September 30, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Pierce Sullivan | Illustration by Elizabeth White
The original title for this piece was “Why I Hate E-Bikes, and You Should Too,” but clearly, that is no longer the case. My perspective on this issue deepened over this past Block Break while mountain biking in Crested Butte.
Initially, however, I would like to clarify the scope of my argument. I refer to e-bikes not in the context of a commuter, PikeRide style, bike. In that regard, e-bikes are fantastic. Both affordable and environmentally friendly, e-bikes for around-the-town transport are a fantastic solution.
Additionally, e-bikes have opened the door of mountain biking and cycling up to those previously barred from entry by a disability. I urge you all to watch some videos of Trevor Kennison, who despite being paralyzed, has been able to continue to hit the trails with the help of a modified e-bike.
What I am referring to in my original title are those who are fully capable of riding a standard mountain bike but choose an e-bike instead purely based on the reasoning of limiting the exertion they have to undergo while riding.
E-mountain bike sales have skyrocketed in recent years, with sales increasing 38.1% from 2016 to 2021. I originally sought to argue that this rise was hurting mountain biking as a sport, by in effect opening up more strenuous trails to only those who had the budget to afford an e-mountain bike, which generally sell for upwards of $5000.
On a more personal note, getting passed by an e-bike in a grueling climb is fairly demoralizing. Many trails feel like they need to be earned, and when someone can, in effect, pay to get to the top with less effort, it can take away the magic of the trail.
While my distaste towards e-bikes remains, conversations with riders of e-mountain bikes have changed my perspective slightly. I recently spoke with an owner of an e-bike, who wished to remain anonymous, about his motivations for buying an electrified bike and what his experiences have been on it.
He noted how as he grew older, his perspectives had shifted. He had grown to value getting more time descending on his bike over the quality of the descent. Additionally, he came from a background of dirt biking, and riding an e-bike felt like the next logical step.
This rider’s story showed me that my opinions may have been rather shortsighted before. Some people are less concerned with this somewhat poetic “magic” of riding a bike down a hill. It seems that this rider, at least, had a far more rational approach to the sport: maximizing the adrenaline-packed downhills, while limiting the uphills.
It is also worth noting that finding ways to limit pedaling uphill in mountain biking is not exactly a new concept. Chairlift accessed bike parks and getting shuttled to the top of trails in a car are fairly common practice. E-bikes are just the next evolution of these concepts.
Mountain biking generally has a fairly high bar for entry in terms of fitness. The introduction of e-bikes has opened up the sport for those who do not have strong cardio, those with injuries, and even those getting old.
At the end of the day, e-bikes get more people outside and more people into riding. It is hard to find something wrong with that.
All that said, I still believe that e-bikes take something out of the sport. There is something special about suffering for hours on end, just for a few minutes of joy on the descent. It is a strangely addictive feeling, and the pain on the way up makes the ride down, at least for me, something to keep coming back for.
Whether it is riding up a chairlift, a car, or on an e-bike, not having to earn one’s descent noticeably detracts from the experience. E-bikes do serve a purpose, but they are unable to achieve the same result as a traditional bike. Ultimately, however, there are many sides to the topic.