MOTOR + CYCLE = MOUNTAIN BIKE..?
Author: Matt George
E-bikes seem to be the latest trend amongst large scale mountain bike manufacturers, the butt of many jokes and the source of a growing argument in the mountain bike community.
"While one can easily make a harsh stance right now, does it really matter what you think?"
If you're involved in the social media side of mountain biking you've probably seen a general tendency towards hostility to these pedal assisted machines. People tend to note the same arguments stating things like; eBikes could be devastating to trail advocacy, motor + cycle = motorcycle and that they are fine if used where motorized vehicles are already allowed. All fine points.
The flip side of these arguments usually tend towards; E-bikes could vastly improve the mountain bike experience of the handicapped or those riders advancing in age, an average rider could see more trail in their limited free time, E-bikes won't magically turn riders into jerks anymore than a standard mountain bike turns one into a social trail butterfly, the list of positives goes on as long as the list of negatives. Gary Fisher recently commented on a pro-E-bike video stating the merits of "uphill flow". Again, fine points. We can (and likely will) argue these points endlessly.
While one can easily make a harsh stance right now, does it really matter what you think? Will a perfectly worded, brilliant takedown of an opposing social media user have any impact on what's likely coming our way? Are these machines going to be everywhere soon? Will the mountain bike community be splintered? Questions not easily answered. Let's dive in.
"What might they know that we don't?"
Let's start with the 2016 election (I promise this will be quick). I bring this up because we very quickly learned that the loudest voices may not dictate the outcome. It would seem right now that a large majority of mountain bikers aren't on the E-bike bandwagon. One might think, by looking at comments on mountain biking sites and social media, that it's going to be a small crowd who are buying into the E-bike game. Some manufacturers are even playing into this with pedal assist bikes that come with chainsaw adapters, tool and provision carriers etc., noting the bikes are intended for rangers and trail builders. By all easily discernible metrics one could be lead to believe that these bikes will be a rarity, a tool vs a piece of athletic equipment. I see this as being unlikely. So is this the next evolutionary step in mountain biking and the naysayers are just being luddites about the inevitable or will this be an embarrassing oddity with the exception of a few with good reason?
Let's look at some early indicators. Most notable is that the large (and even quite a few medium) sized mountain bike manufacturers do appear to be all in. What might they know that we don't? Are they just trying to create a market to sell to, would that even work? Have you noticed a recently adopted, softer attitude towards E-bikes in mountain bike media, I have. E-bike magazines can be noticed in book stores and more of these machines seem to be getting pushed as rentals by shops.
"Will a large, non-vocal group vote pro-E-bike with their wallets?"
Something that we know to be true is that mountain bikers are typically slow to accept change. Dropper post's, tubeless tire's, carbon fiber, full suspension and 29" wheels are all great examples of this, some requiring years before finally gaining significant consumer acceptance. However, while our history would indicate that successful changes take time, we've recently seen a short term trend towards jubilant acceptance. One must only see the rapid market shares gained in the last few years by 27.5, 27.5+, Fat Bikes, 1 X drivetrains and the almost overwhelming pace of tire advancements.
With those thoughts in mind, let's forget about which side you're on. Right or wrong, yay or nay; these are opinions and not really the point of this article. Let's talk about possibilities and what may come in the near future.
Is it possible that hordes of the mountain biking public are far more accepting of this, but unwilling to speak up on a 6,000 member Facebook group for fear of verbal attack? Are a vocal yet posturing minority embarrassing the masses into silence? It's certainly not unheard of.
"Are you stoked about the new crop of capable E-bikes and don't give a damn what people think? Good."
The truth may only arise once E-bike precedents are set by counties containing trail systems, and by the park systems and land managers. E-bike use studies are currently under way and if the powers that be give a resounding thumbs up, what might this mean to those waiting for further acceptance? Will a good portion of the fence sitters and those already excited (right or wrong) about eBikes rapidly purchase them? Could this open the flood gates to a world of new techno mountain bikes? Could the "no" crowd be converted? Will a large, non-vocal group vote pro/E-bike with their wallets?
We don't really have a way of knowing that yet. What we do know is that mountain bikers are an independent lot, prone to staunch individuality and that further separation is destructive. A less united front won't help back our arguments against those that oppose our sport. Ostracizing those on one side or the other won't fill the coffers of COMBA or fully staff the Giddyup Trail Crews. A great divide will not increase trail access nor get more trails built to ease congestion in popular mixed use trail locations around the country. Only cooperation, tepid though it could be, can do those things.
Are you stoked about the new crop of capable E-bikes and don't give a damn what people think? Good. We'll need you! Have you joined you're local mountain bike organization? Helped Patt build trails? Have you shared articles or links to websites like this that push for local trail charities? We'll need you to. The only way you're likely to feel comfortable on your new long haul adventure steed is if we can expand trail systems and ease congestion, therefore easing trail issues within mountain biking and with other trail users. See our links we love, let's ride calendar for trail work dates and our Moment for GOOD link. Keep reading please.
Irritated with these new "motorcycles" likely to be a fixture on our trails? Feel like this is a recipe for disaster? Good. We're here to help you do something about it. See the suggestions in the paragraph above, write an article and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, go to a trail use meeting, push for trail system expansion and new trails. We support your right to vent on the internet and if it's good enough we'll publish it for you but, these suggestions are currently the only solutions that we know work with a high level of effectiveness.
We won't know exactly what's coming with the E-bike movement until it's here. We won't know just how it'll change the mountain biking community but, we know that we're a strong yet dispersed group. Our individuality and independence could be a major pitfall in this scenario. We can't afford to have a massive divide in a time where if the naysayers are right, we could have a noticeable influx of new riders, faster uphill riding and a host of new complaints from other trail users. I'd like to not leave out the possibility that E-bikes could be ridden respectfully, attract mostly existing riders who already know trail etiquette well and be an experience expanding part of our sport. I'm not sure just yet. I am sure that we can't afford to be further fractured.
Either way, we already need all the solutions listed above more than ever and an E-bike explosion will make advocacy, donations, trail building and positive vibes in the community and on the web even more important. So do something. Use our links, talk about COMBA or your local trail organization with other trail users, contribute to our site with pics, videos and articles or share us to drive more traffic here to in turn drive traffic to our trail building, charity and advocacy friends or if you don't like this site; make your own and use it to do some good. Riders on E-bikes will not be seen by the trail use community as something different from other mountain bikers. We deny this at our own demise. In this scenario, when relating to our cause; motor + cycle = mountain bike. Like it or not.