Apparently moose safety is too easy topic for my term paper in Norwegian, and I’m bound to write about bikes again. Sounds fine, but this was my topic last semester and it’s time to try something new. We were strongly encouraged to pick something, that one can elaborate on a little bit more, present pro and con arguments, include discussion. Something that is hated and loved at the same time. Something that is relevant and up to date.
Oh, I know! eMTB!
It’s not exactly how I planned it, but since I have to go through my IMBA notes again anyway, let’s put it here as well.
So here we go. For me, it all started with IMBA World Summit and eMTB panel with Gary Fisher, Claudia Wasko, Sam Benedict, Luis Benitz, Morgan Lommele and Andy Williamson. If you’ve ever heart about Gary Fisher, and I bet you did, you know that if he’s showing up, I can’t be just a fuss. And it’s not – eMTB are gaining in popularity (see for example Austrian E-MTB Sales Skyrockets). Like it or not, it’s happening. You may find it silly, you may ask yourself what is wrong with this planet, you may not want to buy this sort of bike for yourself, but you can’t be against eMTBs in generall, because they are out there, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Soundtrack for the next paragraph:
Did I hear about eMTB before? Of course I did. Did I pay any attention? Not at all. Was that a mistake? Kind of. Electric mountain bikes are increasingly popular, and this trend won’t change for years to come. There must be a reason (or reasons) for that. I’m not saying that market is always right, but there certainly are arguments for supporting this new, fast-growing product. Another side of the coin is visible as well: when new group of users is coming up, challenges are also approaching. Once we’re done with done with 4 Kübler-Ross stages of grief, and reach stage 5 – acceptance, we’re ready to discuss what eMTBs really have to offer. In this post, I’ll try to sum up what we’ve discussed during “eMTB Panel – The Challenges and Opportunities of an Evolving Cycling Community” during 2016 IMBA World Summit.
In this article I won’t go through definition of eMTBs, their types, prices or battery related issues, because that would be super repetitive, and repetition is something I try to avoid here. If you’re looking for basic info about eMTB, please visit Basics about e-mountainbikes, or better, subscribe E-Mountainbike magazine, where all you may need is nicely presented and explained.
Health and wellbeing is the first thing that came to my mind when thinking about eMTB. For obvious reasons, riding eMTB is way less demanding than using mountain bike without any assistance. Therefore, for many people it is a first step to go outside, see the nature and exercise a little bit, just enough they can take. Sam Benedict was talking about being able to ride together with his father. I think about my relatives and the trips we could take together. People who used to bike when they were younger, healthier, fitter – thanks to electric mtb, can ride and have fun again.
During this holidays I was interviewing hikers and mountain bikers in Bielsko-Biała. One of the bikers I talked to, told me about two older men, who bought electric mountain bikes for themselves and now they ride on Twister every other day. They usually menage to go three times up the hill before the battery goes down, and they said, that they’ve never expected to experience such a joy in their lives again.
Obviously, some challenges are coming here as well. Not everywhere trails like Twister can be found. In Norway, for instance, vast majority of trails is way too difficult for unexperienced users. Signage is often confusing, and lots of trails require serious maintenance. Personally, I find ending up in swamp annoying. What annoys me, some people call “adventure”. But for this new group of users – maybe not the healthiest, maybe not the fittest – poorly marked and maintained trails might be real trouble. Additionally, because of the fact that using e-bikes is physically much less demanding, overestimating one’s abilities is easy. I could’t find a source for that, but one of the panelists mentioned increasing number of accidents and rescue operations in Bavaria, mainly as a result of irresponsible e-biker’s trips. Sounds plausible.
On the other hand, there are many other users who can benefit greatly form using e-bikes: rescue teams – to get as fast as possible from point A to B, bike patrols – to work effectively throughout the whole day, trail builders – to take heavy tools wherever they need, or… hunters – who use e-MTBs as a very effective mode of transport.
Electric mountain bikes open the whole new world of opportunities for many, and therefore reasonable regulations should follow. It’s hard to define what exactly e-bike is – is it more like a bike or more like a motorcycle? If it’s not a regular bike – should it be allowed same access as bikes are? Are there any speed limits? What is the maximum motor size? What about trail etiquette? Who has a right of way? Some of those questions are already answers, but others are still confusing. According to Norwegian Stortingsmelding 18, only human powered outdoor activities are, as a general rule, allowed. This means, that eMTB should be excluded, so could I, or could I not take my mom to the nearby woods?
The final point of this post is based on my own experience. On the 3rd day of the Summit, I got the chance to try one of the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR 6Fattie e-mountain bikes. It was a long day, and I’ve already done around 20 miles on another bike. My hip was hurting because of the injury I got just a week before, so I really didn’t want to push it on the day before the Epic Rides. My plan was to do just a quick round around the venue to see how it’s like. But the minute I got on this bike, I knew, it’s not gonna stop too soon. I ended up doing another 10 miles around the Lake Atlanta and finishing just on time for Danny McAskill, Hans Rey and Ryan Leech Showcase. I couldn’t stop smiling, my hip wasn’t hurting, pure joy. Total blast.
Today e-mountain bike is not a bike for me. I guess, that for many years to come, it won’t be a bike for me. I’m young, healthy and reasonably fit and I’m good with pedaling. I like it. But if pedaling is not your thing, or you simply shouldn’t/ can’t do it and eMTB would make you happy, then I have nothing to say. It’s not about me liking it or not, accepting it or not, it’s about you: thriving, enjoying, experiencing.
Electric mountain biking poses some challenges, in a way similar to those, that mountain biking was facing in the 80s. There is some planning work to be done, lobbying will be necessary, laws and regulations must be more adequate and of course, education of both bikers of land/park management is crucial. But if this all leads to making people happier – then it should get our full support. After all, mountain biking is all about being happy.