If you’ve been out on a bike recently, chances are you’ve seen people riding all types of e-bikes. And if you spend time on the trails, you may have noticed that a lot more people are enjoying mountain biking with the pedal assist of a motor. E-bikes can be a contentious subject and yet, they are the fastest growing segment of the bicycle market. That means many people are buying their first or even their second e-bike.
Perhaps you’ve been skeptical about the fun or function of an e-bike and you’re interested in challenging your opinions, or maybe you are excited about to purchase your first e-bike. I hopped on my first e-bike a few months ago- the Orbea Rise and I was happily surprised. While I still prefer an analog bike for most of my rides, I wanted to debunk some myths (a few of them were even my own preconceived notions) and give you my take on a few things.
Fun can be defined in a number of ways, but the way I see it, fun has a few categories most people would agree on: momentum/speed, not having to walk your bike, and getting to ride more trails. E-bikes are effectively like a resistance dial on a spin bike. You can choose your own adventure, making it easier or harder by how much of a boost you want from the motor. The pedal assist can smooth out more dramatic spikes in effort when the trail gets extra steep.
When you’re mountain biking, momentum is your friend and speed is fun! Most of us ride mountain bikes because we like to, well…ride. We don’t enjoy walking our bikes and when we are tired, pushing the bike uphill can happen more often. Having the option to get a little extra boost on a steep sections can help if you are lacking in fitness, if you’re tired, or you just don’t have that high end wattage for a few seconds. Momentum also helps you get through rock gardens, especially if it’s hard to pedal in the middle of them and you need to accelerate and carry speed. E-bikes also can make longer hard climbs that maybe you couldn’t previously ride more accessible. Another way e-bikes make trail riding more fun is that you can cover a greater distance in a shorter period of time. Most of us are time-crunched and face with the frustration of having access to the same lunch loop or after-work ride. Having an e-bike gives you freedom to potentially cover more ground and ride a wider variety of trails.
My challenge when people say that e-bikes are cheating is “cheating compared to what?” Yes, the effort on an e-bike can be easier because you have access to a motor. However, most pedal assist e-bikes have different modes that provide different levels of assistance. The type of assistance you get is mostly from adding extra torque when you need it. That means that you still have to pedal the bike and you still have the option to build your fitness, or even suffer a little bit if that strikes your fancy. You can get the reward of working hard while riding an e-bike, get your heart rate up, and build aerobic fitness.
E-bikes can come spec’d with high end components, carbon frames, and tuned suspension. Some e-bikes look clunky while with others, you have to look very closely to even tell it’s an e-bike. Carbon frames and lighter components make some e-bikes lighter than some of their counterparts. They also are built with stellar trail riding geometry in mind so you can rip it on the descents.
You’ll see people of all fitness levels and ages riding e-bikes. There are also e-bike races and many pros that ride e-bikes. It might not be your daily driver, but many riders enjoy having one in their garage. Every rider has different desires when it comes to trail riding, and an e-bike can check all the boxes!
As a Professional Mountain Biker, I like using my e-bike on recovery rides so I don’t overexert myself on trails which is easy to do! I also enjoy it if I want to explore a new area or session a descent. As a mom of very young children, I rode my e-bike while I was pregnant in my third trimester and it made mountain biking a lot more fun for me! I also use it for taking my son out on rides on the shotgun seat!
Sonya Looney is a professional athlete, a podcast host, health coach, business owner, and a wife, and mom of 2. She understands the challenges of prioritization and motivation. She regularly writes about these topics along with mindset, goals, and habits in her weekly newsletter! Let her experiences and expertise be a part of your journey down the path of living a high-performance life!
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