Want to solicit a strong opinion, perhaps even start an argument? Ask a mountain biker about religion, politics, or e-bikes. Honestly, the latter is probably your best bet if you want things to get truly heated. Within the halls of Mtbr and its always opinionated forum, no single topic has stirred more impassioned response in the last several years than these watts-boosting trail tamers that have already stormed Europe and are now making a big push onto North American singletrack.
At this year’s Sea Otter Classic, e-bikes and e-paraphernalia were ever present. Most (if not all) of the major bike manufactures have at least one electric powered model. And e-specific componentry is becoming more and more commonplace. DT Swiss has e-wheels, Magura makes an e-suspension fork, e-tires are old hat, and even SRAM has been pimping an e-drivetrain for a while now.
Some see this e-momentum as a great new way to get non-cyclists into our sport, or extend the riding careers of riders in need of a little extra boost for reasons or age, health, or otherwise. Others view the eMTB as the devil incarnate, a two-wheeled villain bent on damaging trails and trail access beyond recognition all in the name of boosting the bottom line. The truth, as is usually the case, likely lies somewhere in between. Though, with land managers still grappling with how to categorize these electric powered beasts (50’ish pounds is the norm), it’s currently hard to say how it will eventually all fall out.
Here at Mtbr, we’re opting to remain neutral, willing to hear (and respect) both sides of this complex argument. With that in mind, we recently sat down with Haibike’s director of U.S. sales, Ken Miner, whose offices were recently relocated to Colorado from California in part because of Colorado’s willingness to support the business. Here’s an edited excerpt from this wide ranging conversation, starting with some basic details about Haibike and its product line.
Mtbr: What’s the size and make-up of the Haibike product line?
Ken Miner: We have 52 different models, with about 80 percent of those being e-mountain bikes. Our DNA is in mountain biking and we see our place in the market on the performance side. Haibike has been making bikes for around 100 years. In 1996 we started offering non-e-MTBs. Then in 2008 we started working with Bosch in what was really the beginning of this trend. In the past the motor hung below the bottom bracket and was in way. Haibike decided to flip it upside down and put it in the frame. That started the e-mountain bike revolution in Europe. Today, one in five mountain bikes sold in Germany is an ebike.
Mtbr: What drives the prices of your e-bikes? You display here has everything from $2600 to almost $17,000.
KM: It’s actually pretty standard. All our bikes have mid-drive (located) motors, so it all comes down to components, whatever it costs you for an XTR derailleur or a SRAM derailleur. For us any Bosch motor is like another Bosch motor in our line. Same with Yamaha, they are all the same. The only exception is the kids bike, which has a speed limitation. Most of our bikes are in the $4000-$6000 range just like most other bike manufacturers.
Mtbr: So what do most of these bikes weigh then?
KM: Typically it’s 48-50 pounds, though one of our employees did manage to build up a carbon hardtail that was 32 pounds. The reality is that most of the difference is motor and battery with a little extra material to support the extra weight and power output.
Mtbr: So what’s it going to take to get that weight to come down?
KM: Well, right now the trend in the industry is for longer range, so the batteries for our Yamaha drive units get anywhere from 40 to 100 miles. That’s more than enough for most people. Now hopefully, they’ll start getting lighter, but again right now range continues to be the focus.
Mtbr: For the person who’s never ridden an eMTB, how does that extra weight affect the riding experience?
KM: You definitely notice the extra weight. It’s a different riding style but you get used to it. When I go back to my non-ebike now and it feels squirrely. You notice the weight in corners and trying to lean it over especially. Also on uphill switchbacks you learn to reduce power. Otherwise you’ll get around a switchback way faster than you are ready for. There is definitely a learning curve.
Mtbr: E-specific components are starting to pop up more and more, wheels, forks, drivetrains, tires. What’s next?
KM: First off it’s good to see the OEM manufacturers getting involved. That says a lot about where things are headed. I’d say the next piece that needs to be addresses is brakes and brake pads. With the extra weight you can imagine how much faster you go through pads.
Mtbr: Besides brakes, where else do you see the possibility for new e-technology?
KM: For sure it’s improved connectivity. Being able to work with your phone to tune the moto, monitor the battery, or even things like theft detection and crash protection. We are getting closer and closer to having driverless cars, so why not have your bike be able to communicate with the car and have it say, Hey I’m over here on the left watch out.
Mtbr: We hear time and again lately that the sale of e-bikes is what is floating the cycling industry right now. What do you think is driving that growth?
KM: Well for starters, they are certainly fun to ride and people and starting to figure that out. Also Europeans have a much different view than Americans on what defines the cycling experience. Americans view cycling as a sport. Europeans see it more as transportation, lifestyle, and fun. But that realization is starting to happen over here, too. At least that’s what we are seeing.
Mtbr: So you believe that there’s a sea change occurring with overall North American attitudes toward e-bikes?
KM: I do. I’m seeing a lot of sales numbers that mirror what happened when we started in 2008 in Europe. This is my third Sea Otter with Haibike. The first time people were like I’m not going to ride that. They wouldn’t even come in our tent. But now we have our demo bikes out all the time. People expect us to be here and they like to ride them. It’s the same with [the Outerbike consumer demo event in Moab]. Consumers expect us to be there so they can go out in the afternoon and ride an e-bike.
Mtbr: Okay, but what do you say to the people who still think e-bike = motorcycle not bicycle?
KM: I tell people that there is a bike for everybody. I mean we make a downhill bike, but I personally won’t ever ride it. But someone else will. Our big message is that we think the e-bike segment brings non-cyclists into the cycling world. And every time you turn a non-cyclist into a cyclist, you get one more driver who is aware of all of us on the road. That’s a good thing.
Mtbr: So what about trail designations? Should there be a special e-bike designation that’s between human powered and fully motorized?
KM: We like to consider ourselves a bike period. But there are different trail systems and designations and we understand that. One false assumption is that we want to have access to all trails that mountain bikers have access to. That’s not true. Not all trails are appropriate for e-bikes. But we do want access. Look at California, Utah, Colorado, Pennsylvanian, Alabama, and Florida. They all allow e-bikes in state parks system. And we are working with various agencies at national and local level to get better understanding and hopefully improve access in a way that’s amenable to all the various constituencies.
Mtbr: You say e-bikes are not appropriate for all trails. How is that defined?
KM: I don’t know that we know for sure yet. You don’t use motor on downhills, so they are really no faster than you would be normally. But the uphill is different and we need to do work on how to ride uphill and sort out the various etiquettes.
Mtbr: Anything else you want to add?
KM: The big thing about Haibike is where we come from. Our founder was a bike racer, got injured, couldn’t race anymore and started building bikes. Haibike started in 1996 as a mountain bike company, and we won a silver medal at the London Olympics with Sabina Spitz. Now we have started the e-mountain bike revolution. So mountain bikes really are our DNA.
To learn more about Haibike and their full line of e-bikes head to www.haibike.com.