I've logged almost 1,000 km on my eMTB, and here are my takeaways.
Please note that throughout this blog post, I am referring to a Class 1 pedal assist e-bike (no throttle). Class 1 e-bikes are not considered motor vehicles within Canada.
I know e-bikes are not for everyone, and while you're entitled to your opinion about them, I'm not here to argue. nor entertain negative comments. This post aims to educate you based on my experience as a lifelong mountain biker and professional skills coach. If you have any other experiences you've discovered from eMTBs, I'd love to hear them! Leave us a comment below.
I purchased a Santa Cruz Heckler eMTB early last fall and have taken every chance to ride it since. I wanted to know what all the buzz was about with them. Plus, as a full-time mountain bike skills coach, I'm encountering more and more clients with e-bikes, so I also wanted to do my due diligence in riding them so I know how to work with them. After pedalling almost 1,000 km on it, I'm here to report back what I've discovered thus far, both good and bad, about them.
It is still a workout.
Don't be fooled. It's not "cheating". Instead, position your thought around it as making the same effort but going slightly faster and further than usual. Your heart rate can still climb, you can still suck wind, and your body can work as hard as you'd like to make it. You can also increase the pedal assist level, making it less of a workout on your legs.
Regardless, you have much more bike to handle, roughly 20 lb heavier than a regular bike if you opt for a full-size battery, and 10 lb heavier if you opt for the lighter battery option. The extra weight means it is far more demanding on your upper body strength and endurance [#ArmDay]. Plus, you tend to log more miles per ride, so you'll also be mentally more fatigued at the end of the ride.
If you have to walk the bike, the weight can make it challenging to push the bike for most. Thankfully, most eMTBs come with a "walk assist" feature.
Myth: They're only for beginner riders.
In fact, I would say quite the opposite. While they can be an incredible asset to new riders, they require solid fundamental and bike handling skills to maneuver the bike smoothly and quickly. You may also find yourself going through some sections slightly quicker than normal, so there's more pedal-timing and coordination and being able to pick a smooth line on a whim, which beginner riders tend to need more experience with.
Your riding will change.
Due to the extra weight and engagement from the pedal assist, I had to adapt my riding skills to the eMTB. For example, you might start pedalling a little earlier in the transition between a downhill into an uphill because the pedal assist has a slight lag before it engages. Wait too long, and the bike will suddenly stall out on you.
You also must shift often! If you wait too late to shift, your cadence will slow down, receiving less pedal assist. You'll then be forced to shift to an easier gear under heavy power, so it's common to hear about someone breaking a chain on their eMTB.
I also found the eMTB far more challenging to ride through technical trails because of the bike's weight - it's more challenging to lift the wheels and float it over obstacles smoothly, so you can sometimes get caught feeling like a passenger of the bike (instead of the driver).
Your riding will improve.
Your ride lengths will increase; therefore, you're putting in more miles practicing skills and techniques and getting the repetition needed to make skills autonomous.
Do Your Homework and know before you go.
Before every ride, I had to research if a trail system permitted eMTBS. Every area will have a different policy on the usage of e-bikes. Some areas still class them as "motorized vehicles" despite not having a throttle. So please do your homework before heading to the trails to ensure they are permitted.
You also cannot fly with an e-bike with the battery.
More bang for your buck.
Ride further and longer. Only have one day to ride? Have you invested a lot of money to explore a new riding destination? The eMTB gives you more bang for your buck because you can cover more ground in less time with less fatigue. It could also be beneficial at the start of the season to regain your fitness without feeling like a sack of potatoes on the bike.
Transporting them is hard.
Make sure you have the means to transport it if needed. Bike racks often have a maximum weight limit; therefore, you may be unable to use it or load a second bike. Sans bike rack, you'll have to be able to lift them into your car or truck bed, and they're heavy!
Remember to charge it!!
It's something else to charge...as if we don't already have enough things to charge. But seriously, ensure you get it charging as soon as you're home. Because planning to go for a ride with a dead battery is almost as bad as finding a flat tire on your bike before a ride.
This also created a new challenge - we spend much of our winter living off-grid, so sourcing power to charge the bike could be tricky and require a higher-wattage generator.
The range varies per rider.
My husband and I have the exact same eMTBs with a 720-watt battery. I find it shocking how much more range my battery gets than his simply because I am lighter. I will always call it a day long before my battery even remotely gets low unless we're doing some epic climbing, while he often uses his entirely. We did figure out that we could swap batteries and would swap them halfway through a ride. That way, no one's battery died way earlier than the other.
Wear, tear and repair.
You'll cover more miles on a heavier bike, so be prepared to replace consumables such as chains, tires and brake pads and have to service the suspension more frequently. You also have a new range of errors that can occur if the software, wiring or motor becomes an issue.
Whether you're on an e-bike or disagree with them, keep your negative comments to yourself, politely say hello, and carry on.
There is a time and place for my eMTB. Riding - it compliments my riding while travelling, in the early season, or when I'm fatigued after many days of riding/coaching in a row. However, I am eyeing one of the new smaller/lighter eMTBs, such as the Santa Cruz Heckler SL, which has a smaller battery but will offer the range I need and shave ~10 lbs of weight.
Have we got the wheels turning about them? Are you considering giving them a try now? In conclusion, I like my eMTB but still enjoy my regular mountain bike. I look at my eMTB as a different discipline of riding. There's a time and place to ride both.
But lastly, try them before you decide about them and judge people for riding them! And please keep the negative comments to yourself.
If you have an eMTB, we'd love to know your experience with them. Leave us a comment below!