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On Pinkbike’s eFailure

Pinkbike announced this week that they will be ramping up their coverage of “eMTBS,” and this (rather predictably) resulted in much internet handwringing. I’m here to jump on the handwringing bandwagon, because this means that the largest mountain bike website is now fully complicit in the industry’s push to co-opt the sport of mountain biking for their e-gains.

But just to be clear, I think eBikes are great.

They allow access to some cool places, they allow people to do bigger, longer rides, they allow people who don’t have the physical ability to ride a bike to get out on trails, and at the end of the day, they’re pretty fun.

But eBikes are not mountain bikes.

eBikes are — unquestionably — motorized vehicles.

Sure, the throttle isn’t located in the grip, and most of them at least require a nominal level of effort at the pedals to actuate the motor. But regardless of throttle location and the extent or manner of inputs that are required from the rider, it is nevertheless a motorized vehicle. It doesn’t matter that the motor is small, or that it doesn’t put out as much power as a dirt bike. A motor is a motor.

Fortunately, there are lots of great trails that allowed motorized vehicles, and those are great places to take eBikes.

So the issue isn’t the existence of eBikes (they exist, and they’re not going away). Nor is it the use of eBikes (they should be limited to moto-legal trails, but that’s mostly an education and enforcement issue).

Instead, the issue is the industry’s attempt to brand eBikes as bicycles, and this is where Pinkbike’s failure comes into play.

Advocates of human-powered bikes are quick to point out (as I just did) that bikes don’t have motors. Advocates of eBikes are quick to point out that there are significant and noteworthy differences between an eBike and a motocross bike. And they’re both right — eBikes aren’t the same as traditional, pedal-driven bikes, but they’re certainly not dirt bikes, either.

Quite simply, they are a new and unique class of vehicle.

But the industry isn’t interested in creating and marketing a new class of vehicle, nor do they appear to be interested in pursuing traditional motorized users. eBikes are being marketed to “pedal” cyclists, and eBikes are being presented as bicycles that just happen to have a motor in them.

To a large extent, fault lies with the industry. By closely associating eBikes with regular pedal bikes, companies effectively skirt the edge of any number of regulatory issues that come with motorized vehicles. And by skirting those issues and marketing eBikes as just an “easier” pedal bike, the audience for the product is significantly increased. There is a large and established market for bicycles, and eBike manufacturers want to glom onto that market.

But while we can fault the manufacturers for that tactic, we can’t be surprised by it. At the end of the day, they’re selling a product, and they’re looking for the most effective way to sell as many of those products as possible. So the way eBike manufacturers are marketing their bikes is to be expected.

But the real problem arises when bike media buys into the marketers’ bullshit.

Pinkbike is a business, too, and they’re more than welcome to expand their horizons and cover things that aren’t bikes. But doing so in a way that co-mingles traditional bikes and eBikes does a disservice to everyone — except the eBike manufacturers.

Plenty of people (including some people here at Blister) see Pinkbike’s stance primarily as a money grab. And I have no doubt that eBike manufacturers are eager to throw money at Pinkbike to advertise their latest e-creation. But I’m not entirely sure that greed is the predominant motivator for Pinkbike. My gut tells me that it’s more the product of a gradual slide down a path of acceptance. eBike manufacturers have been pumping the idea that eBikes are essentially just mountain bikes for years now, and when a place like Pinkbike hears that story over and over again, I think it has to eventually wear them down.

And in case I haven’t already made it clear, that’s a bad thing.

When the sport’s largest media outlet starts mixing and mingling coverage with eBikes, mountain biking takes a hit.

So why does it really matter? For at least these four reasons:

(1) eBikes will result in less access for everyone. The issue of access for mountain bikes is a hot topic of discussion. Bikes are getting shut out of trails, more areas are being designated Wilderness, and there’s significant pressure from various outside groups to limit pedal bike access. The issue is heated enough that it’s brought about a significant and ongoing change at IMBA, and the birth of a new organization — the Sustainable Trails Coalition. While these issues are thorny enough as it is, introducing eBikes into the discussion and equating them with mountain bikes just hands an easily winnable argument to the groups opposing bike access.

(2) Mountain biking is not a rich sport. People lament the fact that the US racing scene has deteriorated, that there’s rarely any North American world cup races, and that the competitive side of mountain biking has declined since the early 2000’s. And while plenty of people will point fingers at USA Cycling (which certainly bears some blame), the fact of the matter is that there just isn’t much money coming from outside of the industry for sponsoring races. Bringing eBikes into the mix — and equating them with mountain bikes — just dilutes that pot of money even more.

(3) Mountain biking needs to retain its identity. Mountain bikes are unique in that they’re the fastest, most efficient way to travel off road. That is, until you introduce a motor into the equation; then there are all sorts of vehicles that are quite a bit faster. Introducing motors onto mountain bikes means the sport loses its identity. If someone says that they’re a skier, I know what that means. If someone says that they’re a basketball player, I know what that means. But if eBikes become synonymous with mountain biking, then I don’t know what it means to be a mountain biker anymore.

(4) It’s a slippery slope. At one end of the spectrum are mountain bikes; no motor, 100% human-powered. At the other end of the spectrum are electric dirt bikes. Husqvarna makes some that actually look pretty fun, and are as capable (if not moreso) than their internal combustion counterparts. Somewhere in between those ends sit a wide variety of eBikes. Some have small motors, some have big motors, some you have to pedal to make them go, some have an actual throttle. Many people argue that it’s complicated to determine what constitutes an eBike vs. a dirt bike. But it’s not complicated to distinguish what constitutes a mountain bike vs. an eBike — a mountain bike doesn’t have a motor. Any conclusion otherwise just muddies the waters unnecessarily.

As I said at the outset, I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to ride an eBike, just as I don’t have anything against people who ride dirt bikes, go 4-wheeling, go skiing, or play basketball. They’re just different sports, and if that’s what floats your boat, who am I to stop you? So if you want to go ride an eBike, I sincerely wish you the best, and I hope you have a great time.

Just don’t call it mountain biking.

And that goes for Pinkbike, too — you are a mountain bike website. Put the eBikes on ePinkbike.

42 Comments

  1. Paul August 25, 2017 Reply

    Sorry, but eBikes will become the norm in Mountain Biking. I MTB to go downhill, why wouldn’t I want to use an eMTB to get me up quicker. I ride more and exert as much energy on y eMTB. I just get more biking done. Plus as someone who rides dirt bikes more than I MTB I prefer how they handle.

    • Noah Bodman Author
      Noah Bodman August 25, 2017 Reply

      If you prefer how dirt bikes handle, and they clearly get you up the hill quicker, why not just ride dirt bikes all the time?

      That aside, eBikes won’t become the norm in mountain biking because they’re not mountain bikes. eBikes might become more popular than mountain bikes, and that’s fine. But something that isn’t a mountain bike can’t become the “norm” for mountain biking.

      • Paul August 25, 2017 Reply

        Because I also enjoy MTB, I should also point out that I live in the EU and eBikes are already outselling MTBs in many areas, particularly in Germany. They are all over the Alps and make complete sense there on the extensive and open trail networks.

        I was in Finale Ligure a few weeks back, using a Shuttle and regular MTBs but there was loads of guys using eMTBs. In a place like Finale an eMTB solves a lot of problems. The uphills are steep and long sometimes 2 hour grinds up tarmac roads. eMTBs make this quicker and allow you to bike more. You also don’t need to rely on a shuttle – what’s not to like :)

        • AC August 28, 2017 Reply

          What’s not to like is the opponents to MTB access gleefully wringing their hands together and seeing the silver bullet to kick bikes off trails being handed to them on a silver platter. By the bike industry no less. If you’re in Europe, ride ebikes all you want. In the US our trails are generally motorized vs nonmotorized as far as designations go. As soon as motorized ebikes can’t be easily distinguished from a real bike, the land managers will take the easy way out and ban them all.

    • AC August 28, 2017 Reply

      Best commentary on ebikes I’ve read yet. The manufacturers pushing these things should be ashamed. They are putting the entire sport at risk in the US.

  2. Mark August 25, 2017 Reply

    You guys are going to look foolish in a couple of years when the vast majority of bikes being sold are some form of pedal-assist. Either that or you won’t have much to write about as your narrow definition of “mountain bikes” shrinks drastically. You are painting your business into a corner. Pinkbike is doing the opposite.

    • I agree with you, Mark, that Pinkbike is most definitely NOT painting their business into a corner. In fact, this is very much business as usual for Pinkbike — and for every other review publication who makes the bulk of their revenue from the very companies that they claim to objectively review.

      We don’t do that at Blister, because we aren’t in the business of taking money from bike companies to pimp whatever new products they decide to push out. We are in the business of providing the most accurate consumer information possible. So we don’t take money from the ski and bike companies we review, and in turn, our readers never have to wonder if we’re saying glowing things because we were paid to do so. It’s a different business.

      And readers can decide for themselves who they trust most to honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of a given product — the publications that keep the lights on by taking money from the makers of those products, or the review publications that aren’t financially dependent on that money.

      So, yep, if (for example) someone at a big bike company wants to cut Pinkbike a fat check for their “eMTB” coverage, Pinkbike will happily take that money. And if bike manufacturers decide to make square wheels the next big trend in mountain biking, then I am confident we will see an editorial from Pinkbike about why they are now reviewing square-wheeled bikes — with assurances that it isn’t simply about grabbing those ad dollars.

      And if (for example) someone at a big bike company wants to criticize us for missing out on all those eBike advertising dollars, we’re ok with that. Because we’ve been turning down advertising dollars from bike companies since day one.

      • Sam Alison September 2, 2017 Reply

        Love the article and love this response even more.

      • Carson October 11, 2017 Reply

        And this is why Blister is my go-to review site.

  3. Andy August 25, 2017 Reply

    The bike industry’s push to categorize eMTBs as “bicycles” stems largely from European legislation. If the e-bike maxes out at 25kph and the motor pushes (on average) 250 Watts, then BY LAW the government considers it a bicycle. It’s simply a toy, like a Barbie Jeep. That’s the framework for the industry, and in Europe eMTBs are allowed everywhere that regular MTBs are allowed. That approach is what leads to the industry’s attitude towards e-bikes and their normalization. Pushback towards eMTBs has largely been an American phenomenon.

    • Noah Bodman Author
      Noah Bodman August 25, 2017 Reply

      Yup, agreed. And in case it wasn’t apparent, this was written from my perspective as an American mountain biker, so it’s undoubtedly biased towards the issues that I see with the sport in America. There’s no question that the conversation is different from the European perspective.

    • Michael August 31, 2017 Reply

      Exactly. So much of this is fear-mongering. We haven’t seen any negative outcome of these new types of bicycles. Most of it is generated internally by our own participants. Especially in America and I live here. The loudest people are the people who haven’t even tried one.

      • Tim Lane September 5, 2017 Reply

        When a trail near my home in SoCal, which was built by mountain bikers, got new signs stating that they were closed to e-bikes, the signs also stated “no bikes”.
        Local IMBA reps negotiated to have the trails reopened to bikes, I’ll leave it up to you to decide if this was a negative outcome or a disaster averted.

  4. Blister Member
    Rick August 25, 2017 Reply

    Does this mean I can take my KTM’s on the Kenai Mt. trails ? Or for that matter right out my backdoor on the Anchorage Bowl trails ?

  5. Wuffles August 25, 2017 Reply

    Noah- thank you for writing this. As someone who spends a lot of time going to public land use hearings and meeting with BLM/NFS/State Forest officials to discuss trail access, e-bikes are a particular concern of mine. In the US, trail access for bicycles is a very contentious issue, and I don’t think most riders realize just how tenuous our current access is.

    Lost in all of the gear chat is the core of mountain biking- the trails. Without trails, there is no mountain biking, and our access to those trails is constantly under attack (mostly from horse people and the Sierra Club). Calling an e-bike, which is demonstrably and obviously a motorized vehicle, a mountain bike puts our access at huge risk. Literally every meeting I have been to in the past two years the same group of influential equestrians bring up e-bikes with the argument that “all mountain bikes have motors now”. Our local advocacy organization has had to draw a hard, crystal clear line that we do not support or advocate for e-bikes in any way. I know other organizations (such as WORCA up in Whistler) have had to take the same stance in response.

    So, here is my challenge to the e-bike crowd:

    Go to a public land use hearing on trail access.

    Go to a trail build party.

    Help submit the proposals and permits for a new trail.

    Maybe then you will understand what is at stake. And maybe then you will discover what the actual solution to the e-bike vs mtb problem should be: IF YOU WANT TO RIDE AN E-BIKE ON A TRAIL, GO BUILD THE TRAIL.

    MTBers do not poach hiking trails (and if you do, f*&k you!). Moto riders do not poach mtb trails. E-bikers should extend the same damn courtesy to outdoor users as everyone else does.

    • Blister Member
      Rick August 25, 2017 Reply

      Wuffles,
      as a longtime moto >and< MTB rider my sentiment exactly ..

    • Some Ski Guy August 25, 2017 Reply

      Why the tribalism and extreme localism?

      Read Andy’s comment above about EU legislation surrounding E-bikes and think of the possibilities for your area. Mountain bikers are likely already a big (biggest?) user group, and if it’s anything like where I ride they probably do the vast majority of the trail work as well. In other words, mountain biking has clout. It might be poorly organised, but the numbers are there. But if you want e-bike riders to help build trails and advocate for trail access for ALL mountain bikers, it might be a good idea to be more welcoming of said e-bike riders, rather than a douchebag. Instead of starting with “e-bikes aren’t bikes,” why not start with “e-bikes are bikes, albeit a little different, and should have all the same privileges”?

      Side note: there’s already legislation surrounding E-bikes in BC and in most other Canadian provinces. There’s also legislation surrounding E-bikes and what is/isn’t a bike in many US states. According to everything I’ve read about BC’s rules, an e-bike is legally considered a bike. That means that as an object, it’s as much a bike as any Santa Cruz or Pivot. No more, no less. E-bike riders have to follow the same regulation as riders on “normal” bikes, and are granted the same privileges. Leaving aside trails that are fully on private land, trails on public or crown land seemingly have to be open to e-bikes. Not necessarily motorcycles or off-road vehicles, but if a trail is designated as a “bike” trail, that includes e-bikes. Like it or not. Why? Because so long as an e-bike meets all applicable regulations, then it’s A BIKE.

      Do I like e-bikes? Meh, not really. I don’t own one, I wouldn’t want to own one*, and I like going uphill under my own power. But I don’t understand the extreme hate being directed towards e-bikes specifically by mountain bikers. Why? What’s the fundamental problem that so many mountain bikers seem to have with e-bikes? You probably drove to the trail head, most mountain bikers have zero issues with using lifts at places like bike parks, and most mountain bikers will spend thousands of dollars to shave a quarter of pound off their bikes or just for perceived better ride quality. But E-bikes are inherently evil? What gives?

      It feels to me like an outgrowth of the shitty attitudes most mountain bikers seem to have towards most things. Beginners, slow riders, anything and anyone. It’s like mountain bikers looked at all the bad aspects of all the action/outdoor sports out there like surfing’s extreme localism, threw in a heaping cup of hyper-aggressiveness courtesy of Crossfit, then added a dash of a weird spice blend of victimhood and entitlement. It’s a recipe for low participation numbers and beginners who end up hating mountain biking. And why? Because years ago hikers and equestrians were mean to you and you’re still stuck with a trail code that sucks and those stupid yield signs that make mountain bikers yield to everyone else? GET OVER IT. Mountain biking won. It’s time for it to grow up and act like it, rather than whatever the hell it’s doing right now.

      *I’d be OK with an E-downhill bike as a third or fourth bike. E-assist on the way up the fire or access road, then turn the system off for way down. It would make shuttles and lifts obsolete and make for better bike suspension performance (sprung to unsprung mass ratio FTW!). Imagine Coast Gravity Park if E-downhill bikes are ever a thing…

      • Noah Bodman Author
        Noah Bodman August 25, 2017 Reply

        Who’s saying eBikes are inherently evil?

        If people want to ride eBikes, more power to them. And if they want to show up to meetings with land managers and fight for their access, I’ll happily join the choir in support. And if they want to organize trail days, I’ll be there with a shovel in hand.

        But if they present themselves as being no different than non-motorized mountain bikes, then we have a problem. They’re not the same, and acting like they are has negative consequences.

      • Lee Lau August 28, 2017 Reply

        To Some Ski Guy. I am a trail advocate for mtbs and have been for two decades in BC. There is no law saying that ebikes are bicycles. You are misled in that regard

      • Wuffles August 31, 2017 Reply

        Some Ski Guy, this has nothing to do with tribalism and *everything* to do with trail access.

        Despite the occasional conflicts, hikers get along with mountain bikers, because mountain bikers don’t poach hiking-only trails (and we recognize they need to exist), and on mixed-use trails we yield to hikers. We also get along fine with moto riders, because moto riders don’t poach non-motorized trails, and when we’re riding on motorized trails they will yield to us. The moto crowd also does more than it’s share of building and advocacy work. This is common courtesy, and it’s essential part of using shared outdoor land without conflict.

        Now it sounds a lot like the offroad e-bike crowd wants all of the privileges of the non-motorized bike users despite having a motor. You claim they are actually mountain bikes, but I am sorry- that is completely nonsensical. An e-bike has a motor, there is no debate about that. Federal land use in the united states is divided into two categories- motorized and non-motorized, there is no debate about that. How does the logic follow that despite having a motor, a certain category of users should get to follow non-motorized rules? Illogical thinking like that creates serious issues for land managers and threatens access for anyone on two wheels. What the e-bike crowd should be doing instead is building their own trails, or partnering with the moto crowd on some tighter, steeper, more technical stuff that the hare scramble riders would like.

        As for the hate- I do not hate e-bikes, I am a happy e-bike owner that I use often as a commuter and grocery-getter. For most cities, e-bikes make more sense than a car, and are a lot better for the environment to boot. I am 100% for e-bikes. I just have to be against a small proportion of the total e-bike user population who happen to want to take their motorized machines on the non-motorized trails I helped permit and build, and in doing so threaten access for all users.

        Finally, you are projecting some imagined hurt into my supposed attitude. Cut it out. This isn’t territorial BS like surfers who willfully exclude outsiders who are perfectly within their rights to go catch some waves; nor is it “Crossfit hyperaggressiveness” which is just an insult you made up because you felt like being a dick. This is about legal land use and access. Until you actually have some experience going through the process, you are completely ignorant of everything that has to happen for an awesome new mountain bike trail to get built. Allowing motorized access to trails that were designated as non-motorized from the very beginning basically trashes an entire multi-year effort and ensures no new trails ever get built. Does that matter to you?

  6. George August 25, 2017 Reply

    Merica real first world problems getting sorted right here.
    I honestly feel sorry that you have to deal with these Sierra club type people that feel they are on some sort of moral high ground.
    It’s also amusing that Equestrians are in on the act .In my neck of the woods they never build trails but are always there to complain about a trail not being wide enough or a bridge not being strong enough.
    But of course they won’t get down off that horse to build that trail or that bridge.
    Not to mention the trail damage they do exceeds any Mtb.
    Rant over..

    Oh yeah I don’t have a problem with E bikes.
    I own two along with two Mtb’s .
    I’m riding them less & less , as fun as they are they still don’t go down hill as well as a good Mtb.

  7. Luis Miguel Ramos L. Silva August 29, 2017 Reply

    great view!

  8. Maciej Pike-Biegunski August 30, 2017 Reply

    An ebike isn’t a bike. It’s a rebadged moped (seriously, look up the definition of moped). That’s why they have no place on non-motorized trails.

    I don’t want the trails I work on (some) and ride (a lot) to get blown out like motorized access trails because somebody wants to take their heavy torquey moped out and tear up the trails….and that’s what will happen if riders are allowed to put 60 pound (give or take) emopeds with a couple hundred extra watts on tap on dedicated non-motorized trails.

    So ride your shiny new moped to work without getting sweaty. Use it on 2 tracks and motorized trails all day. But don’t ask to claim an exemption to non-motorized rules because you call your moped an ebike. It has a motor, so it isn’t a bicycle (look up the definition of bicycle).

  9. Matt August 31, 2017 Reply

    My critiicism on the article’s ‘four reasons’:

    1-‘Ebikes will result in less access for everyone’
    There may very well be issues in the US with e-bikes, the ban in wilderness, IMBA etc. But Pinkbike is a global site with readers from all around the world, whilst the Many areas do not have the same issues with e-bikes that the US does and may even experience postive effects from e-bikes. Why should Pinkbike limit it’s global content because the US can’t get on with e-bikes?

    2-‘Ebikes will result in less funding for the sport’
    Will they? I can’t see any reason to think why this would happen. If anything, their ability to help those with disabilities or mobility impairments get into the countryside may bring access to new funding, Again, the article focuses on a purely American perspective without providing any evidence of where this is happening.

    3- ‘Mountain biking needs to retain it’s identity’
    Mountain biking has never had one ‘identity’. There is a massive difference between those taking in quiet family trails and those hitting 30ft gaps. The term ‘mountain biking’ has always covered a broad range of riding styles; it is made up of various, constantly evolving identities. E-bikes could be accepted as just another form of biking.

    4-‘It’s a slippery slope’
    It’s not. In the EU and the US there are laws of what constitutes an e-bike. These include a speed limit of 25 kph (20mph in the US) and pedal assist (no throttle). If something doesn’t sit inside those parameters, it’s not an ebike and would have to be legally classed as a motorbike. But there is clearly a big distinction between a pedal-assist bike and an e-moto.

    I understand the ideological purity of mountain biking- the idea of it being the most efficient means of off-road transport humans have devised, and how motors don’t fit into that. But unless e-bike are causing much more erosion or are being ridden in a way that’s dangerous or unpleasant to other trail users, I don’t see what wrong with considering them as a branch of mountain biking.

  10. AnotherDavid August 31, 2017 Reply

    It’s a moped. They’ve existed for years. For road use they are classed differently and are subject to the road taxation and insurance laws. If it has a motor to propel or aid propulsion then it is without doubt not bicycle.

    • AC August 31, 2017 Reply

      even more to the point, they aren’t nonmotorized vehicles. Can you imagine if, when mtn bikes first appeared, we simply claimed they didn’t have wheels, or tried to define wheels under 30″ as not being wheels? Sounds ridiculous, right? Just like arguing a tiny motor doesn’t count as a motor. Nonmotorized vs motorized is like being pregnant. It is or isn’t.

  11. Water Bear August 31, 2017 Reply

    I love Noah Bodman’s reviews, but…ePinkbike? Dude. PinkEbike. We missed our chance.

  12. Jason Jones September 1, 2017 Reply

    So I have a question that nobody has addressed yet. If you use an E-bike to get up to a trail and then turn it off to ride the trail what then? Sure it has a motor but if you are not using it are you still banned or breaking the rules?
    Using an e-bike to shuttle DH trails seems like an elegant, clean alternative to car shuttles. You get some excercise too. Is this a different sport as Noah suggests? If so explain how? Snowboarding is not skiing but their interest are aligned. Shouldn’t this be the same. Like a DH bike and an E-DH bike Skiing and snowboarding use identical terrain. Spilt boarding is still snowboarding isn’t it? It’s just an elegant clean alternative to lifts and allows snowboarding a way to expand their use.
    I understand the legal importance of syntax but calling it a different sport, really? This is especially true once we point downhill, which let’s be honest is a big part of why we are all here, right? By Noah’s rational DH biking is a different sport too. Those bikes are not an efficient form of travel at all unless going down.
    Isn’t the real issue about getting more clout in the land access game, shouldn’t someone hit up these bike companies who build all these machines to start throwing their weight around on the land issue instead of bickering about it amongst ourselves?

    • AC September 1, 2017 Reply

      Well, in other contexts, like Wilderness, USFS has interpreted ‘no mechanized transport’ to mean not only can a bike not be used, but it can’t even be possessed. So, for example, a rider can’t just disassemble their bike and strap it to a pack to walk through a wilderness area. The bike cannot enter the area, whether ridden or carried. By the same logic, an ebike would not be allowed on a nonmotorized trail. Carrying your example further, if I took my ktm 300 to a nonmotorized downhill trail, and coasted down it without turning the engine on, would that be legal?

    • Noah Bodman Author
      Noah Bodman September 1, 2017 Reply

      If you turn an eBike off, it’s still a motor vehicle because it still has a motor, and therefore it’s still banned from non-motorized trails. It’s not the use of the motor that the regulations prohibit – they prohibit vehicles that have a motor attached to them. You can turn a dirt bike off, put it in neutral, and coast down a hill, but you’re still not allowed to do that on a non-motorized trail.

      That’s the law as it currently exists. It can obviously be debated whether the law should be changed, but if you’re talking about turning electric vehicles on and off, that gets into a pretty thorny enforcement discussion. Among other issues, electric motors are quiet enough that it’s pretty tough to tell whether it’s on or off.

      I’d argue that DH bikes, skis, snowboards, etc. are all different because they’re clearly non-motorized. Yes, you can use some other sort of apparatus (chair lifts, helicopters, trucks etc) to get them to the top of hills. But all of those are subject to rules and regulations. Chairlifts on public land go through a massive permitting process, heli drops are subject to permits, and my shuttle truck is limited to roads that I’m allowed to drive on. So just like eBikes, the use of those motorized conveyances are constrained by regulations. But a DH bike still doesn’t have a motor attached to it, and as soon as someone steps off the chairlift, their movement is 100% non-motorized. It’s not a question of efficiency, it’s a question of whether there’s a non-human power source.

  13. Jason Jones September 1, 2017 Reply

    So, consensus seems to say no to e-bikes even when off. The moto analogy is lame. A coasting moto would be dismal. The bigger question is what to do about e-bikes. If any of you are old enough to remember snowboarding went through a similar tit for tat period where the reasons it should not be allowed were debated, and fought about at length, and with great intensity. In hind sight it is now clear that it was a ridiculous attempt to hold back the inevitable. Noah are you certain you are not standing on that same unstable ground? The trails that are fun for bikes are the same as pedal assist bikes. They are not different enough to justify completely different tracks. Moto and horses, and hikers may overlap with bikers but there are very obvious instances where they just don’t want the same things, berms and jumps for example.
    I just wonder if we should learn from snowboarding because skiers thought they had plenty of good reasons to ban them.
    Perhaps we just need better lawyers. Instead of arguing about wether a motor is a motor we should be figuring out how to deal with the inevitable.
    Chris Cocallis said 50% of bikes (or should we say machines sold at bike shops) sold in one of his EU markets above $3500 are of the E variety. Who buys a bike from a shop for less than $3500 these days? (When was the last time anyone at blister actually purchased a personal bike for serious primary use that was worth less than $3500, and even if they did how realistic is it to believe that is what most bikers are doing and will be doing. The very possibility of this should force us into a how do we adapt mentality. 15 years ago cordless home phones were still a thing. Noah did you use a typewriter to write your editorial because it burns more calories and does not require electricity? If you did that’s kinda badass, but not really a reason to call using a computer “not typing” Mountain biking itself is barely a sport. It’s not even in its 40’s yet.
    I may have skin in the game simply because I want a few of the people I know who have biked for decades and now have medical conditions that won’t allow them to ride a traditional bike to be able to continue doing what they love. I want my 80 year old dad to ride his e bike on dirt not roads. That group is not shrinking anytime soon. One day I will be an octogenarian and I will be damned if I am going to stop pedaling on trails because someone thinks it’s not biking. I love bikes I have built my entire life around them. Why should I stop just because my lungs and muscles get old.
    Should we all be forced to quit pedaling altogether or only ride boring dirt roads by ourselves just because our laws did not foresee changes in technology.
    I live in a place where this is being explored in many ways. One ride center just embraced it, the other chose to ban it while another has a mix of both. When I ride each center the level of courtesy or danger is unchanged.
    If our laws are bad let’s change them. If we need power and influence let’s get it. I hear one of the Waltons (Wal-Mart) is a big biker. I bet he has powerful friends. However if he reads Noah’s editorial he may choose to side against E-bikes for emotional reasons instead of practical ones or believe it’s a different sport. (Is it really, does it take a different skill set, muscle groups, body position, or even tires, seats, pedals, dropper posts, forks, cranks, etc etc. Fitness does not count.)
    We need to focus on more people on two wheels. More trails period.
    If e-bikes can help build our trail network and help get more Americans getting into nature and improving their health why are we putting up any resistance at all? Every single person who buys an e-bike that would not otherwise buy a bike is another voice for change. We need those voices.
    Remember the days of “Skateboarding is not a crime” I do. It sucked. Today lots of cities have publicly funded skate parks. They gave the “punk kids” their own park to play in, paid for by tax dollars, right in the middle of town. Who saw that coming 25 years ago?

    • Noah Bodman Author
      Noah Bodman September 1, 2017 Reply

      Those are all great points. And just to be clear, I’m not against eBikes, but I am against discussions that co-mingle eBikes and mountain bikes as if they’re the same thing. And my criticism in this article isn’t of eBikes, it’s of Pinkbike’s decision to act as though eBikes are basically just mountain bikes.

      But yes, without question, eBikes are a rapidly growing demographic and there needs to be appropriate accommodations for that use. In Europe, it sounds like they already have that pretty well handled. In North America, not so much. It’s easy to say that the laws should simply be changed because they don’t make sense, but ask anyone who’s been involved in mountain bike advocacy over the years and they’ll all tell you that’s far easier said than done.

      Putting the legal issues aside for the moment, some of the best trails for mountain biking in my neck of the woods are 100% moto-legal, so I have absolutely no issue with eBikes on them. In fact, one of those trails is pretty brushy at the moment, and I was just thinking that an eBike would make a chainsaw mission a lot more do-able. If anyone wants to loan me an eBike for an afternoon, I’d be psyched.

      But I digress. I don’t have any inherent problem with eBikes on most trails. I’d guess that they don’t have substantially more impact than mountain bikes, and they’re certainly lower impact than dirt bikes. But when it comes to legalizing access, the issue isn’t damage to the trail tread or the actual, measurable impacts of the vehicle. It’s simply a widespread social reluctance to allow bikes to go places. And the fact that the discussion is not premised on a bike’s impacts or disturbance, but rather on how the bike is viewed by staunch traditionalists means the access discussion becomes infinitely more complicated when eBikes are introduced into the equation. Mountain bikers have fought long and hard on access issues, and it needs to remain clear as to what’s being fought for – access for non-motorized, two wheeled access. This is not to say that there isn’t an entirely valid and extremely worthwhile fight to be fought for eBike access rights, but it’s not the same fight, and eBikes piggybacking onto the existing discussion of mountain bike access does a disservice to everyone.

      So it’s not that eBikes shouldn’t be allowed, it’s simply that they’re not mountain bikes, and they need to be considered independently. And the problem I have is that the industry along with sites like Pinkbike, that are being led along by the industry with a dollar-shaped hook in their mouth, are pushing a narrative that eBikes aren’t different, and that the access issues can simply be glossed over because eBikes are basically just mountain bikes. Which is wrong.

  14. Marc Lindarets September 2, 2017 Reply

    “So it’s not that eBikes shouldn’t be allowed, it’s simply that they’re not mountain bikes, and they need to be considered independently. And the problem I have is that the industry along with sites like Pinkbike, that are being led along by the industry with a dollar-shaped hook in their mouth, are pushing a narrative that eBikes aren’t different, and that the access issues can simply be glossed over because eBikes are basically just mountain bikes. Which is wrong.”

    Hear hear. The amount of self-deception that is required to call an eBike (I prefer ePed) a bicycle is staggering and, as you suggest, can only undermine our credibility as a user group and have negative access impacts.

    I too am all for lower-impact, quieter motorized vehicles and will welcome their riders as they become invested in public lands. But the industry pretending that e-bikes are non-motorized is inexcusable and will quickly undermine much of the mountain bike advocacy work done over the past 35 years.

  15. t-stoff September 3, 2017 Reply

    I feel that the sport will eventually lose it’s core basis and it will lead to a race for a bigger engine, and a bigger battery and not so much about human power, training, perseverance, and endurance – unless that clear distinction is written on a general basis fast.
    I feel a little bit sick in my gut that after 2 centuries of bicycles being bicycles, the urge of motorizing every sport just hit home, all this just for a quick rush of adrenaline, skipping the most basic element of this sport (human power ffs!), forgetting the roots on witch it was built and progressed. Most of the arguments come from some “gravity” riders riding for 2 or 3 years or clueless incoming wannabes who just want to make part without the effort. They fit just fine on the argument “faster and further” without the hassle, “it’s fun you should try it”, of course it is, MX is also fun, but when I chose MTB and cycling, I chose for what it was, not to go on and change it because I’m lazy, that’s breaking and twisting the rules.
    And hey, heads up, you can also do it faster and further without an engine, and millions of riders do it everyday around the world, work hard and the smile will be gratifying, no need for the extra speed.
    Of course in their minds they always came up with the “lift” argument, like if everyone around the world could only enjoy riding by accessing one. I haven’t used a single one in 20 + years of MTBking and I could bet most haven’t.
    Bottom line, good as a commute vehicle, horrible if they keep trying to mix water and oil, by saying MTBikes are Ebikes, they aren’t, and by the way, STOP MOTORIZING EVERY SPORT, there’s like a ton of it to choose from, go and join one and don’t ruin ours you selfish lazy asses.

  16. Jon September 4, 2017 Reply

    First off to anyone who makes a comment I would first recommend riding an ebike. I did for the first time this summer and it changed my mind completely. Also remember that in the EU ebikes are limited to something like 18 mph. In the US it is much higher so you can use them like an e motorbike. This is a massive difference. Riding an ebike in Europe is no different from riding a normal mountain bike. The difference in top speed is nominal even on singletrack and there is no way to go at any speed like a motorbike. Then there is the god awful noise of motorbikes destroying the peace of the countryside, unlike ebikes. What ebikes do is open up hilly areas and allow you to ride and enjoy a whole day. To get that level of stamina I would have to be riding numerous times a week for hours and hours at a time. Unfortunately my life just doesn’t allow this.

    Do I have an ebike, no, am I planning on getting one, probably not until weights come down, will I hire one in the future, definitely, do I think I will own one in 10yrs, yes.

    Ebikes havent changed mountain biking, they haven’t made it more knarly, faster, or on another level like motorbikes would do, they have just made it more accessible and allow longer days in the saddle.

    Hire an ebike and ride it for a day and then let’s hear what you think.

    • AC September 5, 2017 Reply

      ebikes may well be fun and allow you to ride all day. That is what a motor will do. I’m sure it’s a fine sport, and I can see the appeal (although I’d rather get an Alta). But it’s not nonmotorized. Bikes are human powered. Ebikes aren’t. It is at best a different sport than MTB.

      This discussion is going to be very different in a few years when DIY hacks to speed/power limitations, aftermarket batteries are available, and the moto type ebikes have come down in price and availability. I hope we can then look at it and say that drawing the line at human powered vs not was the right move instead of looking back and wishing we had done so.

      • Jon September 6, 2017 Reply

        The thing is that e-bikes are human powered. If you don’t pedal you don’t go anywhere. I think there is a massive difference in the argument in the EU and US. In the EU there are tons more regulations controlling the amount of assist a motor can give and the top speed when they totally cut out. It really is motor assist and not a replacement for human power. You can’t just twist a throttle and speed off.

        • AC September 6, 2017 Reply

          Sure, and a motorcycle is human powered because you have to turn the throttle for it to move.

          I see people now riding ‘bicycles’ uphill on city streets without pedaling on a regular basis.

          • Jon September 6, 2017 Reply

            That might be the case in the US but you just can’t get bikes that do that in the EU. You have to pedal with all ebikes here. Try one out you might love it!!

            • AC September 6, 2017 Reply

              Love it or not, it’s still motorized. I don’t see anyone disputing that they might be fun. They simply are not a nonmotorized vehicle. Doesn’t matter if it’s 1 watt or 1000, pedal actuated throttle vs wrist or button. There is now way around them being motorized.

  17. Mart Joe September 5, 2017 Reply

    E-bikes are treated like bicycles in CA, as signed into law by the governor back in 2015.

    • AC September 5, 2017 Reply

      Not on federal trails. Another example of Californians thinking their rules apply everywhere.

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