Why Are E-Bikes Such a Touchy Subject in the U.S.?

E-bike is basically the F word of mountain biking, at least in the United States. Europeans and global regions have embraced the bikes with aplomb, yet bring up the topic in 'murica and you may as well be discussing Trump versus Obama. We have our suspicions as to why the power-assisted demons are so hated stateside, but at Interbike, we asked some industry veterans why they thought the subject of e-bikes is so touchy. Our interview subjects have been riding mountain bikes for decades and have been involved in cycling and trail advocacy of some kind. Fear of losing trail access seems to be a common theme in the answers, but is there more to the issue?

Joel Smith (Alchemy), Carla McCord (Pivot), Michael Ferrentino (Uncommon Communications), Darren Murphy (PUSH Industries) and Bobby Brown (Maxxis Tires) on why e-bikes are such a touchy subject in the U.S.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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36 comments
  • the_owl

    11/15/2017 8:23 AM

    theyre a bicycle, with a motor right? They should only be allowed on multi use trails. cut and dry. no gray area and IMBA can go eff themselves.

    mo·tor
    ˈmōdər/Submit
    noun
    1.
    a machine, especially one powered by electricity or internal combustion, that supplies motive power for a vehicle or for some other device with moving parts.

  • eldedo

    11/13/2017 5:42 PM

    we have a hard enough time with land access, e-bikes(electric motorcycles) will make our case even harder to prove.

  • lemonaid

    11/13/2017 12:09 PM

    How do you enforce access for a certain group but only if they meet a certain classification (ie class 1emtbs). You eventually have situations like this.... "Why should my bike not be allowed since the only difference is it has a throttle?"

    This was brought up by a land manager who states:
    "The problem, which seems to have been purposely created, is that this category of transportation has multiple groups and someone determined that at least one of the groups is not appropriate for multi use trails. That would be like saying 9 speeds are ok but any other speeds are not. Or certain breeds of horses are ok but others are not. Kinda of insulting to land managers"

  • bokdoos

    11/13/2017 8:05 AM

    Why are they a touchy subject.? In a word. Ignorance.

    Ignorance from the hikers and equestrians who have tried to ban bikes in general from trails for years.

    Ignorance from the law makers regarding bikes on trails in general.

    Ignorance from the law makers who are making knee jerk reactions to e-bikes.

    Ignorance from the mountain bikers who have never ridden one.

    Ignorance and the resulting resistance to something new is human nature and I'm not saying that e-bikes are not without their sins and that there are not real issues surrounding them.

    What I am saying to those that are very opposed to them is please make sure you have the experience to make an informed comment rather than a negative knee jerk reaction.

    To a man every person I know ( this includes very fit and very skilled riders) do a 180 on their position on pedal assist mountain bikes after putting in some real time on one.

  • lemonaid

    11/13/2017 5:59 AM

    First of all, comparing the EU to the US is like comparing apples to oranges. The US has vastly more wilderness and a larger park system. And people aren't crammed in a small space. Michael Ferrentino's comments in the audio miss the whole point calling emtb opponents selfish and uninformed, and the (5:30) "Americans have a cultural problem with sharing". No, it's not about sharing. It's about opening the door to more and more powerful mopeds on the trails. That's the bottom line... Once the door is open for the simplest of motors, gradually more and more powerful bikes will be introduced. If we've learned anything from the bike industry is that they love to introduce newer and better "technology" every year to pique the rider's wallets. The "classification" of motor bikes is a fallacy since there's no way for anyone to police or enforce these mythical standards on the trails and was created for political reasons. What will end up happening is "other interests" will end up grouping regular mountain bikes with emtb and base trail access decision on the merits of both groups as a single entity.

  • Varaxis

    11/13/2017 5:29 AM

    That's an interesting bike in the pic. 29 front, 27.5x3 rear. Custom cover for motor. Unique IS rear brake mount. Looks like an alloy mainframe that had the HT and top tube crafted as 1 piece; welds so smooth that an untrained eye can't tell it's not carbon. I don't doubt that it has unrefined geo and ride quality though.

  • EddyDave

    11/13/2017 5:01 AM

    Hey @sspomer, can you maybe chuck this on the Podcast feed?? So I can listen to it in the car on the way home! Guess an off the cuff mini segment?

  • Johan_Norberg

    11/13/2017 3:00 AM

    ebikes sure do cause some stir. Having both ridden (on trails), sold and wrenched on them my conclusion is that they are just that, a mtb. The whole "motor" discussion is from people that havent tried one, especially the more expensive ones are really gradual in their assist. That is what they are pedal assist, which only really benefits a bit on flat trerrain and a lot on the ups. The only added "trail erosion" would come from more runs made nothng else. They cant dig in like motos, not even in your wildest fantasy would you put them on the same side as motos if you have tried one. They are a bicycle that just "cheats" a bit on your effort. So either you continue to push as hard and the motor eventually stop assisting and you are in reality just hauling ass on a heavy bike or you pace it as normal and you can stay out for longer.

    As with many other discussions enlightenment is key. Everyone needs to really try and feel what they are and are not.

    Personally I would appreciate an eMtb in the future, but only as a trail bike since for anything else they just add way to much complexity. As of today they are way to heavy and unreliable for me to even think of owning one. Maybe in 5-10 years.

  • human powered suicide machine

    11/13/2017 12:40 AM

    Yes, that's touchy and the more E-MTB I see, the angrier I'am.
    They might be fun (like kissing your cousin!) but they are wrong!
    I rode some and I even own one for commuting but still think they are the lamest fucking millenials bastard version of mtb!
    Sure they move quick going up but they kill the feedback you have from the terrain. Where is this holy exchange of energy between your muscle and the ground! It just feel like I got my challenge stolen when the motor kicks in. Now, what about going down? They are heavy and ride like sh*it: the worst Dh bike from 20 years ago. Lame Up, Lame Down!
    More seriously, traditionally cycling has been about having lighter bikes (and the simplest/purest in some ways), being stronger and having more skills then being able to tackle more difficult terrain. It's never has been about making everything easier. It's not our DNA!
    I'm sorry but e-bikes are not part of this CULTURE, they don't belong to the family. That's it!
    If you are about going as fast as possible with a motor then do it right with a real moto: supercross, motoGP-> makes sense and it will get my respect. You want fun without exercise, jerk on some videogames!
    Riding an half moped/half bicycle it not a good use of your time either if your intent is cycling or moto-ing.
    Are we really helping people by pretending they can have a real mtb experience without putting effort!
    Is everything easy and free. Is it cool to be lazy now?
    Should we accept people if we don't share the same values! Usually, that's the not the American Way!

  • scarface

    11/13/2017 1:05 AM

    "Should we accept people if we don't share the same values! Usually, that's the not the American Way!"

    well that explains a lot doesnt it

  • Dildosaurusrex

    11/13/2017 3:57 PM

    I agree. Having a rigid culture around how to have fun is clearly the best mode of operation. As a human powered suicide machine as well I know its culture that binds us. As it says in our Quran and Hadith routine clitorectomy, not riding e-bikes, and executing fags; this is our culture, and one to take pride in. I also fuck my cousin and have actually married and procreated with her in an attempt to preserve our superior culture.(there were only a couple flipper babies)
    the difficult jihad of the climb is proof of your devotion and only then will you feel the glory of allah and true martyrdom during the the decent of the ride. might as well call the levo the infidel.

    i fear the day one of out lost brethren hijacks an electric car to run through a crowd in france.
    allahu akbar brother

  • Benoit

    11/13/2017 12:21 AM

    You've got to appreciate the irony of the situation. Putting aside the trail access issues and other actual, real issues. E-bikes are getting so much shit in a country where people drive huge gas-guzzling trucks to the trail heads, where off-road moto and quads are widely accepted and sold. On the other hand these e-bikes are widely sold and used in Europe where most people are much more conscious about the environment, where laws are WAY more restricting about motorized off-road vehicles. Kinda strange in a way.

  • Rick_Jones_RoadRunmers

    11/12/2017 7:52 PM

    I can’t help but laugh that the same group that in the last 25-30 years fought for trail access (against equestrians and hikers) are now so willing to pull the same bull with the new kid on the block. Having a growing population that is fighting TOGETHER can only help grow and maintain trail access for all of us.

  • bman33

    11/12/2017 8:09 PM

    Come out to any Western state, sit anyone of many trail committee meeting, access meeting, rangers meeting, here what many of those same equestrian and hiker groups say about bikes and you may begin to understand the alarm that e-bikes sound to us. "New kid on the block " directly threatens our access due to direct association to regular bikers. We "all look the same" to non-bikers. As soon as "electric" is discovered/ heard they will become more vigilant against two wheels

  • Pedal4life

    11/12/2017 3:10 PM

    eMTB = Motorcycle or Electric Motor + Bicycle = Motorcycle motorcycles of today were incorrectly named 100+ years ago because of enginecycle doesn’t sound good internal combustion engine not motor a motor is a electric motor!

  • bman33

    11/12/2017 3:09 PM

    This article itself is designed to stir things up. Yes, they are a profit center for bike companies. Also, YES they are a direct threat to trail access, especially here in Western states such as Colorado, California, Montana etc. Much is said about '....but they are everywhere in Europe'. So what? Maybe Euro land managers and/or hikers/equestrians/Sierra Club type as Natzi as they are here in the US. Good for them. For city/commuter bikes...fine. Keep them off our hard earned trails. (of course true disabilities are an exception)

  • Varaxis

    11/12/2017 11:02 AM

    Sad issue is that mtbers are being hateful and angry on bicycling sites. It's about as futile as someone venting about a rude encounter (ex. hiker yelling where's your bell) or evidence of misbehavior (ex. littered tubes, food waste) on the trail... the people they're wanting to give a piece of their mind to, likely isn't going to read their judgemental rant. Is this the appropriate place for you to initiate your mental support group session?

    In short, the people who are likely to be problematic on e-bikes aren't going to read what you say. All the hate and open judgement is doing more bad, making the community look bad, than doing good (ex. for advocacy), even if you're only speaking for yourself.

  • sideshow

    11/12/2017 8:59 AM

    Many thoughts...first one being, branding: "E-Bike" is not as true to the nature of the vehicle as it could be, therefore creating issues with regards to land access. "P-Bike" would have been a better workaround, as "Pedal Assist" is more to the point and a lot less ominous of a name when it comes to describing how it functions and interacts with the trail/rider.

  • rludes025

    11/12/2017 8:23 AM

    For me its a trail access issue. In Montana we are fighting everyday to keep access to some amazing singletrack. The people and organizations that are fighting us use anything they can come up with against us. This is a easy one for them. Maybe if $100 of every ebike sale went help save trail access it would be easier to pallet. Until the 3 big boys in game step up and start helping in the trail access fight their bottom line on ebike sales means little to me.

  • MTB9488

    11/12/2017 6:43 AM

    If you’ve never road and E bike 25+ miles on an MTB trail (test riding one in a parking lot a few hundred feet doesn’t count!) then your opinion is bullshit. You’re probably the same person that thinks they can be a lawyer/cop because they watched a few episodes of law and order. The elephant in the room is STRAVA. As mentioned the battle has always been between Hikers and mountain bikers. Before Strava MTB where respectful to hikers... now an MTB rider will run you over to get a better Strava time. Before E bikes hundreds of trails have been closed or a speed limit added because of Strava... but let’s blame ebikes it’s because its the new thing.

  • tobiwan

    11/12/2017 7:37 AM

    Please do not get me wrong but looking for a third party (here: Strava) and blame them is a typical tactic used in all sectors in live to put away the focus of the original topic/problem. Strava is guilty? Hell yeah

    At least here in Germany we do not have big troubles with Strava. The biggest problem is that secret trails get an unwanted, official access when somebody is not locking his data.

  • MTB9488

    11/12/2017 8:49 AM

    Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying STRAVA is a bad thing. But here in the states it’s common to hear people yelling “STRAVA” on the trails because slower riders or hikers ahead of them.

  • tobiwan

    11/12/2017 9:00 AM

    That´s weired to hear
    I mean it is our hobby, not our job so the fun factor while riding should be most important.

  • Karabuka

    11/13/2017 12:05 AM

    Not really, its more like sad reality. Strava in the end is just a social network of sportsmen/women but there are way too many people nowadays who are all about likes, kudos and KOMs. For them it is not about the journey (ride, fun) but about the destination (finish of a route/trails and a digital track). I like how strava allows you to track your riding and progress (or its inverse in the offseason haha), but to go riding just to compete against other people takes the essence away. Just google that guy who complained to strava support because somebody else took away all of his KOMs - laugh ensured :D

  • jive turkey

    11/12/2017 2:38 PM

    I'm claiming the rider yelling "Strava!" is an urban legend. I've never heard it, and I regularly ride some of the most heavily used mtb trails in North America. Plus, is anyone really that douchey?

  • oneandone

    11/12/2017 9:03 AM

    I agree. There are already people out ruining relationships with other users. Always have...always will. Just watch a few PB videos. Is strava to blame? It has contributed for sure.
    I’ve asked around plenty and find that those most against ebike are those that seem to be proud to have broken off the group, pushed past the pain, and are naturally able to just kick ass! Although they don’t admit it, I get the impression they don’t want to give up their edge. Forest service personnel have been very accepting in 3 states I have taken the time to visit. They only cited “peer pressure” as the current hurdle. Hmmm.
    All that said, their is some Merritt to the elephant in the room you mention. I think access is a crutch in a way. Access is only an issue if the quantity of “incidents” increases. Whether it’s trail wear, high speeds, or injury...it all currently exists and is growing as our sport grows and social media keeps promoting prime areas to ride. Not to mention illegal digging and such. So maybe overpopulation is a potential problem?
    I’d ride one as an old man. My days of 10k vert are over. Although I’d like to try! It would be great to have my wife on one and be able to see more than a couple trails a day. Other friends could use a boost to get out for a full day. More smiles!! I don’t need one, but one day it would be nice to have that option.

  • bokdoos

    11/13/2017 10:20 AM

    You nailed it! This is the root of why mountain bikers "hate" e-bikes. They feel like their precious Strava times are at risk. No one will admit it but when I do pass regular riders the first thing I hear is "cheater!".

    Where I ride people are Strava obsessed and have no problem endangering trail access by blowing by other users in the name of a good Strava time.
    I'll totally admit that I use, enjoy and pay attention to Strava while on my regular bike.
    Curiously though when I'm on a pedal assist it's the furthest thing from my mind. It just doesn't matter on the climbs because it comes down to who wants to burn the most batt and on the descents my regular enduro bike is WAY faster.

  • tobiwan

    11/12/2017 5:46 AM

    Hey folks,
    I am a long time reader of Vital MTB and due this topic I am now doing my first post. I am riding for more than 20years and do like for sure more the way down than up. I am not a sceptical person - I do ride 29" for several years now for enduro use which is/was quite unusual for here. Vital MTB is one of my favorit sites but this audio made me feel angry and alone.
    So, why?

    1) It is not like 29er
    Many people say that a eMTB is theoretically the same change like 26" to 27,5" or 29". For a rider this might be right but from the industry point of view eMTB is much, much better. Let me explain. If somebody is riding 26", 27,5" or 29" doesn´t have a huge impact of the income of the industry (substitution product, probably the discount is lower with the new stuff). Butt eMTB is opening a total new customer segment (people who are interested in nature and adventure but do not have the time to get the required fitness ). So the industry is making additional money with eMTB and this in a segement which is quite a) huge and b) attractive. So the industry will push forward to sell their stuff (bikes, frames, tires, forkes, brakes... ).
    If any employee of a eMTB company would deny that eMTB is great he will get fired

    2.) Europeans have embraced them
    Probably the sales numbers of MTB companies do suggest this assumption. Indeed the eMTB market is booming but the most owners of these bikes have not owned a MTB before.
    eMTB bikers are sometimes locally accepted on trails but everybody is stating that they are doing a different sport especially if they are under the age of 60 years.
    And do not forget the numberof sponsored guys / shop owner which are riding these bikes as they see their benefit.

    2.) Trail access
    In europe we do have spots where trail access is quite good - let´s say Leogang, Davos, ... But in general we do face country regulations which say that MTB biking on trails (not ebiking!!) is generally prohibited or prohibited by special rules (trails smaller than 2m). We do have nowadays organizations which try to do good lobbying work mostly in pointing out that MTB is not damaging the forest excessively.
    So in general MTB is trying not to get more restricted than it is already right now.

    3.) Separation of MTB / eMTB
    Due to eMTB we are now facing problems as nobody is separating topcis about MTB or eMTB. Up to now there are several example where eMTB-biker got their way up but needed then help to get down again (by using rescue/helicopter!).
    Example (German):
    http://www.sueddeutsche.de/bayern/bergrettung-wenn-die-bergwacht-e-bikes-retten-muss-1.3656626
    .... a couple went up with their ebikes - tried to get down - trail was too difficult so they walked down without the bikes and the rescue had to go up and bring them their bikes down...
    That was for sure totally idiotic but such storys find their way in the newspapers - and again the hunters and forest owners do get practical examples for their theories

    When I do ride with my buddies we do have on eMTB in our group (so I also made some rounds on it). It is interesting to see how this guy drives. In the uphill a normal MTB does need a trail - an eMTB not. He can drive through the woods faster than we do next to him (in the woods on trails). If one is doing this it is not ok - if more are doing this we are getting problems.
    eMTB is different!

    So what´s the biggest problem in my opinion - Trail access
    What can we do to avoid these problems?
    You cannot prohibit eMTB. So the industry should work that everybody accepts this sport.
    In my opinion the industry should get a very close contact to the local tourismus and lobby organizations like the IMBA, DIMB, .... to work together in one direction. And I am not only talking to get more involved in discussions and presentations locally. I think they have to put loads of money in these organizations - probably trail centers have to be established?! So the industry should reduce the effort of all the marketing stuff for eMTB and should spend this money to these tourismus and lobbying organizations and their projects.

    That the industry is able to get connected and put all their strength together is something we have seen with 650b where all the components like tires, rims, frames, forks where available on time. So industry, take your time, sit together and rethink what philosophie you do see behind eMTB. And if you want to sell a good percentage of eMTB in the future than take the responsibility and put your money in legal trails.

    Just my 2 or 3 cents

  • ridesmoothbro

    11/12/2017 5:29 AM

    I'm with @gtbikes. The problem will ultimately be this, and hear me out. The trails will be flooded, at some point, with them. And that will mean folks who probably otherwise would not be on the trail nor probably should be on the trail will be there. That in and of itself isn't wrong, but most singletrack is multi purpose as it is and now, we will have folks just gliding along, not keeping momentum and clogging an already busy trail up. So, I guess if those folks on the ebikes can keep the pace, rather than just using pure e power to mosey along, I think we are not going to have a choice in the future. As long as when the hammer drops pedal bikes aren't lumped into the banned category, I'm good with them if they can keep up.

  • dig-with-Al

    11/11/2017 11:11 PM

    I don't think the statement 'europeans have embraced them' is true. It's just as divided and contentious issue, despite sales being strong.
    My personal opinion is they are simply a motorbike ripping round my trails. I have a deep anger when one passes me.
    I know this is totally irrational and if you study the issue my response is selfish. However this is my innate reaction, like I'm being cheated by an e-doper or someone has pushed in front of me in a queue.
    Maybe I need to learn to chill...

  • Eoin

    11/12/2017 12:23 AM

    Europe is a big, varied place, but down in the south of France the local enduros started an e-mtb category 2 years ago. The first year there were 4-5 shop owners racing, the next year there were maybe 10... Then this year the last race I went to had 40 including very fast downhillers and pros not wanting to tire themselves out too much on smaller races. It is growing very fast, and with that people seem to be accepting them. Personally and in my riding group I feel like we were more against 29ers a few years ago than e-mtb today! The irony...

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