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by Steven Morganstern

Imagine you are riding your bike up a steep hill. Your suffering, heart pounding, sweat pouring, legs burning. You hear someone say “on your left” and there goes someone who does not look like they are a cyclist flying by you at unreal speeds!! Could it be an exercise induced hallucination? Nope, just another pedal assist E-bike out for a ride.

Okay so that might not happen all that much, but it does happen and people are asking, What’s up with the electric bikes? They are cropping up all over the place. On the road and even on the mountain. No, we are not talking about those gas-powered bikes people convert in their garage. These are factory made by the biggest names in the bike world. Giant, Cannondale, Trek, Specialized, BMC, Felt and more. Some say they are cheating or silly. In Europe where people don’t commute by car, many people have pedal assist bikes that cost 3, 4 or even 6 thousand dollars. Don’t look now, but the trend is here in America, and it is here to stay. So, is it cheating? Are these bikes going to destroy trails? The answer may surprise you.

It is important to note that the bikes being referred to here are not equipped with a throttle. These bikes do have a motor, but they are not activated until you pedal and make them go. The electric motor then puts out power to “assist” you on the road. Most come with multiple modes of power from Echo, the lowest setting to Turbo which pretty much speaks for itself. The catch is these bikes top out at 20 mph with the assist and then the motor shuts down. This keeps it as an assisted bicycle not a motorized vehicle. The big question people ask, is why would you want that?

The most obvious answer is for those who have limitations with their physical abilities. There are more and more riders of the baby boom era who can no longer ride for multiple hours and get up 10% grades like they used to. Being able to ride and then turn on the assist when needed keeps people on bikes longer! There are those who commute to work and are not always looking for a workout and having that assist to ride home at the end of a long day is a welcome addition. Then there are those who just don’t want to be working so hard on a ride and just want to feel the wind through their hair and enjoy the feeling of riding. Nothing wrong with that in our book.

On the mountain side, many federal and state parks don’t want a motorized vehicle on the trails because they will cause damage to the trails by spinning the tires or going too fast. Lots of people had reservations about this but once you ride a true mountain E-bike all of those reservations and arguments get thrown out the window. Sure, you can climb faster but you are not going to spin the tires any more, and even less than you can on a standard bike in a low gear. On most trails where there are good downhill runs into corners there will be chatter bumps created by hard breaking before the turn. With a heavier E-bike most of that chatter is eliminated and while you can accelerate out of the corner faster with the assist on, it still has less wear on the trail than a standard bike. As stated before, there are so many people who are mountain biking that are not as young as they used to be. Look at the fathers of mountain biking. People like Gary Fisher and Tom Ritchey, they are in their late 60’s and there will be a time when the legs just won’t get them up the hills they want to climb, but they will still enjoy the downhill and an E bike can take them there. We recently had a chance to ask Gary Fisher what the next big thing in bicycles will be and his answer without hesitation was E-bikes. He talked about how agencies like the forest service will be able to utilize these bikes to cover ground in search and rescue operations. Being able to not only go farther, but be able to hear someone calling for help without a motor running loudly. Less environmental impact by non-gas powered vehicles can play a big part in the acceptance of these bikes.

The reality is the bike industry is trying to make it so people who love to ride can stay on the bike longer. Sometimes that means getting a little help and as these electric motors continue to develop and improve, more and more people will have access to them. No, they are not cheap the Cannondale Kinneto hybrid bike retails for $2,799.99 and the mountain Moterra comes in at $5,499.99. Giant has the road version Quick E+ at $4,000 and mountain versions up to $7.000. But, is that any different from what people pay today for bikes without motors? No. There are add on Electric kits that start at $2,500 for parts so getting a complete bike around that price is a much better deal and the warranty is a huge plus. What it comes down to is that these bikes fulfill a need and the population for that need is growing. Besides the need factor these bikes are just plain fun to ride. Who doesn’t like that feeling of sudden acceleration and the wind in your hair?

There are a lot of details on the motor located in the crank and the battery itself but coming from the likes of Shimano and Bosch, there is no doubt they are solid. Battery life is anywhere from 4 to 20 hours depending on mode and use.

Sometimes it is all about the bike and being able to ride as long as you can. So next timeyou see an E-bike on the road or on the trail, take a look to see the smile on the face of the rider and remember that rider could be you.