Ebikes – Good, Bad, or just Ugly?

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Possibly the most polarising invention ever to hit the mountain bike world, the Ebike doesn’t look to be disappearing from bikes shops any time soon. While many might hope that if we ignore them they’ll go away, sales figures and the number of new bikes being brought to market suggests that there’s a demand there. So who exactly is buying them, and why?

Lapierre Overvolt AM Carbon 2017
Lapierre Overvolt AM Carbon 2017

The first reaction many have is that Ebikes are for beginners. They’re for people who are too unfit to get up hills, for women who can’t keep up with their husbands, or for holiday makers to hire on their annual holiday trip to the trail centre. But do their ride characteristics really suit beginners? And what are they actually like to ride? Hannah gives some thought to the possible target markets, and whether they really do suit these groups.

The Ride – The Not So Good

So what is an Ebike like to ride? Well, it’s going to depend a lot on the bike, because it’s not just the overall weight, but also the distribution of that weight that’s going to affect the handling. Any mistake can be that little bit trickier to recover, since there’s a lot of momentum in that weight. You’re also likely to be carrying a fair bit of speed. Without very much effort you can easily be cruising along at 30kph, so if you do crash, prepare to land with a bump. And hope that heavy bike doesn’t hit you.

That said, the motor only works while you’re pedalling. Stop pedalling, and there’s a slightly disconcerting disproportionate loss of speed. So, approaching an obstacle, you stop pedalling to keep your pedals level and avoid a rock strike, only to find yourself slowing down in a step, rather than a gentle curve…you need to get used to this to avoid losing balance as you slow rapidly at a tricky section.

This also presents as an issue when riding corners on flat terrain. Conventional wisdom suggests that you should drop your outside foot down and coast through a turn, but you can’t really do that with an Ebike that decelerates as soon as you stop pedalling. Consequently, Ebikes encourage you to pedal through corners to maintain your momentum. That isn’t ideal from a traction perspective, and it certainly isn’t ideal if there are low-lying rocks embedded in those corners that are likely to catch your pedals.

Conversely, on a descent, you’re not pedalling and the motor is idle. Until that is you pedal a half turn to perhaps swap leading legs, or get your outer foot down on a bend. Depending on how much you’ve turned the pedal and how sensitive your model of motor is, you can get a surprise burst of speed – not necessarily what you want on a technical descent. Ideally, you want to teach yourself to pedal backwards at such points, but that’s easier said than done.

The Ride – The Good Stuff

Hills. Technical climbs. Ha! No longer are these lung bursting instruments of torture, but instead they’re pleasure cruises on the way to the fun land of descents. Select an easy gear, engage max assist, and spin. If this doesn’t appeal to you then maybe you need to join the pain cave worshipping Lycra gang on your turbo trainer. With a good quality Ebike you can session your favourite descents without the need for an uplift or a new pair of legs.

Lapierre Overvolt AM Alloy 2017
Photo Credit: Damian McArthur/Lapierre

Cruising along rolling trails with only a moderate level of assist is also pretty pleasurable. You can cruise along off road, eating up miles that might normally only be achieved on the road, or through the exuding of much sweat. Sit up, take in the scenery, hold a conversation, and enjoy the fact you’re shifting along without burying yourself.

Any mountain biker understands the importance of momentum, and an Ebike delivers momentum in spades. If you’ve got a full suspension Ebike with decently wide or even plus-size tyres, you’ll discover a new found ability to glide over bigger rocks and obstacles that would normally hook you up on a non-motorised bike. That either means you can ride new trails that you’ve never been able to tackle comfortably before, or you can ride existing tech-trails with greater ease and less fatigue.

Focus_Project_Y_eBike_01
Focus Project Y prototype

So, on to the potential users. With the above ride characteristics in consideration, how well do Ebikes really suit different target markets?

The Unfit

So let’s start with unfit people. I think this is probably a fair shout: you’re still getting exercise, but through increased use of the motor on climbs you can get up and over stuff without hitting your maximum heart rate. As you get fitter (and if you keep at it, you will – Ebiking is not a passive activity) you can use the motor less, and continue to increase your fitness. With global obesity rates rising, I’m inclined to think that any activity is to be encouraged. For this category of potential user I can’t think of why Ebikes wouldn’t be a good thing, providing they stick to trails within their handling capabilities.

Women

Well, I fear this is an example of gender stereotyping, and that there’s plenty of women who could keep up with their husbands if they wanted to. I suspect that the barriers to participation are a little more complex than a concern about keeping up. But again, if there’s a cohort of women that feel that an Ebike is going to make the difference between them riding a bike and not, I’m prepared to swallow my misgivings about this marketing angle in the name of Exercise Is Always Good (EIAG).

Lapierre Overvolt XC Women
Woman on an Ebike.
Photo Credit: Manu Molle/Lapierre

As a specific example to draw from within our own office, our latest staff member, Wil, has experienced the merits of Ebikes first hand after his wife purchased one last year. With the help of a 250W pedal-assist motor, they’re now able to ride together. Previously Suzie wouldn’t have ever entertained the idea, and she was highly intimidated by riding steep or long hills. Since getting an Ebike, she’s now able to ride a lot more, and in her words, cycling is now a fun activity. Tying back to my previous point, Suzie has also improved her fitness significantly, despite many Ebike critics suggesting the opposite.

Bike Hire for Beginners

Now here, I’m divided. Yes, the EIAG argument is valid, but I think certain caveats are needed. Firstly, if you’re intending to tackle a gentle cross country double track with rolling hills and a picnic type trip, then go for it. The same goes for a pootle round the blue route at a trail centre. However, head towards the more technical trails I’m not convinced an Ebike is the best option. Yes, you can cruise up the ups with relative ease, however what goes up must come down – and even a very high end Ebike is going to prove harder to handle than a normal bike.

Nico Vouilloz Lapierre Overvolt AM Carbon 2017
Not a beginner.
Photo Credit: Damian McArthur/Lapierre

The weight distribution on most Ebikes means that they’re not as easy to handle as, for example, a full-sus plus bike. The weight itself means that if you get something wrong, it is generally harder to recover the position – there’s a lot of momentum in that weight and – particularly for lighter people (women maybe?) an Ebike is, in my opinion, more likely to go once it’s going. And once it’s gone, that weight is going to hurt if it catches you. So, while the ‘point and shoot’ of an Ebike – especially the plus tyres options – might have its appeal to beginners less good at picking a line on a climb, I suspect there’s a risk that getting up that tough climb might just put day trippers at the top of something they’re going to struggle to get down.

The Ageing Rider

So you’re getting on, your riding buddies are waiting for you at the top of every climb and you feel like you’re holding them back. An Ebike might seem like a good solution to this problem, and I’m inclined to agree. If you’re an experienced rider, you can probably handle the peculiarities associated with weight and weight distribution, although the consequences if you do get it wrong may be exacerbated by a heavy bike landing on your aging bones.

But then again, you’ve probably already accepted the risk of crashing and breaking a hip when you’re riding a standard bike, so the risks are not so different. On balance, EIAG probably applies again, and by keeping active and in touch with friends you’ll be doing yourself, your family, social services and the NHS a huge favour. I suspect there’s a good argument for being able to get an Ebike on prescription.

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The Injured Rider

If you’re a keen rider, enforced time off the bike through injury can be pretty tortuous. The higher cadence lower power riding style of an Ebike can suit people recovering from certain types of injuries. There’s no need to put a lot of force through tender joint and bones on big climbs – just boost the assist and go. But don’t get too carried away – you don’t want to be falling off at speed and injuring yourself again. For the recovering rider, an Ebike might prove a head saver, but it’s a big expenditure for what is (hopefully) a short period of use.

The Practical Rider

Maybe you’re a photographer who wants to get ahead of the group despite carrying a massive pile of camera kit? Maybe you’re a racer who wants to get a look at the course, but not tire your legs out for the main event? Maybe you live up a big hill but want to ditch the car for the commute to work? An Ebike will help you do all these things.

Arguably the racer who has the funds to have an Ebike and a race bike has an unfair advantage over those that don’t, but there’s always someone with lighter, faster, better kit in the arms race of racing. Other than that, I can’t think of a single reason why people in this group wouldn’t benefit from a Ebike.

haibike3

One of the most interesting recent examples of the practicality of an Ebike comes from the partnership between German bike manufacturer Cube and the Enduro World Series (EWS). For the 2016 EWS race season, accredited media representatives have been offered a Cube long-travel Ebike for getting around the racecourse. Given how remote some of the stages can be at an EWS race, having motorised assistance for journalists and photographers makes a lot of sense.

The N+1

Well, why not? You’ve got a hardtail, a 140mm travel bike (aluminum), a 140mm travel bike (carbon), a titanium bike, a retro bike, a plus bike, a race bike, a road bike, a cross bike, and one that you’ve not quite got round to selling but maybe one day you will…No one will notice another, right?

DSC_0310

During heated online forum debates, Ebike haters often suggest that E-curious riders should just bite the bullet and buy a motorbike instead. While that’s certainly an option, an Ebike has a lot of advantages over a petrol-powered motorbike. For a start, they’re a lot lighter and a lot easier to handle for those who are used to riding a mountain bike. They’re also significantly quieter, and you won’t have to worry about dirty exhaust fumes and tearing up trails. Oh, and no need to go out and buy a motorbike helmet, boots, armour, gloves, jackets…

So, what do you reckon, the work of the devil or something that might find its way into your shed?

Comments (40)

    That Focus prototype actually looks half decent……

    My Turbo Levo looks ace…

    and don’t forget its just fun….

    Largely a good thing, for the reasons so eloqunetly stated above. Anything that gets people riding…..but interesting to see the practical disadvantages of handling too.

    Not one for me though as I think a descent is the price to pay for a good enjoyable climb.

    I don’t understand why an e bike loses speed disproportionately more than a regular bike. Surely when you stop pedalling it just freewheels the same as a regular bike? There’s no extra drag from the motor,because you’re freewheeling on the freehub

    If it wasn’t for my Scott E-Genuis 710+ i wouldn’t be able to ride due to a 25yr old spinal injury that over the previous 8 years has now progressed into an inability to walk more than 20yards without tripping up, and these days i’m lucky if i can manage to work for 4 hours/day before i have to head home and shuffle around the house whilst bouncing off the walls to maintain my balance. This is due to a deterioration in my leg power output to such an extent that when i go out on the road for a couple of miles with my Kinesis Tripster i can get overtaken by people walking and if there is a hill, no matter how small then it’s pretty much game over – return to base.

    Previous to 2008 my spinal cord injury gave me no power output problems at all, i was usually to be found knocking in upwards of 400 miles a week on my Soulcraft single speed, i could comfortably lap Kirroughtree in under 2hours without getting off the bike or placing a foot down and you could say riding a bike was the focus of my entire life, whether or not that’s a good thing is another issue altogether. I bought my first proper mtb, a Muddy Fox Explorer back in 1986 at the age of 14 whilst growing up in Argyll where the freedom of a fat tyre bike with gears and brakes that worked was revolutionary, I explored everywhere within a 50 mile radius of my wee village (Dalavich Loch Awe) and i covered thousands of miles on that bike before i got the desire for N+1 so you could say i was a pretty fit n’ able rider.

    My current E-Bike allows me to continue to get out n’ about, albeit at a greatly reduced pace compared to my previous riding ability, even when i select turbo mode through the motor it will only produce a multiple of the torque i can place through the crank which being practically fuck all means that “fuck all x 300% assistance” still equals very little forward motion compared to my previous riding ability.

    It’s not the same as riding a normal lightweight bike, nothing like it to be honest (at least for me) a as i’m constantly aware of the remaining battery levels, If the battery runs out of power then i’m up shit creek so i always plan ahead as pedalling the bike without assistance is not really possible nor practical and the increased weight of the bike and motor really makes itself apparent when it comes to “attempted” quick changes of direction, It’s not the type of bike that leads itself to being lifted over obstacles/fences/gates more than a few times before you realise that the route you have taken is foolish. It’s good at holding a stable line through rocks and over roots which is partly due to the weight/plus sized tyres and it’s quite capable of getting air but you’d better be aware of the mass beforehand as it has a tendency to drop the front end rather quickly – as long as you get over the rear it’s capable enough.

    Having said that i would not be without it as otherwise i’d have to consider myself an Ex-MTB Rider but the weight of the bikes need to come down significantly in future and further thought has to be put into battery placement as having such a weight high up on the frame does not do the handling any favours. The inherent drag/stiction from the motor when it is not in use is very noticeable when pedalling but it freewheels fine, i’m confident these issues will get sorted over the coming years.

    It’s a brilliant bike for my needs but if given the choice i’d swap it in a heartbeat for the ability to ride my Soulcraft like it was 2007 again.

    Apologies stw…..i thought the swear filter would **** out my childish expletives.

    Oops.

    Currently in the Alps. They’re EVERYWHERE…
    Meh.

    “Currently in the Alps. They’re EVERYWHERE…
    Meh.”

    THIS! They’re bloody everywhere in Tignes, it’s not like they don’t have Chairlifts and Gondolas…FFS!

    Is there a reason why nobody is mentioning the elephant in the room?

    Effective as they may be for me they fundamentally undermine the purity of cycling.

    Any ride, trip or adventure you complete on a bike is done so in harmony sprockets, bearings, metal and grease.

    Almost any sport could be easier with mechanical assistance but at the same time the satisfaction would be eroded.

    Maybe it’s a personal thing?

    I don’t hate them at all, they’re just not cycling.

    I’m a recent convert, whats not to like?

    61 years old with some strength issues and balance, gets me out more often, I enjoy it.

    Whats wrong with it?
    It’s just riding along having some fun, I’m not racing or taking medals off anyone.

    It’s great to here that people who wouldn’t be able to otherwise can get out and about.

    They are not bicycles in my eyes, not as I know them. Part of what’s brilliant about bicycles is feeling the contours of the land. That’s what sets them apart. E-bikes have a place for certain. But they are not the same thing, not even nearly the same and tbh I don’t like seeing them or hearing about them on a cycling site.

    Have you ridden one?

    yossarian : I want to hear about and read reviews on them from the likes of STW as the bike reviews on here are written by people who have rode (and reviewed) far more bikes than i ever have and i can then make an informed choice as to what i may seek out and test ride for myself, i feel they have a place in the STW environment and i hope STW towers continue to review and show us the latest developments as they appear to market but then again i would say that owning one myself.

    And as for “feeling the counters of the land” you really do need to try one for yourself as the contours are every bit as applicable when you are pedalling one yourself. You may even find that you get more of a cardio workout dependant on what setting you use, you’ll certainly get more of an upper body workout due to the increased weight to manoeuvre around.

    Emailed to cancel my subscription. My trail etiquette ended when I let some bell end pass me on an up who was on an ebike only to be stuck behind the twat on the downhill straight after… alllllll the way donw. And he wasn’t wearing a helmet… and I didn’t see how many kittens he’d killed that day. Byyyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

    somafunk, FYI, unsurprisingly it’s “like riding with a tail wind” a bit like a proper motor bike, only slower and no where near as cool. Call it a pedal assist and stop buying into the marketing bullshit of the people in the industries pockets.

    @BillOddie
    I’m also in Tignes. Almost all the hire shops are awash with them with one I’ve seen offering free sample hires.
    I expect they’re great money spinners for hire shops as their catch net of punters increases considerably.

    I’ve not seen many or maybe any on the more ‘serious’ downhill trails but they’re everywhere else in the form of mountainbikes, leisure bikes and I’ve even seen a leccy road bike.

    I kind of agree with the purity aspect. The simple act of moving oneself along under ones own power is a nice thing. Everything is increasingly too reliant on power stations and burning baby robin’s and suchlike (he says, spending his holidays going up ski lifts!.. )
    🙂

    What’s the natural evolution of them?

    As batteries improve will you need to pedal at all?

    Then isn’t it an electric motorbike? Where does that stand in terms of bridleways and trail centres?

    Again I’ve got no issue with them in the same way I’ve got no issue with motorcycles and segways but they’re not cycles either.

    Fine to see them in small numbers in STW but if they become the main focus I’ll read something else.

    Work of the devil when I see them on bridleways.

    Thank you somafunk for writing from a very personal perspective, it could happen to anyone but you’ve shown great strength in wanting your life to still include bikes. I’ve followed your posts from your beloved Tripster to your e-bike write-up and it’s given me hope that at some point I’ll be able to get back on a bike.

    Yes, I do have concerns about them especially as I’ve mostly needed to drive to ride but one must be hopeful that their weight will reduce.

    Thanks STW for not shying away from this topic and let us hope that in time some riders will stop being so judgmental.

    I don’t hate them. But like road bikes (which I also don’t hate!), I don’t think they are what Singletrack is about.
    Start a new mag/website for them by all means, but STW is for mountain biking not eBiking. (I’m sure this new resource would be as popular as road.cc or grit.cx…)
    That’s what I think.

    Have a new mag/website for different wheel sizes ,folk who only ride trail centres, hell let’s have gender specific too then we can pigeon-hole absolutely everybody … maybe.

    Shakes fluffy head.

    As WFWS said “Effective as they may be for me they fundamentally undermine the purity of cycling.”

    Whats getting my frustrated is how many column inches the E-Bikes are getting from magazines like this.

    Once again suggests that such publications are well and truly in the pockets of the big European manufacturers – especially when they post 15 pictures of that hideous e-bike on fresh goods Friday

    And for all those who compare this to the 29er + 650b haters from the last few years – you are way off – this is fundamentally different. This is the very essence of biking

    Biking is about a journey, under your own steam, having an adventure

    C_G – you’re being silly. The things you list are nothing like bikes with electric motors. They are a DIFFERENT TYPE of bike.
    “oh, but it’s allll cycling innit ning ning ning”
    My sincerest apologies for having a different opinion from you.

    There is definitely a place for e-bikes as somafunk has highlighted above. But as stupegg says, don’t let’s be fooled into the marketing BS that is being exuded by the bike industry, who just want to sell more bikes, whatever the genre.

    I’ve started to overcome my overwhelming urge to want to stone people I see riding e-bikes and as DezB says, now see them as just another type of Bike, not a MTB, relevant for some, but not all.

    Given the pace of technology, I’m fairly sure in the next ten years we’ll see far lighter and more capable e-bikes….and from that will possibly come two separate off-road biking genres…those who want to fly round on an electric moto-cross bike of sorts and those who want to and can put the effort and time in, to ride a traditional MTB and enjoy the hard graft, rewards and physical purity that comes with it. Each one to their own.

    For me, e-bikes now and in the future are not what Mountain Biking is about and I wish ST would focus on giving column inches to staying real to Mountain Biking.

    I’m not really an eBike fan, for me it does change the basic essence of cycling. It’s nice that it enables some folk to get out when they otherwise couldn’t but nobody making these gives a hoot about that. It’s about creating a new product segment of high value bikes that they can sell to a new market. What it does to cycling, the environment or access is of no concern.

    I assume if the question was ‘is it ok to ride a 50cc scrambler round a trail centre or on a bridleway?’ opinion on the forum would be more clear cut and we could all be judgemental together.

    A quick Google and a 49cc petrol engine puts out 2.1Kw vs. the max current limit of 250w (higher powers (350w) are available for non-road use) for ebikes so currently there is a tangible gap.

    BUT…

    The 350w can apparently reach 45km/h so the actual performance between the petrol engine and the electric is much smaller.

    When you take into account how new the technology is and that these figures will change yearly as new engines/motors are developed the problem is bigger.

    Where is the line drawn? Most electric cars are treated the same as petrol cars for example. Or will there be a power restriction for trail centres and bridleways? We all know that some people will ignore these.

    To cloud the issue further I understand that trail centres need to make money so when ebike power outputs exceed that which even the most open minded cyclist will except what happens then? Powered and non-powered trails? Ebike centres?

    I honestly don’t think any of these issues will present an immediate problem but I’m prepared to bet one day they will.

    Ebikes.
    You still have to pedal, and the assist cuts out at 15.5 mph.

    Using the ebike I am as quick uphill as a fit rider in their 20’s, so I’m not causing anyone any issues or destroying the terrain with my ( new to me) speed.

    People going slow downhill and getting in the way of faster riders has always been an issue, it’s not an ebike thing, it’s a people thing.

    I appreciate that it does physically assist your output to ride quicker, but there was lots of negative comments about the following components when they first came out, regarding them not being “real” mountain biking.

    Disc brakes
    Front suspension
    Rear suspension
    Wheel sizes
    Gears

    Don’t see what all the fuss is about, to be honest.

    I went to Bike Park Wales recently, and bought a day pass ( where you ride up).

    Loads of people told me it was cheating, I asked if they were on the uplift, they were, it was lost on some of them.

    We all had a good day out riding our bikes in the sun though.

    Shakes fluffy head once more.

    Would you moaning blokes be happier if an e-bike user had to pass a competency test before they were allowed to rag the trails? Or would a compulsory ‘L’ plate for lazy, ‘D’ for disabled, ‘MOBB’ for my other bike’s broken ?

    THIS! I approve of. Brilliant use of those wonderful eBike things… (apologies for linking to the enemy!)
    http://www.mbr.co.uk/news/event_news/enduro-world-series-coverage-set-get-better-due-ebikes-340746

    (But, keep them out of STW)
    (And stop covering us in dandruff CG)

    Read somafunk’s post – that’s all the argument we need to embrace ebikes. If they’re not for you fine – they’re not for me either – just yet. If in a few years an ebike keeps me out on the hills a little longer I’m in.

    stupegg – write out industry’s one hundred times – then do one.

    I will echo what rick said read it and pay attention.

    It is an assist not a sole propulsion. I never viewed them with disdain, just something that wasn’t for me till recently despite a massive leg injury from an rta in my teens (it has protected me well from the evil “running” thing.

    But in the last few years I’ve suffered from a crummy life condition/disabling that at times leaves me at times unable to tolerate much more than staggering around my flat holding onto walls. So for me the potential not to have to give up cycling is a huge boon that I will reap when it likely comes along in my future to consider one. I doubt it would be my only bike but if using one means I can triple or quadruple my range then I’d love to be able to still ride 50 miles not 10 or 15 and use a non e bike for short rides (or going to the chip shop/riding through B&Q’s electric doors) then ace! Means I get an “n+2” dilemma of needing an ebike to go with each n+1!

    It’s not going to….replace all non ebikes!

    Oh and FYI I ride slow downhill anyway – crashing will remain unaffected I suspect! (I managed to crash on a date 2 weeks ago..on a flat bit of singletrack :/ )

    Been pondering this as I read this month’s magazine. None of the stories would have been better for the addition of an Ebike, and several of them wouldn’t even have been possible. And it’s not just magazines – a bike ride is a story to share with your mates – “that climb was a b***h, but the descent was worth it” etc, and you lose a bit of that if the motor is buzzing you up.
    I was also pondering the “my wife can ride with me” argument. Yes, with an Ebike, she could keep up on the way up, but not on the twisties or the descents, especially given the extra weight. Not to mention the huge cost for a hobby she might not enjoy.
    Finally, it’s only a matter of time before the manufacturers start an arms race of “off-road only” power. They’ll need a usp for their bikes, improving technology will allow it, so I reckon 2-3 years before the first commercial 1kW Ebike. Then what? Nobody enforces max power on the roads, they certainly won’t on trails…

    How do people feel about other riders in their group rides using E-Bikes?

    I know of a group where one of the fittest riders has now bought an E-Bike. A guy in his early 40s – he has a bike in every ‘magazine-must-have’ category and now goes on rides and beasts the group on the climbs in the typical ‘follow the leader’ type of ride

    Personally, i would refuse to share my group rides with someone on an E-Bike. I’d go of on my own or with a smaller group who share my dislike of this new trend

    ^ Sounds like a dick, that is all.

    Me or the chap on the E-Bike?

    Chap on the ebike of course – if he feels the need to prove his worth by beasting everyone up the hills then he has small willy syndrome and was more than likely an only child (spoiled and told how wonderful he was all the time).

    Although i fail to find any reasoning in your refusal to go on a group ride with someone who was riding an e-bike, if a person is riding like a dick then fair enough but why single out and formulate an opinion of someone purely by their choosen means of enjoying the outdoors.

    Had a Haibihe allmtn for about a year now, fair review, would have added, if not a very good rider, don’t use death clips, and buy a model with a drop saddle.

    As Somafunk so eloquently explained for some people they are essential. For others it’s a choice (choice is a good thing).

    Some people also need to grow up about the bike industry- “IT’S JUST ANOTHER PRODUCT FOR THEM TO SELL!!!!!”. Erm, yes, it is. They are running a business.

    I don’t get on with the 15mph ish cut out. Lots of mountain biking is between 10 and 20mph, and when you hit the cut out you are left with a heavy bike. The sudden deceleration is annoying too. I know you can dongle it, but as a shop keeper I can’t let people demo or buy illegal machines.

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