Electric bikes have been most commonly seen in the cities, especially in Europe, as commuters take on those busy streets.
With their growing popularity, e-Bikes have been making their way onto the mountain trails with big brands recognising the growing demand for assisted power.
The mountain bike industry has seen so much change and evolution in the past few years alone. The old 26" standard wheel-size has been replaced by 27.5", and 29er's have been popular among the XC riders. Fat bikes, carbon components, and geometry changes have been churned out at rapid rates.
But with every new product and concept, there are the players and the haters. Electric mountain bikes have been a hot point of contention amongst riders with the resonating consensus that it's "lazy" to have pedal assistance.
In light of this, it's time to take a look at the arguments for and against the use of electric mountain bikes.
What Is An e-MTB?
Simply put, an electric bike is a normal bicycle equipped with a motor to assist the rider's performance. You still pedal as you usually would, but you get a little more oompf for your stroke.
You can get varying types of e-Bikes with different motors, batteries and set up, but mountain bikes tend to have a general rule.
The main additional components for an e-MTB is a motor, pedalling sensor, battery and controller/display unit.
E-MTB's often have central bottom bracket motors which are better for weight distribution across the bike. Having a BB motor provides better pedalling control, and won't interfere when changing an inner tube, unlike hub motors.
Pedalling sensors can be basic enough to know when you're pedalling, and complex enough to understand the amount of torque in your stroke. By knowing the torque and cadence, the sensor relays information to the motor so it can augment the assistance, providing a more natural and even feel.
An e-MTB battery can add 3 - 5kg onto the weight of the bike. This weight is better placed on the slope of the down-tube for central weight distribution, and without being in the way of your performance.
A controller and display unit is usually fixed to the handlebars so you can set the assistance level as you ride. It's ideal for monitoring battery life and useful for making quick motor changes without taking your hands off the grips.
Argument for e-MTB's
Whilst the debate for their purpose wages on, it's important to consider both sides of the argument for riding a power-assisted MTB. First, we'll look at the arguments for:
PEDALLING: Contrary to what a lot of people think, an e-bike is not a motorbike where you hop on and go. You still need to pedal, but with less effort. Pedalling is still exercise at the end of the day, so an e-bike shouldn't be snubbed at for being "lazy".
CLIMBING: With the motor assisting your pedal action, e-bikes are great for uphill climbing. You can take on climbs you may not be able to do on a regular bike.
EFFICIENCY: It's no wonder that an e-bike will get you up those climbs faster, and you can travel longer distances, but this helps a lot with training and time efficiency. For racers and riders who want to practise downhill sections, an e-bike will carry you up the ascents quicker so you can get more laps in a day.
FATIGUE: Having that helping hand on the bike can extend your riding time which will allow you to explore more trails, pedal longer and be outdoors more. Rather than a sluggish 2 hr undulating trail, you can power through a lot more without suffering the same level of exhaustion.
ACCESS TO MTB: Brands have seen particular groups of riders favouring the e-MTB option, mostly beginners who have a low fitness ability, older riders and those recovering from injury. One main purpose of the e-bike was to encourage more people to get on the trails and get into nature, rather than road or commute cycling. Having a little assistance on your side can be a great confidence boost, and just the right level of hand-holding until you get more comfortable.
TERRAIN: More pedal power will help ride over difficult terrain with more ease, such as grass, rocks, and uneven trail sections.
SOCIAL RIDES: If you enjoy riding in groups for the social aspect, but unable to maintain the pace, an e-MTB allows you to keep up with the pack. There's nothing worse than going for a social ride and finding it rather unsocial at the back on your own.
Argument Against e-MTB's
With every argument, there's the for and against and whilst the pro points are quite compelling, there's some weighty arguments against e-MTB's too.
BATTERY: It's hard to miss a hefty 3 - 5Kg box attached to your down-tube, and like all battery powered appliances, you need to charge them up from time-to-time. Battery life will vary from manufacturer and brand, and charging times can be anything from 3 - 6 hours. Not too inconvenient, if you remember to actually charge them! This may also pose problematic if you're away on cycling holidays and have restricted access to a power outlet.
WEIGHT: Adding weight is usually the opposite of what we want to do with our steeds. With the additional electric components required for an e-bike, a heavier bike can be more difficult to quickly manoeuvre in tight sections. It can also add extra faff when picking it up over gates, and to transport it in the car.
MAINTENANCE: A regular bike can be tricky enough to maintain at the best of times, but having a motor adds more complication and the chance of more things going wrong.
COST: With the extra kit, engineering and design, you're going to have to have a slightly bigger budget. With basic models from £1200+, eMTB's can easily reach high-end budgets into the thousands.
CHEATING: If you ride an e-MTB at a bike park, you're going to get some looks, some mumbling and some flat out laughs. Still considered to be the lazy option, most mountain bikers begrudge admitting their practicality, with a timeless phrase: "You have to earn your descents".
The social stigma around e-MTB's are similar to that when the 29er and Fatbikes were launched, and like all trends and fashions, the novelty of them will wear off until they become common place on the trails.
Growing demand for e-MTB's just goes to show that there is a market for them, and with that, more riders can be exposed and introduced to the world of dirt and descents. Surely this can only be a good thing?
While e-MTB's have their valid drawbacks, the arguments for them are quite convincing too, and continual growth in the demand pedal assisted power will eventually quash these points.
Just like the fatbikes, the 29er's and various other novelty introductions to the MTB market, there is a place for e-MTBer's too.
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