E-MTB: the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine
It seems pretty much decided. The future of mountain biking is electric. From shifters to derailleurs, from seat posts to suspension controls, and last but not least, the assisted pedalling. The ebikes.
There is a long list of technical improvements that made mountain biking easier, safer, and more fun. (And also more expensive…) From cantilever brakes we moved to V brakes, which turned obsolete when disk brakes entered our world. We added 3 inches to the diameter of our wheels and everything rolled easier, faster, smoother. (Some of us went back 1.5 inches, in search of an eluding sizing holy grail, with no evident success). We started building frames with steel, moved to aluminium, discovered carbon, and we now enjoy a wide selection and combination of materials. 3D printed frames are around the corner. Front suspensions, coil or air-based shocks, lock-outs, automatic suspension adjustments, seat droppers, wider rims, wider tyres, tubeless, inserts, etc, etc, etc.
Adding a motor to a mountain bike for assisted pedalling is just another stage in this long chain of transformations, in this continuous search for the “faster, easier, longer, better”. You’ll open new frontiers to your mountain biking experiences by climbing trails you didn’t think possible, by squeezing more runs in the same limited amount of time, or reaching remote areas that were simply out of range with traditional bicycles.
Or is it? Am I too backward-thinking if I consider ebikes to be more than just another phase in the technical transformation of mountain biking? Something that moves our hobby away from the world of cycling, reaching towards the realm of motor-sports?
There is no dispute that ebikes are offering incredible opportunities to injured or disabled people, and to older people. Imagine being able to get your dad out for a trail session, or having a longer bike ride with your entire family (cat not included), using ebikes as field levellers. But it is equally obvious that ebikes offer easy access to the (mountain) trails for people that, otherwise, were not interested in anything mountain, and thus adding to the existing problems (overcrowding, littering, etc.), or creating new ones. And, as they come fast and in big numbers, there is a palpable air of unsettlement in the established community of mountaineers.
The mountains are a public domain, and should remain so. A fresh (e)mountain biker coming from the big city has the same right of passage (and enjoyment) on the high trails as an old hiker that lives in the area for as long as he remembers. As long as the trail etiquette is observed (safety first, minding the fellow mountaineer, minimum human impact, no littering, etc.), people should get along fine, and new problems arising on the premises should be swiftly solved.
All that being said, while observing the ever changing reality in front of our very eyes, I stick with old. Could be that I am just getting old, but I prefer things to go a little slower. I do my own pedalling, happy to be able – at least for the time being – to get up there without extra assistance. Do I need to push the bike, now and then? Or carry it, here and there? Fine. Will this mean just one ride? I can live with that. A slower paced ride will give me more time to enjoy the surroundings. The forest. The pastures. The mountains. The sky. The silence.
There is a unique feeling, a sense of true accomplishment when you get up there – a mere steep hill, a tricky technical climb, or a mighty peak – by solely using your own generated power. It is true for hiking, for mountaineering, for ski touring, and also for (our kind of) mountain biking. And sure, it is not for everyone. I dare say it is for people who like the mountains because, among other things, they are difficult to access. Getting rid of this difficulty (by using an ebike, but also by getting any kind of assisted uplift) is not in any way condemnable, but it definitely – and significantly – changes the whole experience.
So, at least for the time being – or as long as our legs and lungs will allow – we stay with the old. No ebike tours. Will this mean shorter distances? In theory, yes. In practice, not really, as our tours are still covering longer distances than ebikers in our neck of the woods are going for. Will this mean longer, harder hours out and about? Sure, but that’s exactly what we are after, great times up in the mountains.
Yes, in some ways it is less. But in the ways that matters for us, it is more. Looking forward to share all that with you.