E-mtbs – an introduction

Everything you need to know about e-mtbs

Words and photos: Steve Jones

From the outset it’s important to recognise that the sport of mountainbiking is one carried out at varying intensities and levels of technicality and enjoyed by people of diverse abilities.

Within this young sport, differences of opinion, banter between one discipline and another has always been robust. In this respect the electric mountainbike is no different and that far from “missing the point” of why we ride, it simply enables us to do more of it. And that it’s the rider that decides how fervent or extreme the ride will be.

There are two important misconceptions that need to be cleared up regarding electric mountain bikes (e-mtb). First is that ultimately it’s the rider that decides the intensity of the ride, not the bike. Ride in your comfort zone or tire yourself out – you decide.

And secondly, far from being a different sport to mountainbiking (mtb), the new genre of e-mtb unites both downhill and trail riding, allowing riders more freedom on the hill and increased technicality in the trail. E-mtb allows uphill flow as well as downhill flow.

Clearly this is at odds with many people’s­ interpretation of e-mtb. One that says it’s for cheating and unfit people. Be it through a range of gears, pedal assistance and power modes a rider can choose how hard to ride, for how long and on what terrain. There’s also software to assist you with this.

In terms of physicality the leg strain might be lessened but the heart rate and workout will not. E-mtb can incorporate steeper, more technical climbs that are conquered faster yet still leave you breathless, and on the downhill sectors there’s very little to choose between e-mtb and mtb in terms of speed.

“an e-mtb will not lessen the fun you have on a mtb. It’s just different fun”

The idea that e-mtb is a different sport is slightly misplaced when both disciplines of downhill and (to a lesser extent) enduro rely on uplift vehicles or chairlifts in many parts of the world. Indeed far from being limited by the tracks offered at uplift locations, e-mtb allows freedom to roam, the ability to explore and to go places that might be out of reach for normal mtb. The key to it all is that riding an e-mtb will not lessen the fun you have on a mtb. It’s just different fun.

The amount of assistance is delivered at varying levels, but the important message here is that the fittest still rise to the top. There’s no free ride with e-mtb as many imagine. In terms of the bike technology the low centre of gravity means more grip and more balance, and although an e-mtb adds around 20lb on average to a non-motor mountainbike the geometry and sizing is largely the same.

There are four main players offering batteries – Bosch/Yamaha/Brose/Shimano. Each has their positives and negatives but ultimately it’s all about assisting you to tackle the challenges of off-road riding. There’s many other crazy systems out there but we believe the centrally mounted motor by one of the above company’s with suspension to be the best option.

Much is discussed of the range and power of each system when the answer is quite simple….it depends. It depends on conditions, on rider weight, on terrain intensity. A 90 kg rider murdering super steep technical terrain in ‘turbo’ mode will not be covering as much ground as a 60kg rider on moderate climbs using ‘tour’ mode. You could cover 10km or 80km depending on so many variables.

We have covered 50km in Swiss Alps on a day long ride using ‘tour’ mode all day and have also done a 37km route with 3000ft of climbing and a similar amount of proper technical descending in the UK using ‘turbo’ and only just made it home.

What bike you choose is a difficult decision to make. See our section on bike choice and bike tests. In some ways even more complex than a standard mtb. For example why have a 48lb x 100mm bike when you can have a 49lb x 160mm bike? We think you’re better going for the longer travel. But the most important factor is deciding whether to go for a full suspension bike or hardtail.

Clearly the higher speeds are going to exert more stress on the body than a mtb hardtail, but so too the bike. This is one of the reasons hire e-mtb bikes are frequently of the hardtail variety simply because of wear and tear. Double the ride time, double the wear.  If your budget allows, you’d be crazy not to go for a full suspension e-mtb.

Is it like a motorcycle? Not at all, e-mtb makes less noise even than a mtb with a noisy hub. We’re frequently asked is e-mtb more fun than mtb? The answer is that it’s different. Does it affect the fun you have on any other bike? No it doesn’t.


Totally, but just remember you cannot cheat your heart rate. So actually no. Not if you’re clever. See how we found little to choose between the both in our comparison tests. In reality the fittest still rise to the top with e-mtb just as they do with mtb.

This is primarily because of the range and technical difficulty these bikes are capable of. It’s true that anyone can drop the bike into ‘turbo’ mode and scoot past on a straight fire road climb, but a true technical climb will leave even the fittest in a high heart rate zone even in the ‘turbo’ mode.

Mountain biking is about man versus the terrain so it could well be cheating if you base the challenges around what conventional mtbs do but if you build in climbs that are out of range for a mtb bike then it becomes a very, very different game.

For many emtb converts its about creating new challenges not making the one’s we have easier. And remember that descending normally involves high hear rate and an upper body work out. E-mtb = more descending = more work out.

There’s something in emtb for everyone. From the person who wants to do a massive workout to the dad taking his daughter out for a spin removing the huge obstacle that hill-climbing brings. It enables riders of mixed abilities/fitness to ride together and it can mean the doubling of runs for a downhill rider. E-mtb might still be alien to many but its born of the same need.

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