Do eBikes belong on the mountain?

It’s been a year. Since their arrival. These most unprincipled battery bikes, with on-board power aiding their propulsion.

Much like creeping taxation, quinoa everything in restaurants and mobile data pricing, the ebike draws our collective ire. Judgement is absolute and crushing. ‘It’s not a bike. It’s a motorbike… If you can’t ride, go spin on a Wattbike at Virgin Active. Get fitter… They’ll ruin trail access for all of us’.

 

A year on, from the first proper e-mountain bikes (e-MTBs) becoming available in South Africa, has sufficient time passed for reflection, and perhaps, appraisal? Well, before Pravin’s next budget, where ebikes could quite possibly become another tax revenue item, instead of an incentive - as they are in Europe, my feelings toward them have altered.

 

I should be the prototypical ebike hater. My mountain bike is a South African brand single-speed 26. Crisis. Could I be more fundamental in my traditionalism? Yet I’m conflicted about these battery mountain bikes.

 

They’re not motorbikes


Obvious for some. Less so for others. If you use the most sophisticated e-MTB available in South Africa, which is Specialized’s Levo, it’s categorically obvious that they’re not motorbikes. Mopeds would be a more plausible correlation, but without a throttle, and cranks which turn, the motorbike/motorped association is plainly false. And facetious.

 

TurboLevo-1.jpg


TurboLevo-3.jpg

TurboLevo-6.jpg

The Specialized Turbo Levo. Photo credit: Ewald Sadie.

 

These are mountain bikes with pedal assist battery motors. They’re not off-road motorbikes with single-crown forks. Components are sourced from the bicycle industry, instead of motorcycle supply chain.

 

The hate, though, is real. Online polls register disapproval numbers in excess of 80%, damning the e-MTB’s existence. But we all know the internet, with its self-appointed crusaders, is rarely within a margin of reflecting reality. In Europe, where cycling sources its history and hosts its most credible events (road/XCO/DH), e-MTB sales are near surpassing those of non-assisted – dare I say ‘conventional’ - mountain bikes. I’d always table sales statistics as the truest representation of acceptance and trend. With e-MTBs, there’s no invalidating the numbers: in parts of Europe, e-MTB sales are 50% up year-on-year.

 

Are they moral?


The primary salvo of criticism against e-MTBs has been ethical: if you work less, how dare you have access to my realm of adventure. Earn your turns.

 

In racing, certainly, there’s no argument that as e-MTBs become more sophisticated, there’s a risk of BB-battery motor solutions becoming sufficiently compact, to be near undetectable. Especially at races where organisers don’t have the sophisticated X-ray equipment.

 

E-MTBs don’t belong anywhere near a mountain bike race. Not even in a separate category. And if you analyse Specialized’s Levo, that’s hardly its purpose. This is a trail-bike: dropper seatpost, Pike fork. It’s not meant for stage racing. At all. It’s meant to enable those who have perhaps past their peak or are burdened by schedule or health issues, to recapture the thrill of trail exploration and riding.

 

It’s why I struggle with the enclave argument of having to earn your turns. There are riders in their 60s who are in great shape, examples of life-long discipline and training commitment. Age is a real keeper of ability, though, and why shouldn’t they have the privilege of participation on those fantastic five-hour Sunday trail rides? They’re the founders, with great stories, still chasing the thrill. Why deny them? Perhaps more meaningfully: why deny the unqualified excitement of a 60-year old refamiliarizing themselves with off-road cycling after four decades away from bikes?

 

Kids. Partners. It’s a similar logic. If your partner or offspring wish to join on a weekend ride, yet are petrified of the discrepancy in endurance between yourselves, why isn’t the e-MTB a great solution? It enables a thoroughly testing training ride for you, without risking the frustration of waiting at the top of each gradient for ten minutes.

 

They’re interested in this world unfamiliar to them, yet so beguiling to you, with its tremendous gatekeeping function of fitness. Is allowing family or a non-biking friend this glimpse of access, to aid understanding of your training commitment, really an unethical sacrifice before the mountain bike Gods? I struggle to think it could be the case.

 

BMC ebike.jpg
BMC's concept electornic mountain bike.

 

Do they destroy trails?


Beyond the issues of ethical pedal assistance, trail destruction is the e-MTB-hater’s most vocal objection. The belief being that e-MTBs will enable riders so many runs, on a heavy bike, they’ll accelerate trail wear beyond all reasonable expectations.

 

It’s an absolutely rubbish claim, revealing an issue around trail wear and maintenance that’s conveniently ignored in South Africa: mass and bike set-up. Heavier riders, will harm a trail more. Heavier riders on relatively narrow, stage-race width tyres (at high pressures), will do this even more so.

 

Granted, The Levo is far heavier (22-and-a-bit-kg) than an aggregate South African rider’s bike, but the diversity in rider physiology rebalances this. How many rides have you been on where there are both 70- and 90kg riders? Exactly. The combined mass is what matters and most Levos, with rider, would equal the weight on many larger, fit, South African riders on their carbon marathon bikes. On a Levo, that mass contacts the trail through a much wider 27.5 plus tyre, which means less damage and potential brake lock-up.

 

Seeing the wood for the trees: e-benefits


As a purist, the concept of pedal assistance grates me. But I don’t live in an isolated Karoo valley all on my own. The momentum of trail access is empowered by participant numbers and people of influence – and they’re mostly mature stakeholders, unlikely to threaten Nino in a VO2 max test. If there are bikes that make these influential stakeholders ride more frequently and further, they’ll chair the negotiations for greater, lasting, trail access.

 

The burden of time, distance, and family are real. If your sanity and balance of zen depends on that specific singletrack descent, which is just too far from home within the time constraints of your scheduling, an e-MTB is not a tool for the lazy. It’s salvation for the committed.

 

Of all the unconsidered benefits of e-MTBs, safety is the outlier. Imagine a member of your riding group has an off in technical terrain, and you’re at the bottom of a valley, with the nearest mobile phone signal at the drop-in point you’ve just descended from. You have a problem. The ability of an e-MTB to get back up faster than anything else, and make that emergency call for help, might gain those crucial few minutes between a manageable evacuation and the delirium of an emergency evacuation.

 

Family. Kids. Dogs. Businesses which operate on weekends. I have none of these things in my life, but some of my friends do, and I’d like for them to have fewer excuses not to ride. It’s the reason I can’t bring myself to hate ebikes. Except when a 60-year old on a Levo is chatting away, whilst I’m close to exhaustion near the crest of a climb. Guess I need to train harder. eBikes make me a better rider. And I don’t even have one.




2120 Comments

intern, Mar 06 2017 07:32

Heh, slightly related, but a dude on an ebike wiped 3 of my KOMs in the local MTB park last week on an ebike. What made it sting a bit more is that the chap in question is tubby, approaching 60, a lawyer and this was his first Strava ride ever.

Those motors obviously do make a difference :).

BigTom, Mar 06 2017 07:41

Heh, slightly related, but a dude on an ebike wiped 3 of my KOMs in the local MTB park last week on an ebike. What made it sting a bit more is that the chap in question is tubby, approaching 60, a lawyer and this was his first Strava ride ever.
Those motors obviously do make a difference :).

I heard there is supposedly a separate category for ebikes on Strava. Anyone know if that is correct?

NicoBoshoff, Mar 06 2017 07:47

Which has me wondering why all I ever see on my social media feed are sponsored athletes or ambassadors sharing their e-boners with the world?

 

Just lay off it a bit Spez.  Last I checked they actually sell some other actual bicycles.

Patchelicious, Mar 06 2017 07:48

These bikes are ok if:

They are in their own catergory in races and Strava, and if the don't do damage to the trails.

If they get more people out riding, well good?

BUT if I catch a dude on an eBike taking one of my KOMs, I will connect his eBike battery to his nipples.

NicoBoshoff, Mar 06 2017 07:49

And let's stop walking around that big old elephant in the room.  This is just the industry realising it's nearing a point of diminishing returns on the conventional bicycle so they are forcing us down a new path of "innovation" and generating demand.

 

Because actually starting to focus on getting bikes to market cheaper is a waste of time.

NicoBoshoff, Mar 06 2017 07:51

As to your question. Sure, they belong on the mountain.  I'm not the kind of guy to go tell the fatso at the casino buffet that he perhaps shouldn't be having that fourth serving of waffles.  Let him think he's got it all if that makes him happy.

Duane_Bosch, Mar 06 2017 07:53

I heard there is supposedly a separate category for ebikes on Strava. Anyone know if that is correct?

That is correct.

xero7, Mar 06 2017 08:12

I heard there is supposedly a separate category for ebikes on Strava. Anyone know if that is correct?

 

That is if the general public understand how strava works. Nobody adds their bike correctly, thus having it picked up as an e-bike automagically will be troublesome. If you know it's an ebike, just flag the activity.

Duane_Bosch, Mar 06 2017 08:19

That is if the general public understand how strava works. Nobody adds their bike correctly, thus having it picked up as an e-bike automagically will be troublesome. If you know it's an ebike, just flag the activity.

No no. When you upload a ride you can mark it as a ride, ebike ride, xc ski etc etc. I think that's what he means.

carbon29er, Mar 06 2017 08:30

E-Bikes definitely do not belong on mountain trails.  It has been hard enough for mountain bikers to get access to some trails without adding a motorised option to the objectors arsenal.

 

If you cannot get up and down the hills under your own steam then stay off the trails. Don't spoil the access for those who can.

 

If strava if your only objection to an e-bike on the trails then you really are not seeing the bigger picture.

Patchelicious, Mar 06 2017 08:36

E-Bikes definitely do not belong on mountain trails. It has been hard enough for mountain bikers to get access to some trails without adding a motorised option to the objectors arsenal.

If you cannot get up and down the hills under your own steam then stay off the trails. Don't spoil the access for those who can.

If strava if your only objection to an e-bike on the trails then you really are not seeing the bigger picture.

And IF the "objectors" don't have an issue with it?

If the potential issue in your opinion is the trail owners, perhaps just checking with them before you take your eBike on their trail is a quick and simple solution?

I am sure some trail owners won't mind, and perhaps those trails can be classified as eBike friendly and other can be simply and clearly state "No eBikes".

eBikes are coming, so we should rather prepare for them rather than fight it.

NotSoBigBen, Mar 06 2017 08:38

I guess this is what is meant by own category, 2 issues with that in that most just let Strava decide what the category is which normally means 'Ride' and secondly there are those who don't want anyone to know that it was on an 'assisted' bike and just accept the 'kudos'?

 

E-Bike.JPG

Thermophage, Mar 06 2017 08:39

Oh no! Not innovation! Not change! My poor Strava KOM's!

Yes they belong. They're in the spirit of true mtb riding anyway. Chill chat and rip it on some ST on the way down with your mates.

Pure Savage, Mar 06 2017 08:43

E-Bikes definitely do not belong on mountain trails.  It has been hard enough for mountain bikers to get access to some trails without adding a motorised option to the objectors arsenal.

 

If you cannot get up and down the hills under your own steam then stay off the trails. Don't spoil the access for those who can.

 

If strava if your only objection to an e-bike on the trails then you really are not seeing the bigger picture.

 

Surely if you get more people onto the trails paying subscriptions, making it safer and growing the community its only a good thing. 

 

Lets not poo poo them just because they are not our cup of tea.

stringbean, Mar 06 2017 08:49

#6 100%
I believe they don't belong on the mountain but do believe we have nothing to worry about.At the moment they are only been ridden by pro's or ambassadors pushing them for the big companies OR the just plain fat and lazy.
Won't take long before pro's and ambassadors go back to their normal bikes and the fat and lazy by nature just park them all in the garage never to be ridden again.So we will see them on the trail now and neth but before long you won't see any.
Don't be fooled by the big companies saying it's going to take over.
They all just imported a shitload of ebikes they want to get rid of.
How many fat bikes we see on the trails now days?

NicoBoshoff, Mar 06 2017 08:49

Oh no! Not innovation! Not change! My poor Strava KOM's!

Yes they belong. They're in the spirit of true mtb riding anyway. Chill chat and rip it on some ST on the way down with your mates.

Thanks, I've literally never laughed this hard.

Ratty, Mar 06 2017 08:50

I didn't like the idea of them, but after my OH got one and I see the fun he is having on it because he is able to get to the top of the trails and actually have energy left to enjoy the downhills, I have been converted.  He is loving mountain biking again and is super keen to get out and ride instead of just sitting on the couch.

 

It is great for mates / partners where the one is super fit and the other not as they can ride together.  You still have to pedal so its not like its a free ride to the top, it just makes it a little easier.

 

If it was lighter to pick up, I would seriously consider getting one myself.  Could have so much fun at places like Jonkers, Welvanpas etc where I just don't have the fitness to ride all the trails I want in a day.  However there is no way I could lift one onto my roofracks.

NicoBoshoff, Mar 06 2017 08:59

I didn't like the idea of them, but after my OH got one and I see the fun he is having on it because he is able to get to the top of the trails and actually have energy left to enjoy the downhills, I have been converted.  He is loving mountain biking again and is super keen to get out and ride instead of just sitting on the couch.

 

It is great for mates / partners where the one is super fit and the other not as they can ride together.  You still have to pedal so its not like its a free ride to the top, it just makes it a little easier.

 

If it was lighter to pick up, I would seriously consider getting one myself.  Could have so much fun at places like Jonkers, Welvanpas etc where I just don't have the fitness to ride all the trails I want in a day.  However there is no way I could lift one onto my roofracks.

Once your other half is fit from getting back into it, will he stay on the e-bike or will he be incentivised to take his riding further on a normal bike?  Or will he just pedal away from you with his new gained fitness on the e-bike and you both ride alone?

 

What's the long game here?

Shebeen, Mar 06 2017 09:06

I'm 100% behind pedal assist e-bikes being accepted as a mountain bike.

 

BUT, in the transition period we'd really need all e-bike owners to not be a Dwis about it. 

billygoat0523, Mar 06 2017 09:10

it's fine i guess as long as they don't want to impatiently whirrrrr past me on the climbs.

carbon29er, Mar 06 2017 09:18

What's next? Motor cycles or motor scooters with engines below a certain capacity or power output? As long as they are silent?  There is very little difference between these two and an e-mountain bike, in my opinion. All 3 are capable of letting the driver go faster both uphill and downhill than they would if it was not for the motor.

 

The former two have been banned on the majority of mixed use trails almost forever, places like the newly opened Constantia greenbelts. It's but a small step for walkers and horse riders to point out that motors are now being used and the fear is that brings the whole access thing tumbling down. After all, people see access by bicycles bringing the new menace.

 

How many of us would not complain if a scrambler started riding "our" MTB single tracks?

 

I think it is very selfish of users to access MTB trails with motors. And that is not because I'm not embracing new technology or progress.

 

Disclaimer: As I am barred from all trails it really does not bother me personally.

Nick, Mar 06 2017 09:18

Once your other half is fit from getting back into it, will he stay on the e-bike or will he be incentivised to take his riding further on a normal bike?  Or will he just pedal away from you with his new gained fitness on the e-bike and you both ride alone?

 

What's the long game here?

 

I'd suspect that it's to have fun.

Goodbadugly, Mar 06 2017 09:26

It does not concern me.

Other people can do what they feel like.

I don't do strava.

lechatnoir, Mar 06 2017 09:29

Gee, if someone else riding a ebike is going to prevent me from having fun wherever I ride, whenever I ride, then MY association with cycling is wrong and needs adjusting...

 

This is MY POV... couldn't care less. They aren't for me. Not today at any rate

Tatt, Mar 06 2017 09:29

I'm a big fan of them, even although I don't own one.

 

Had my right knee rebuilt twice and heading for my third rebuild... So can definitely see myself getting one of these in a few years time when it packs up for good and the left leg needs a little help doing all the work!

 

Tom