. It hasn’t made riding a walk in the park, and even with the assistance I struggle at times. But just being able to finish most rides and manage most hills now does give me a small sense of accomplishment again. They are stupid heavy, but honestly I don’t even notice while riding. I don’t plan on riding them forever, and hopefully will again one day be back on a regular old mountain bike.

    I’m not trying to completely change anyones mind, or get sympathy here. Like I said before, prior to having a chronic injury I would have felt the same way until I was forced to think otherwise. I feel like giving up riding completely would have been the real cop out?

    -Evil eMTB Rider

  • ejreyes6

    Spot on Greg. How many of us here like to modify our bikes? Lighter wheels, 11 speed, carbon this carbon that. An
    E MTB won’t be any different. The stock e bike is about 300 watts and is pedal assisted. Have you guys checked out some of these E bikes on YouTube with 2wd and 8000 watts motor? People are modifying these with big motors, big batteries and ditching the pedal assist. 8000 watts thats 16 times what a person can put out for a just a short period.
    If we let the stock ones onto the single track we ride, these will follow.

  • Steve55

    @morristrainor above…
    Indeed, I do not represent the views of all mountainbikers in New Zealand and I have never pretented to do so but I believe our community culture in this argument is a little more forgiving, and dare I say, a fair bit more civilized, than most of what crops up in the English speaking press and almost all of it emanating from the USA.
    In New Zealand it is not a question of whether the argument is won or not, but more the question of whether the legal framework allows access or not.
    Our human rights legislation is just on layer of the picture that defines the reasoning of land access for pedal assist e bikes.
    We need to get back to basics and walk through the hypothesis in a logical way. Firstly pedal assist e bikes are not motorized vehicles and it was gazzetted in 2013 just to clear this very point up. Secondly, all public land in New Zealand managed by our Department of Conservation (DOC) and all the territorial authorities is covered by two principal Acts, The Conservation Act and the Reserves Act.
    All policy making and rules have to be consistent with these Acts, there are no exceptions. Both the Acts are silent on interpretation of a cycle and also on a vehicle.
    When an interpretation is required to formulate policy then the Act will borrow the definition from other relevant legislation, in this case, The Land Transport Act (LTA)and its rules. The wording in the LTA couldn’t be clearer. A cycle includes a power assisted cycle where the primary means of propulsion is human muscular energy and the power does not exceed 300watts.

    Therefore when a land manager designates a track or trail on their land to be used by a cycle, either shared or single use then that is the definition to which they must accept. The government executive ( which means all departments and all local authorities) can not arbitrarily decide what is a cycle and what is not. It’s a bit like declearing a walking track through the bush but telling the walker they can’t run. It is the very argument I proposed to the Ombudsman last year when I applied to have cycle tracks accross DOC land accessible to all cycles defined in the law and that included power assisted cycles. Quite co incidently three weeks after the complaint was filed DOC allowed access to the track and the Ombudsmans office requested to the Director General of DOC to develope a more consistent approach regarding the access of power assisted cycles on land administered by them.
    So as you point out, they do quite clearly have a motor, however if the land managers bother to articulate the argument in a coherent and logical way it will be very clear to them that the law has already settled the debate and they can get on with writing consistent policy.
    AS I alluded to in an earlier post the demographic is accelerating rapidly and a third of us will be over 55 in about six or seven years time. Cycling in New Zealands back country is a significant tourism asset and e mountain bikes at the rate they are evolving and refining are going to allow many of us to continue to enjoy this country’s enviable mountain biking infrastructure well into our sixties and seventies.

  • morristrainor5

    You make some interesting points, Steve, thanks for the thoroughness of your reply.
    You correctly state that the definition of an e-bike as a cycle in NZ (currently) limits power output to 300watts. As above posters point out – YouTube videos amply demonstrate, modifications can dramatically increase this output. Once manufacturers recognise a demand for more powerful machines, they will increasingly appear on the market and on our tracks. How will we then ‘police’ these bikes? As a former trail manager, I know how much certain mtbers will always ignore or try to circumvent ‘the rules’ put in place to preserve track integrity and ensure the safety of all users.
    I am not usually a proponent of the”thin end of the wedge” form of argument but, in this case, I think it has relevance.
    Btw, I am in my 60s, as are most of my riding companions (one of the fittest among us will turn 70 this year). We love all-day (Heaphy) & multi-day (OGR) backcountry singletrack epics. The sense of accomplishment we get from completing these rides under our own steam is the reward for the levels of fitness we work hard to maintain. A decline will inevitably set in with advancing years – that’s called ageing and I hope to gracefully accept the limitations it places on the range and nature of the trails I ride.

    Out of interest, what is “the track” to which DOC granted access that you reference above?

    • Steve55


      It’s reassuring to engage with some sort of sanity and civility in this debate and to also see, along with the Europeans that have raised their heads above, the discussion is truly an international one. The Americans appear to have their own fervently argued controversies around land access and I think I’ll leave them to it. It’s the wild west out there with very little centralized regulation surrounding the emerging technology.
      I applaud your tenacity in challenging your fitness and long may you be able to do so.
      I became an early adopter of the e bike on back country tracks after being introduced to the concept in Europe some three years previously. My knees had long ago packed up with ITB in both of them so mountain biking had been abandoned for almost a decade. I’m 62 and otherwise pretty fit so getting back on a bike and doing multi-day adventures with my 28 yr old extremely fit son on his Santa Cruz has been a road to Damascus for me. Comments above alluding to less skilled lazy slobs is mis guided emotion that is fairly pointless. My heart rate will be up around 170-180 after a solid 15 minutes uphill and that’s about as much as I am prepared to go without a rest. But there is a total absence of pain in the knees.
      We have biked most weekends in the past summer. The Queen Charlotte Track, Nelson’s copper-mine track, the Taupo Great Lakes adventure, the Timber Trail are just a few we have done and the latest was the Moerangi track in the Bay of Plenty. All of these have been achievable carrying a spare battery in a back pack and for any non Kiwis reading this, the last two tracks mentioned are true rain forest experiences with scenery you are unlikely to find in any oher part of the world on a mountain bike.

      I’m not so sure about the thin edge of the wedge notion. Of course there will always be those mavericks and outlaws who will engage in anti social behaviour and attempt to flagrantly break the rules but society will find a way to deal with it. We already have user pays mountain bike parks in some parts of the country that demand you display your “day” tag on your bike and it is not beyond the realm of possibilty that this concept extends to other uses.

      To answer your question about the Ombudsman’s decision there were two tracks involved, the Otago Rail Trail, which is probably a no brainer anyway and the Timber Trail. I did however allude to the wider scope of tracks traversing DOC land in my background discussion, but you have to keep your complaint fairly narrow so they at least have something to focus on.

    • morristrainor5

      @ Steve55

      With this parting comment, I’ll leave the discussion for our American friends to resolve – or not.
      So, at 62 and with a shared passion for mtbing, it seems to be only the state of our respective knee joints that perhaps reflect the difference in degree to which we’ve embraced this new technology. I’m delighted that an e-bike has enabled you to enjoy the tracks (and, no doubt, many others) you quote. I have no argument whatsoever with their use on cycle trails and congratulate you on your success in getting the Ombudsman’s support in this regard.
      Looking at the other tracks you’ve tackled, I’ve been forced to think more deeply about my inherent distrust of the notion of unfettered access for e-mtbs on Conservation land. An e-mtb on the QC, for instance, would once again allow me to ‘mission’ it in a day, avoiding costly stays at private accommodations. On the other hand, DOC relies on hut revenue on the Heaphy Track to fund maintenance and upgrades, as do the caretakers of the Old Ghost Road. E-mtbs that enable riders to bypass huts will impact significantly upon this revenue. While the numbers of these users are too small at present to be a concern, who’s to say what the field will look like in 5-10 years’ time?
      In other places, I feel land managers of mtb-specific venues should have the freedom to apply constraints they deem fit to ensure the safety of other trail users, perhaps restricting e-mtb use to one-way tracks (given their extra weight and momentum).

      This discussion has been informative for me and I appreciate your input. The Moerangi, for example, rates among my favourite North Island trails and it would be selfish of me to adopt a position (out of principle) that denied someone with your enthusiasm for our sport the opportunity to experience it. Happy assisted pedalling 🙂

  • Brian K Gobrecht

    Humans haven’t been very good at self regulating things so that they are still used in the spirit of what they were intended to be used . How long will it take before we have basically electric powered Motocross bikes operating on the trails instead of low powered electric assist E bikes.Sometimes the easiest way to predict the future is to look to the past.

  • BKXray

    This article boils basically down to one idea, “Because you don’t do things my way, you are wrong.” I do not understand the animosity of the MTB community against Ebikes. What is it you fear about someone on an E-MTB? The MTB trails that I ride are limited by the speed you can safely traverse the terrain and the obstacles you encounter. I am no faster through the trails than I was before I messed up my knee and went to electric power. Am I tearing up the trails or being discourteous? No, I am polite and I follow the rules unlike many riders I see. My bike is quiet and unobtrusive. I come up on deer, fox and other wildlife without alarming them just like I did pre-electric. If you feel someone only deserve to go fast downhill if they have to climb up the hills, does that mean you think Downhill riders are Satan’s Spawn too? Some people feel like full suspension bikes are wrong or multi speed bikes are wrong. I have heard hikers say how much they hate MTBs. I have heard horsemen say the same things. E-MTBs are neither evil nor bad. They are on the increase and are only going to become more and more prevalent. Articles like this are basically stirring up hate and not doing anything productive.

  • RoBear

    DANGER… MTB a-holes will kill someone soon… Or is it the dirt bike crew who will do the killing…

    Speed kills… and if all you glorious no pain no gain MTBers are only in this for speeding at no limits other than your own down public paths and trails… Then maybe we should be labeling MTBers and dirt bikers as environmental terrorists… and would be wantant who gives a damn killers…

    Who made the public lands your private no holds barred speed kills zones…

    So, we have hikers who install deadly booby traps for the MTB crowd and ATVers installing the same deadly traps for dirt bikers…

    If e-MTBs are less capable and inherently slower going downhill… Then the laws need be changed to no MTBers allowed anywhere and only e-bikes in our public parks and lands… Let us make our world a safer place…

    Hell let’s just give all the land back to the native Americans and let them decide who can be where and when and do as they are told they can do…

    Personally I like riding on multiple access lands where no bullshit MTBers ever show up… The trails are to hard and dangerous for them there … Motor power rules… 1,000w+…

  • Fixedwing71

    While I respect the opinion of the author, I have to disagree. By definition, yes, an e-bike is a motorized bike. But to put them in the same category as a dirbike that weighs 400 lbs. and is large and powerful, is just insanity. And I have to disagree with the elitist attitude of the author as well…. MTB is about what YOU make it to be… not about how far or fast you ride. The article almost comes off as being written by a Stavahole…

    “…mountain biking is all about the challenge. Part of that challenge is the technical challenge of the trails, the speed, and getting down the mountain as fast as possible. But another part of that challenge–perhaps even the biggest part, depending on how you look at it–is getting up the mountain, before you go down.

    At its very core, I think mountain biking embodies the yin and yang between pain and pleasure. We mountain bike because of the euphoric adrenaline rush, but that adrenaline rush is made all the sweeter by the pain endured on every single ride.”

    No, MTB is what you make it. Are you trying to say that if someone (me for example) can’t make that 4.5-mile, 2000′ climb like you can, I’m not a ‘true’ MTB’er? What if I just like the act of riding an MTB and being outside but don’t want “pain” or “get down the mountain as fast as possible?” What if I was in a horrible car accident that left me permanently damaged and the only way I could enjoy MTB again is with the assistance of an eBike? Would you still look down your nose at me and tell me to get off your lawn?

    You wrote an article not too long ago about declining IMBA membership and how local chapters are leaving (or considering leaving) IMBA. If most other MTBers have your elitist attitude about MTB’ing, can you blame them? Not understanding on how you can write one article about how eBikes are evil and should be banned, yet then write one about how need more people to MTB. eBikes give those that are otherwise unable to enjoy this activity a way to do so. So which is it, Greg? You want more people MTB’ing, or less?

  • dceyg

    I used to MTB a lot I high school. After a friend died in a nasty crash I quite for some 20 plus years. Being in good muscle shape but quite big (bodybuilder type) I opted for a 750w eMTB recently, after my mom died and my 67 year old dad bought one (a way to spend time with him). I’m not sure about the mid drives but the rear hub on this can only handle lower assist levels like 150 to 400w for extended periods of time without overheating the hub/controller, ie you still have to muscle it up, peddle and keep assist level lower to make it up 20% plus grades. Steeper grades a light MTB with good gearing actually seems easier in some ways. Lower grades and flat is were the e-assist really makes it feel motorized. I agree that downhill the ebike is heavy and a you won’t be getting any air or wipping it around. I find myself keeping speeds under 15 mph most of the time (I’m also older and more aware of my mortality though). All in all im happy with it (I paid 1700.00) but eventually I might also buy a real MTB. Personally I’ve run into pure peddle bikes going recklessly fast downhill and no ebikes doing so, but as they become more popular im sure you will run into the same types going just as fast on ebikes. On a side note it seems to be harder to go much faster then 20s (flats) on an ebike as the motor adds drag over 20 (on my bike anyway).

  • Dave S.

    I’m 57 and love riding my MTB on the trails in my home state of Colorado. And I think everyone, before expressing an opinion, should actually ride an e-MTB. All those young athletes that think Mountain biking should only be available for people in top physical condition, seem more concerned about elite access than inclusivity for all. As you guys start to age, it would be fun to see how your opinion changes.
    And I’m no lazy fat dude either, I’m an aging athlete with bad knees and hips. I work out 5 days a week in the gym, ride my MTB at least 3 days a week, unless I’m skiing, and I swim a mile in a lap pool 3 days a week. I just bought a class 1 e-MTB to expand the amount of fun I have while riding and can’t wait to use it on some of the trails around here. I equate it to using my shorty swim fins when I’m swimming laps. I can swim laps without them, and I’m even a competitive swimmer, but using them adds slightly to the speed I swim and makes the activity more fun. I used to swim a half mile when I was working out, but since I started using the shorty swim fins, I now swim a mile and have a lot more fun doing it. It’s still a great cardio work out and it’s nothing like having an outboard motor, which I equate to the argument many folks make against e-MTB use on trails. Class 1 E-MTBs are not at all like motorcycles as they only provide a little boost based on the effort the rider puts into it. The kids on the high school swim team swim the same speed as I do when I use my short fins, much like the 20 year olds climb on their MTBs at roughly the same speed as I can climb using my e-MTB. As many of us late baby boomers age into our 60’s and 70’s e-MTBs can encourage us to keep riding and enjoying the great outdoors and open up the sport to inclusion of many more people, which should also improve trail access for all.

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