The rhetoric is strong on both sides of the issue. Some feel electric mountain bikes are cheating and shouldn’t be allowed on natural trails. Others argue that a bike, as defined by federal and state law, should be welcomed on trails. In this article we’ll look at the issue and talk about why eMBT are a welcome way to experience the trails.
Top Concerns about Electric Moutain Bikes on Trails
Here are the concerns that I have heard concerning electric mountain bikes (eMTBs) on the trails:
1. eMTB’s aren’t human powered
2. eMTB’s travel too fast and are dangerous to other riders
3. eMTB riders haven’t earned the right to be on the trails
4. eMTB’s will damage the trails
I would like to hear the other concerns mountain bike riders have that aren’t on this list. This is a great discussion to have.
We encourage anyone concerned about electric mountain bikes on the trails to ride an eMTB and try one for yourself. Many of the opinions about eMTB’s have been formed without even riding one.
eMBT Concerns Unfounded
My employees, my customers, and I probably have more experience on eMTB’s than anyone in the state. I can say with 100% confidence that all of the concerns listed above about eMTB’s on the trails are unfounded. Let me make a quick clarification, I am talking about eMTB’s as defined in the Utah Code, not the high-powered electric bikes that rip up the trails at 50 mph (which are already illegal as bicycles). Those riders and videos have done tremendous damage to the public perception of ebikes.
Electric Mountain Bikes Are About Access and Ability
Riding eMTB’s on mountain bike trails is about access and ability, not about speed. The average eMTB riding speed on the trails is the same as for MTB’s (it’s generally a little faster on the uphill but slower on the downhill). I am a good eMTB rider and I ride at the same speed as my 14 year old son (who is on his high school mountain bike team) on his regular MTB. We ride together, that’s why we do it. I can’t keep up with him otherwise.
How eBikes Are Not Cheating
We frequently hear, “ebikes are cheating.” I find this comment very interesting. What is an ebike rider cheating? Are they cheating when they get out and ride 3-4 times per week when before they were only riding once per week, or not at all? Are they cheating when they push their heart rate to a healthy limit and feel the burn? Are they cheating when they go for a ride with friends and enjoy the experience of being on bikes together? Are they cheating when they lose 15, 50, or even 250 lbs riding an ebike (true story)? What are they cheating?
How are Flippers Like eBikes?
Have you ever swam in a pool with fins or flippers? According to Mat Luebbers, Swimming Expert, “swimming with fins is a way for swimmers to imporve kick strength, ankle flexibility, body position, and go faster during a swim practice.” There is even an official competitive sport called Fin swimming! Luebbers continues that one of the greatest benefits of using fins or flippers is they “allow you to focus on other parts of your technique, such as body roll or timing.” He encourages “You should add fins to your workout kit, along with the rest of your swimming tools…” (Swimming.about.com, December 16, 2014)
What do flippers and ebikes have in common? Some people say flippers are cheating. Are the flippers human powered? Do they help you swim? Are flippers cheating? If you’re in race, sure. But if you’re snorkeling and need help swimming against the current, then they are a helpful tool. Do you still get exercise wearing flippers? Absolutely.
It’s the same principle with an ebike.
Don’t Exclude Riders Based on Their Bike of Choice
I have not heard any good reason why eMTB’s should be excluded from riding on MTB trails. If the end result is the same, regardless of which type of bike you are on, then we shouldn’t be making a philosophical differentiation and excluding riders because their bike is different. Also, think ahead 10, 20, or 30 years, would you like a young new rider telling you that you’re not allowed on the trails anymore because you need help continuing to do what you love?
Try Riding An eBike Before You Judge
I would love to have this discussion with those concerned and get them on an eMTB for themselves. Electric bikes get more people on bikes. Isn’t this what we’re working for as a cycling community? I look forward to more discussion on this topic.
Here are additional perspectives on the issue.
DirtRagMag’s Elephant In the Room The Great eBike Controversy
The Wall Street Journal The Fight To Ride Electric Mountain Bikes on the Trail
Single Tracks Electric Moutain Bikes Belong On MBT Trails
Adventure Journal Digging Into the Dirt on eBikes
Photos courtesy of Easy Motion USA, Focus Bikes, 50Cycles.com, Swimming.About.Com