Should Electric Mountain Bikes Be Illegal?

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We’ve talked a lot about Electric bikes before, in the context of commuting to and from work and using them to ride on the streets, but how do E-bikes fit in the big wide world of sports? Are electric bikes welcome in mountain biking? Are they looked down on?

The answer is an anti-climactic “both”.

Let me explain.

While electric bikes have certainly found their place for commuting, mountain bikes with electric motors have had a harder time getting accepted. There’s a lot of reasons why people both love them and hate them, but the most important question is this: should they be legal?

Why people think they shouldn’t be

Part of the biggest reasons for people opposing electric mountain bikes is that to them, it’s cheating, or a bastardization of the sport. In other words, a good portion of the mountain biking community believes that the sport should stick to manually powered bikes only. The logic is that there’s already communities for dirt bikers and motorcyclists to perform similar sports, and an electric mountain bike is just a downgraded version of that. For some mountain bike enthusiasts.

As mentioned up there, some people also put it in the same league as cheating. They feel it gives you a major advantage over other mountain bikers. It’s seen as a boost in capabilities. For the people against electric mountain bikes, it’s similar to the recumbent bicycles debate when it comes to racing – they give their users an unfair advantage and therefore don’t belong.

But here’s the thing; recumbent bikes have their own races and events. So E-mountain bikes should too.

The other thing is that there seems to be a lot of misconceptions regarding E-mountain bikes, in that sense that people seem to think they are downgraded versions of motorcycles. This is, of course, a silly thought. They are leagues apart. Part of the ignorance comes from the simple fact that many people just haven’t actually had a chance to see or ride one yet, and are basing their opinions solely on the impression they got from seeing articles about them.

electric bike

Well the first reason is “why not?”

I sincerely considered ending this piece right there. I felt like it would be a pretty cool mic drop moment, but I do have a word count to fill, so let’s go through the actual reasons why electric mountain bikes are awesome and should be accepted by everyone.

E-Mountain Bikes are NOT dirt bikes

For convenience, I’m calling them EM bikes from now on. EM bikes are much different from a dirt bike, which is basically a motorcycle. An EM bike is just the mountain bike variation of your standard E-bike. Nothing more, nothing less. The motor is not meant to be the primary means of moving the bike, it is an electric ASSIST. You can ride the bike without using the motor, you can ride it using ONLY the motor, or you can use the motor and pedalling in tandem.

EM Bikes are made to do a lot more than regular E-bikes

An E-bike exists for convenience. The E-bike is designed to make riding your bike around cars easier and somewhat safer. It’s designed to improve the bike’s ability to haul things. An EM bike is different. Though both were designed to enhance the basic bicycle and its capabilities, while the E-bike was made to be convenient, the EM bike was made for sport. An E-bike can help you climb a hill. An EM bike’s motor isn’t there to help you conquer a tricky mountain path, it’s there to dare you to climb bigger ones. It’s not about adding on to your abilities or giving you a gentle push, it’s about opening you up to a whole new level of performance.

The EM bike provides all kinds of opportunities in the sport – it could be a game changer. The world of cycling shouldn’t shun new technology. It should be embraced.

EM Bikes have the potential to breathe new life into the sport

Let’s face it: Mountain biking is a young man’s/woman’s sport. It’s the kind of sport you take up when you’re young, fit, and broken bones don’t scare you. EM bikes can make many trails easier to handle, making them accessible to new cyclists who are interested in trying the sport. It will open things up to older riders and people who perhaps aren’t as physically competent as your typical mountain biking junkie.

Anything that helps the sport grow organically is a great thing!

You don’t have to switch to an EM bike to compete

A lot of people, whether they admit it or not, are likely miffed about the possibility that EM bikes will render their own equipment obsolete. It’s a fair thing to be nervous about, especially if you’ve invested over £2000- £3000 on your mountain bike. It doesn’t help that EM bikes are extremely expensive, with cheap ones clocking in at £4000! Ouch. That price tag is brutal.

electric bike battery

But let me tell you a little something. Even though e-bikes exist, the world of competitive cycling hasn’t actually changed that much. There’s a market for E-bike racing specifically, but otherwise, you’re in the clear. If EM bikes become popular on the trails, they won’t revolutionize the sport, or make regular mountain bikers look bad.

If anything, here is what will likely happen – EM bikes will become a great choice for casual mountain bikers, and on the sports scene, they’ll have their own races, instead of competing or replacing the current mountain biking events.

It’s really simple. EM bikes won’t take anything away from the sport. They’ll add to it.

EM bikes aren’t bad

E-bikes and their impact on the environment have been a big topic of discussion in the cycling world since day 1, and it’s not hard to see why.

A lot of people think that EM bikes will be not as good for the environment. This is a discussion that many people are having and it’s important for everyone in on this discussion to hear me out on this. Here are the common concerns people have for EM bikes:

EM Bikes are just as bad for the environment as Motorcycles – When comparing the environmental impact between electric bikes and other forms of transportation, it’s really simple. Bikes and E-bikes are emission free. They do not emit anything harmful into the air through their usage. Here is where the confusion comes into play. You see, people have a tendency to take a polarizing side to an issue. People either think E-bikes are God’s gift to us mortals, or they think E-bikes are literally worse than cars. We have to accept that it’s not that simple.

Whether or not an E-bike is good for the environment is based on two very important factors.

#1: Where the electricity comes from. Some energy sources are green, and are great for the environment. There’s charging stations for E-bikes that use solar panels. These energy sources are great. They do a lot to reduce or eliminate the problems that come with generation electricity. However, some electricity sources are not so environmentally friendly. This is not a problem inherent with E-bikes and EM bikes specifically, it’s a problem with the energy industry as a whole.

If you want to look out for the environment and make sure that you’re not doing more harm than good, try to only charge your EM bike at a station that uses clean energy. It’s that simple. Saying EM bikes are bad because the energy source might be tainted is silly. It’s addressing the symptom, not the real problem.

#2: How the batteries are disposed. Most E-bikes use either Sealed Lead-Acid batteries, Nickel-Cadmium batteries, Nickel-Metal Hybride batteries or Lithium-Ion Polymer. The disposal of these batteries can be a bit of a hazard for the environment if it’s not handled properly. Properly is the key word there. Batteries, particularly the Sealed Lead-Acid batteries, can contaminate the environment under certain circumstances.

That being said, if the batteries are disposed of and recycled right, then there should be absolutely nothing for us to worry about. The good news is that there’s plenty of information available from the retailers who sell EM bikes. If you ask them what to do when your bike is no longer among the living, they can point you in the right direction.

Ultimately, you can’t blame the product. If you care about the environment, the responsibility falls on you, the individual, to do your research and look into charging your EM bikes with clean energy and getting rid of the batteries in the correct manner. Otherwise it’s like blaming Coca-Cola when your neighbour litters.

Are EM bikes dangerous?

This is an interesting theory that has cropped up. It comes in two parts – some people believe EM bikes will tear up the trails. Other people believe that they are dangerous because if the motor fails while you’re on the trail, you could seriously hurt yourself.

electric bike charger

Let’s address that first one really quick, so we can focus on that second part. Mountain Biking trails are not nearly as fragile as some people like to think. Besides, while some would say that EM bikes are a slippery slope leading to more powerful vehicles on the trails, the reality is there’s still a world of difference between a motorcycle and an EM bike.

E-bikes have speed and horsepower regulations for road usage in some parts of the world, and similar regulations would nip this problem in the bud. It’s an easy problem to fix.

Now we move on to the second point. This theory is tricky to address because it actually makes a world of sense. If you’re relying on the motor while riding the trails, and it gives out on you, you could get seriously injured from a crash, right?

Well, for starters, it’s worth remembering that Mountain biking, like all sports, has an inherent risk involved. That’s just part of the game. There’s no avoiding it. But for the simple fact that the motor might falter, doesn’t that still make EM bikes more dangerous than regular Mountain Bikes?

No. While pedalling with the motor’s assist, you’re actually still putting in enough physical excretion to avoid crashing, according to this study. So in other words, when it comes to safety, EM bikes are perfectly fine to have around.

In Conclusion

Anything that I’ve heard against having EM bikes legal or allowed on mountain biking trails has been 100% baseless. These things are rooted in misinformation and ignorance. Many people involved seem to be missing key facts. They don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle and therefore make a judgement call based on what they can see.

That’s not really anyone’s fault, but when it comes to increasing awareness for cycling as a sport, mode of transport, and way of life, we should focus on making sure we have the right information and we do our research.

Speaking as someone who has actually never tried mountain biking (because knowing my luck, I’d spin out and smash my wonderfully awful face into a tree or something), if I could get my hands on an EM bike (not likely, they cost more than a kidney in some places), I’d love to take up the sport.

EM bikes not only belong on the trails, but they are an excellent asset for the world of cycling. They provide new opportunities for people to get involved in the sport, and their very existence is going to help the sport grow and gain new fans. Perhaps in the future, mountain biking competitions will have two ridings: one for EM bikes, and one for traditional mountain bikes.
Wouldn’t that be cool?


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