A Thought on Electric Mountain Bikes – The Catalyst

September 30, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Pierce Sullivan | Artwork by Elizabeth White

The original title of this piece was “Why I Hate Electric Bikes and You Should Too”, but clearly that is no longer the case. My perspective on this matter deepened during this last Block Break while mountain biking Crested Butte.

However, first, I would like to clarify the scope of my argument. I’m referring to e-bikes not in the context of a commuter, PikeRide-style bike. In this regard, e-bikes are fantastic. Both affordable and environmentally friendly, electric bikes for city commuting are a fantastic solution.

Additionally, e-bikes have opened the door to mountain biking and cycling to those who were previously barred due to disability. I invite you all to watch some videos of Trevor Kennison, who despite his paralysis was able to continue to ride the trails using a modified electric bike.

What I’m referring to in my original title are those who are fully capable of standard mountain biking but instead choose an e-bike solely because of the reasoning of limiting the effort they have to endure while driving.

Sales of electric mountain bikes have exploded in recent years, growing 38.1% from 2016 to 2021. I originally sought to argue that this increase was hurting mountain biking as a sport, opening up in made more strenuous trails for those with the budget to afford an electric mountain bike, which typically sells for over $5,000.

On a more personal note, being overtaken by an e-bike on a grueling climb is quite demoralizing. Many trails seem to have to be earned, and when someone can, indeed, pay to reach the top with less effort, it can take the magic out of the trail.

While my distaste for e-bikes remains, conversations with e-mountain bike riders have changed my perspective slightly. I recently spoke with an e-bike owner, who wished to remain anonymous, about his motivations for buying an e-bike and his experiences.

He noted that as he got older, his outlook changed. He had learned to appreciate spending more time descending on his bike rather than the quality of the descent. Plus, he came from a mountain bike background, and riding an e-bike seemed like the next logical step.

This pilot’s story showed me that my opinions were perhaps rather short-sighted before. Some people are less concerned with the somewhat poetic “magic” of biking down a hill. It seems that this rider, at least, took a much more rational approach to the sport: maximizing adrenaline-packed descents, while limiting the climbs.

It’s also worth noting that finding ways to limit uphill pedaling in mountain biking isn’t exactly a new concept. Bike parks accessible by chairlift and shuttle up trails by car are fairly common practice. Electric bikes are just the next evolution of these concepts.

Mountain biking generally has a pretty high entry bar in terms of fitness. The introduction of e-bikes has opened up the sport to those without good cardio, those with injuries, and even those who are getting older.

Ultimately, e-bikes get more people outdoors and more people riding. It’s hard to find anything wrong with that.

That said, I still believe that e-bikes take something out of the sport. There’s something special about suffering for hours, just for a few minutes of downhill joy. It’s a weirdly addictive feeling, and the pain on the way up makes the way down, at least for me, something I keep coming back for.

Whether it’s going up by chairlift, by car or by electric bike, not having to win your descent significantly harms the experience. E-bikes serve a purpose, but they cannot achieve the same result as a traditional bicycle. Ultimately, however, there are many sides to the subject.

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