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Recently, electric mountain bikes have been hyped quite a lot, and I have seen a lot of them for sale at LBSs and have even seen a few "in action" despite that I never go mountain biking (i.e. I see them in the city). While the benefits of electric assist are easy to point out for city-/commuter-style bikes, the reasons I can imagine for electric mountain bikes seem a bit more dubious. Regardless of their truth/objectivity, what are the most common reasons for using electric assist on a mountain bike?

As stated above, using electric assist in commuter bikes is (to me, at least) less "controversial" because sport isn't the top priority for this style of riding. However, mountain biking is inherently a sport... so I'm having a hard time imagining the "obvious" benefits... so what are they?

  • 1. Motocross is a thing, too. 2. MTB can also be recreation. 3. One can use an electric bike from choice rather than necessity. – Kevin May 6 '16 at 12:28
  • Turn your downhill bike into an uphill bike! – LifeCycle May 10 '16 at 7:10
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I don't know about "oft-cited", because I haven't actually seen any cited. But distinguishing these standard electric assist bicycle from the "electric trail bikes" that have been round for a while, I can guess some of the advantages compared to an unpowered MTB:

For the Rider/Purchaser (not necessarily the same person)

  • ability to ride places they couldn't otherwise get to
  • more ride options with a fitter partner ("together time" in many couples)
  • unique bike. For a while at least, no-one else is like to have one of these.
  • easier riding. You can stay unfit, but still go mountain biking
  • for off road touring, ability to carry/tow more gear

For the manufacturer

  • more profitable, because it's a small market niche
  • less competition
  • opportunity to "lock in" retailers by requiring brand-specific parts and test equipment
  • easier vertical integration via the same mechanism (more of the parts are from one manufacturer.

I suspect the market for basic, obvious MTeB's is more couples and families, allowing them to go out for a ride together that's more interesting than just easy laps around a well-formed trail in a park.

Of course, none of this is actually new. The first power assist mountain bike I saw had a bunch of lead-acid batteries bolted to an early mountain bike, and that would have been before 1990. I've been seeing what look like reasonably capable MTeB's in catalogues and online for quite a few years.

The slow change I'm seeing is that there are more "MTB parks" and so on with very easy trails, so it's more realistic for someone who rides with assist on the road to also ride the easier trails. The technology is also there now to conceal the motor to a large extend, reducing the reluctance of unfit people to buy one and go out riding with their fitter mates. At some point that tech crosses over with outright cheating in races, which we're also seeing more of now.

What we have been seeing for a while is "electric trail bikes" sold as "electric mountain bike", with the huge benefit over a petrol "trail bike" is that the former doesn't need registration and can often be ridden in areas where motor vehicles are banned. This is also why they're controversial with many MTB people, as they allow silent, very fast, and unexpectedly heavy bikes to use MTB tracks.

There are two differences between those and power assisted bicycles though. Bicycles in most countries are limited to 200W or 250W, where trail bikes are usually 1kW or more. The second is the key "assist" word. The bicycle can be ridden without power assistance, the motorbike can't be. That makes the difference between an "electric mountain bike" and a power assisted bicycle pretty simple - if it's under 250W and you can ride without the motor, it's a bicycle.

There was a case in NSW where a cop told someone on a "pedal scooter" (looks like a motor scooter, has pedals sticking out the sides) to turn the motor off and pedal it a few hundred metres, which the rider was unable to do. Ticket issued, court case lost.

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I have a feeling that article is utter lunacy with a lot of big quotes mostly troll style to elicit a response. Mountain biking is a competitive sport similar to road racing. It's highly unlikely the rules governing it will allow for electric assists anytime soon. That being the case, the idea that sometime soon all mountain bikes will be sold with an assist, is also highly unlikely.

For non-competitive riders, the advantages of an electric assist are many. Mountain biking is an up and down sport where long climbs lead to long descents. Being able to more easily complete those climbs and still get in the descents may be preferable to some mountain cyclists looking for an easy out. It may also allow less fit cyclists to keep pace with their peers. All that being said, you can expect it to be almost as frowned upon as electric assist is in the road racing world. While mountain biking may have a slightly more "bro" culture than road racing, it's hard to justify a shared experience with someone who is doing far less work than you.

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I am talking about Electric assist MTB's (typically under 250W), not electric MX bikes. The ones in the middle (MTB's with 1000W motors) are really a new style MX/MTB hybrid bike that cause the most debate.

Not everyone is healthy and fit enough to enjoy, or even attempt some of the best MTB rides. Electric MTB's enable a greater proportion of the population to participate in a fantastic sport and not be relegated to the boring, short, flat tracks built for beginners.

What if I want to share my mountain biking experience with my 70 year old father, or 12 year old son, or 120kg couch potato best mate, and electric bike is the best (and sometimes only) way they will enjoy the experience. What happens when I, as a keen MTBer, get too old to ride my favorite trails? Whats wrong with evening up the field by allowing those less capable to use electric assist (how does it differ from Golf Handicaps). Perhaps in teh next few years we will start to conversations at bike races around around "Whats your handicap... 20 Watts- whoo, your good, mines 50".

The only concerns I hear on Electric MTB's mostly come from young men , who are still fit and healthy and not had their first knee or hip replacement, and have the liability of too much testosterone. They argue all the same arguments, once used by walkers and hikers to try and keep mountain bikes on the road, that Electric Assist bikes are the devils spawn and hell will freeze over if unfit blobs are allowed on the trails.

What does need to be considered is while the assistance allows you to go further and longer, it does not always translate to faster. The weight of E-Bikes is high enough to affect their agility, it would take a very skilled rider to ride an EBike fast over technical, tight single track.

There are some invalid concerns about tracks getting destroyed used as arguments against EBikes.

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