There’s a storm brewing on the mountain bike horizon, and it’s electrically charged.
The Bomber by Stealth Electric Bikes has 4500 watts – or six horsepower – of peak power
Imagine climbing your favorite single track trail all alone deep in the wilderness; heart beat pounding in your ears, legs churning out a steady, powerful cadence and sweat rolling down your face in buckets. As you approach the final rocky, root-filled ascent that demands every last thread of energy, someone from behind casually calls out in a conversational tone, “excuse me”, and effortlessly zips up the brutal section of trail on a 50-pound big-hit downhill mountain bike while snacking on an energy bar.
It might sound completely absurd, but this exact scenario may soon start playing out on trails worldwide thanks to the increasing use of electric mountain bikes. And a lot of hard advocacy work could be for naught.
After decades of being lumped together with dirt bikes as motorized vehicles, mountain bikes finally emerged from shadow of dirt bikes, gaining expanded trail access thanks to the tireless efforts of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), local clubs and trail access advocates worldwide. A terrific example of this progress was the recent announcement by the National Park Service, dramatically expanding mountain bike access in more than 40 properties nationwide; something that was completely forbidden until only a few years ago.
IMBA president Mike Van Abel talking with NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis – Photo courtesy of IMBA
But after a 25-year struggle to gain a voice with land managers and policy makers in Washington, D.C. for trail access rights, the growing popularity of electric bicycles could put mountain bikers back in the same precarious situation they’ve worked so hard to emerge from.
“We recognize the benefits of e-bikes, yet also recognize that this type bike creates many added challenges for land managers and for IMBA’s approach to mitigating the impacts of bicycling in natural environments,” wrote Mike Van Abel, president of IMBA, on his blog. IMBA has also formally said they do not believe electric mountain bikes should be treated the same as human-powered mountain bikes, and have published a Motorized/Non-motorized Position Statement.
“We vetted our draft position through many other mountain bike advocacy leaders and groups from throughout the world,” added Van Abel. “Most agreed, as did IMBA’s board, that mountain biking should remain a non-motorized activity. Therefore, we conclude that riding e-bikes on natural-surface trails is not mountain biking. Further, we state that e-bike regulation for off-road travel should fall under motorized land management policies and rules.”
The Outlaw SS by Prodeco has peak power of 1200 watts and a 28 mph top speed
Simply looking at the advertisements for some of these powerful electric mountain bikes is cause for concern. Take the Outlaw SS by Prodeco Technologies. The Prodeco website says the Outlaw is “the first muscle e-bike”, encouraging you to “dispose of your motorcycle and climb aboard an Outlaw SS today”, adding that the Outlaw is “created to break the rules.” And break the rules it does. With a 28 mph top speed and 1200-watt peak power, the Outlaw SS exceeds current Federal e-bike regulations of 20 mph top speed and 750-watt peak power.