The first time I saw an electric mountain bike was at Aliso Woods park about four years ago. This guy who looked to be about 70 years old zipped right by us on Westridge on an eBike. He was pedaling, but he did it so effortlessly that my first thought was, “CHEATER!”
Electric bikes (“eBikes”) have been slowly entering the market over the past few years but most of the offerings have been pretty weak hybrid bikes on the off-road side. And on the real off-road side, the prices have been so outrageous that one really has to think, “At that price, why not just buy a motorcycle?”
The Market is Maturing
Finally I’m starting to see some serious contenders in the market. Companies like Haibikes (http://www.haibike.de) are starting to offer a full range of bikes from commuters and road racing bikes all the way up to full-carbon cross country mountain bikes. When you compare the specs of their top end XC bikes to any standard top end XC bike, you’ll see a lot of similarities like carbon rims, Fox shocks and SRAM XO components. But two big differences stand out: overall weight and price. Haibike’s top-end XC bike weighs in at 41 pounds whereas a similarly equipped standard bike would easily weigh around 26 pounds. On the cost side of things, if you compare a top-end eBike to a top-end standard bike, you’ll notice that the eBikes are at least $3,000 more expensive.
My Questions and Hesitations
Obviously there’s a lot more involved in the construction of an eBike than a standard mountain bike so it’s unlikely that prices will ever match bike for bike, eBike vs. standard. But I have to wonder, even if I could afford one, would I buy one? What happens when the battery goes dead and then I have to push an extra 15 pounds of bike uphill? What effect does the extra weight have on parts over time? How would the extra weight affect my center of gravity? And most importantly, how much extra power am I going to get with an eBike?
Are eBikes Legal to Ride on Trails?
At this point, legality is being determined state-by-state, county-by-county, city-by-city. In California, recent legislation was passed which would allow an eBike like the ones described in this article on most trails. But they can be restricted at local levels. There’s a great article with more detail posted here: http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/new-e-bike-law-passes-in-california
Would You Buy an eBike?
From the perspective of a guy who enjoys pure cross country riding, I have doubts that I would ever buy an eBike for mountain bike purposes. For road rides, sure – I think I would enjoy some pedal assist on my commute to work! But I don’t think about myself when I think of the future of eBikes. I think about the guy who is in his 70’s breezing by me on his eBike while I’m huffing and puffing – because he CAN. If an eBike can help somebody ride the same trails I ride where it would be impossible for them to do so naturally, then I believe there’s a market for eBikes and I’m on-board with that idea. For the casual weekend warrior that’s just too lazy to pedal a bike uphill, well I think they would be better off investing into a gym membership. Personally I just I hope that when I’m 70 and need some pedal assist technology to get up the hills with all the whippersnappers that I’ll be able to afford an eBike!