The Utility of the eMTB

Haibike FS RX electric bikeBy Paul Willerton.

Each year, I spend time at various cycling industry events. Consumer events, industry trade shows, races, seminars, and group rides.

Much of my attention is directed at the different e-bike segments. There are always a few trends that stand out through the year.

In 2015, the e-mountain bike (eMTB) segment has been the standout. Here are a few strong trends in this exciting segment.

1. Higher quality e-mountain bike models being offered to consumers. Of these, the best are the ones that exhibit the authentic “feel” of a pedal bicycle. Smooth power when it’s most needed (climbs, gradients, headwinds, starting from stops) and an absence of the system when it’s not needed (descents).

2. The continued dialog involving the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) and the e-bike side of the cycling industry. The in-depth study by IMBA on trail impact differences of eMTB’s, MTB’s and motorcycles is ongoing.

Early results have IMBA anticipating that eMTB impact will fall somewhere between MTB and motorcycles. “for the most part, the soil impacts observed in this study were not greatly different from those of mountain bikes, and were much less than those associated with motorcycle use.”

IMBA maintains the conservative stance that eMTB’s should not yet be granted certain trail access. IMBA does state they are keeping an open mind and understand the inevitable rise in popularity of the e-mountain bike.


Photo courtesy of Felt Electric

3. The unbridled excitement of the eMTB consumer.  Now landing on US shores, this contagion started in Europe, where trail access was granted to eMTB’s of 350 watts or less and do not have a throttle. The European cycling community has welcomed eMTB riders, and the result has been an influx of eMTB adoption across all demographic groups. This movement is perhaps most prominent among the younger demographic.

With these trends solidly in place, I’ve also noticed a continued diversion in the United States. Notably, trend 3, spurred on by trend 1, being thwarted by mixed messaging from trend 2. I’ve noticed the mixed messaging coming from various sources.

For example, local retailers who might even carry e-bikes. I’ve witnessed shop employees tell customers that eMTB’s are not allowed on trails. Combine this with an oft-cited distaste for the eMTB from riders who might be unfamiliar with the systems or concerned about having more riders on their favorite trails, and the slower adoption of the eMTB in the USA becomes obvious.

I’m here to tell you, if you feel the pull of trend 3 and love what you’re seeing in trend 1, jump in. An eMTB is not a gun. You do have the right to keep, bear and ride an eMTB.

No matter what comes of trend 2 in the near term, there are so many adventures and fun to be had on an eMTB. The truth is, there are many ways to use an eMTB and lots of places to ride.

Off The Beaten Path

eMTB’s are fun to ride on the types of roads and trails that regular mountain bikes aren’t. Most mountain bike riders want meccas filled with flowing single track. I can’t blame them. I’m one of them.

These systems are the domain of IMBA and where they rightfully assert themselves. Part of the reason I chose to live where I do is to have constant access to those trail systems.

focus jarifa electric bike riding

Photo courtesy of Paul Willerton

eMTB’s have shown me there’s great riding to be had on the “wrong side of the tracks”. Double track. Wagon roads. Slithering, skinny Jeep trails. Motorcycle trails.

Exposed trails that catch too much wind and carry gradients such that no regular mountain bike rider would purposely choose to ride there. I’ve found awesome sections on all of them, and I would have never gone there in the first place without an eMTB.

Roads and trails like this exist all over the United States, just waiting for some electric-assisted adventurers to find them. For many who are new to off-road riding, an eMTB can be an even better choice than a regular pedal mountain bike.

The Roads Most Traveled

An eMTB is an exercise in versatility. Due to the electric assist, it’s a bike you won’t mind riding on errands. It will get you through town as fast as any lycra-clad roadie.

It will do it safer, too. The wider, softer tires will find better purchase across wet rail road tracks and uneven gaps in pavement.

Haibike FS RX trail 6

The suspension can soak up unseen potholes that could send an experienced road rider on a $15,000 bike flying through the air off their bike.

You can put racks, bags and lights on it to carry loads you would have nether thought you could ride a bike with. You might even decide to let go of your car insurance and give those wheels a break.

The convergence of cycling, technology and batteries has happened. The eMTB has grown up. The better bikes are refined, beautiful machines with top-end build materials and components.

Their electric-assist is realistic, seamless and a joy to feel through your body and spirit as you ride them. Owning one and using it regularly delivers all the incredible health benefits of cycling, urging you to ride places – and run errands – you never would have on a bike, before.

Thanks to Paul Willerton for this report!

P.S. Don’t forget to join the Electric Bike Report community for updates from the electric bike world, plus ebike riding and maintenance tips!


    • says

      While ,I have never ridden an Ebike,I ride my 20 inch Full suspension MTB set up for a big kid “5 ft. 9 inch 165 lb,
      62 year old Kid…….any where I want to ,If there is a sign saying “No Bikes” I cut it down,or spray paint over it ,,,,And ride anywhere anytime I feel like it,I live in America……
      If you don’t like it well GFY or we can deal with it in a legal manner,since most of these trails are in What is known as “Open Grazing” Lands ,I’ll just get my horse and 500 head of cattle [cows] and or 10-20,000 sheep
      And fill those trails with Cow Shit and Sheep Shit,have you ever seen what 20,000 sheep do to an area?They will turn your single track N 2 a track 30 ft wide where nothing grows 4 two years!!
      Go ahead and try to tell me I can’t ride my human powered/electric bike, Anywhere I want………


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