Monday, March 2, 2020

Why I Like e-Mountain Bikes and Why they Should NOT be Banned

Mountain Biking is an interesting entity. Like a flowing river, people keep trying to control it, steer it and put boundaries around it.  Yet like a river it will find its own course, you can't control it especially in a flooding situation.  So you need live with it, embrace it and "go with the flow." e-Bikes like 29" inch wheels are coming and mountain bike groups and trail organizations need to get in front of it now and remove the friction and tension around them. And I am no talking about banning them. 

e-Bike Power Classifications:
First before we start our discussion we need to understand the basics about e-bikes. There are three power source types:

Class 1: eBikes that are pedal-assist only, no throttle, and have a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph.
Class 2: eBikes that also have a maximum speed of 20 mph, but are throttle-assisted.
Class 3: eBikes that are pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph.

My Take on e-Mountain Bikes:
There are people who have too much time on their hands and not enough of what I call "living at 360 degree life." They are in the "here and now" and don't think about the sustainable future of our sport. Young mountain bikers are going to get old, more people riding trails means more support of the sport which means more support of trails.

So I think trail managers and riding clubs need to get in front of trend they can't stop and embrace it a 360 view. For example, they can say that only Class 1 e-Mountain Bikes are allowed on their trails. That takes out the concern over "motorcycle" like trail riders. You can also establish rules (depending on your terrain) that you can only use the assist mode while climbing.With a max speed of 20 miles an hour for the assist mode (based on your pedaling) most experienced riders are already going that fast and wouldn't want any assistance going down, especially technical sections.

Also, e-Mountain Bikes are getting lighter and companies like Specialized are releasing bikes that have some assistance, but still requiring heavy pedaling and shifting down while climbing. What is the advantage of that setup? More laps on your favorite climb or longer days in the saddle (especially as you get older).

My Use Cases:
Here are a few use cases that I think are a valid use for an e-Mountain Bike:

Use Case 1 - Couples - many times one spouse or the other (mostly the female one) will not want to ride with their significant other because they keep getting dropped on the climbs, etc. An e-Mountain Bike is a great equalizer in that case. It is always better to do a sport you love with the one you love.

Use Case 2 - Old Age - one of my favorite places to ride is Alsea Falls bike park. It has a paved and gravel climb that is about 2000 feet of climb in about 4 miles or less. I'm approaching 60 and while I'm in good shape, I can do about 1.5 laps before my legs are tired. With some pedal assist on the climbs I could get in 3 laps.

Use Case 3 - Disabilities - there are people who need assistance pedaling because of a disability. In fact, this would be my only case for allowing someone to use a Class 2 bike if they couldn't pedal at all.

There are probably more, but you get the idea.

Specialized e-Mountain Bikes:
Specialized has been a leader in e-bikes and their Levo e-Mountain bikes are no exception.  As mentioned above they have two versions based on their Stumpjumper frame.  I have always road Specialized, and especially Stumpjumpers (in fact I have 2017 and 2019 carbon models).  On version is your traditional Class 1 pedal assist and the other is the lower power Class 1 pedals assist.  The later comes in under 40lbs.

The links below are to a video that points out the difference which I think you will see other manufactures adopt and then an MTBR review of the same two bikes.

So there you have it, not an exhaustive discussion but hopefully it helps to frame the discussion in a positive way.  Because I for one want to be riding into my 80's and I know that an e-Mountain Bike will get me there.

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