E-bikes have had a mixed reception with traditional mountain bikers. Some view them as a form of cheating, while others think they’re only useful for those who would otherwise not get out riding due to age or injury.
Although it is hard to argue against the fact that the assistance of an e-bike reduces the effort needed to ascend a hill, in my view, this isn’t a cop-out. In fact, there are so many positives to e-bikes that it is worth taking a step back to look at their advantages.
I wouldn’t look at them as a direct replacement for the mountain bike in your garage, but as an additional way to make the most of your riding. Whether it's for developing your skills, having a ‘power hour’ packed full of fun at the trails, or being able to return from a ride having kept up with the group (but without being shattered), here’s how to get the most out of an e-bike.
1. Approach your ride differently
E-bikes do have different ride characteristics to a normal trail bike as one might expect. They are obviously much heavier, which means rider input needs to change, while braking and cornering need to be adapted.
What I've found is that they reward good technique but punish bad technique. For example, if you brake before a corner and set up well, the grip through turns is increased and corner speed is maximised – you can really feel the slingshot through a corner. However, if you are still on the brakes into a turn, or haven’t set up well, the bike will want to stand you up in the corner and really becomes unsettled, punishing what is poor technique and leaving you scratching your head.
E-bikes offer a very good transfer when returning to your normal, non-electric bike
Suspension is another area where time taken to set up the bike will pay dividends – an e-bike needs to feel planted and stable, but can often come too soft, and cause the bike to pitch forwards under braking. As speeds increase, this extra weight needs to be controlled, so it’s worth taking the time to set up sag and rebound.
Ultimately, e-bikes offer a very good transfer when returning to your normal, non-electric bike. The improved corner grip and traction over rough terrain boosts your comfort at speed over technical ground, while your normal bike will come to feel light and nimble under foot.
2. Re-evaluate your routes
Traditional mountain bike rides either take you out on a loop or are centred around one or more hills where the gradual climb of a fire road is the only way to access the loamy single track back down to the bottom.
An e-bike ride can have a very different style to a normal ride and suddenly the climbs can be as much fun or as challenging as the way back down. The assistance to your pedalling means steep, technical climbs are fair game and can be a very rewarding way to improve your skills on the way back up.
The assistance to your pedalling means steep, technical climbs are fair game and can be a very rewarding way to improve your skills on the way back up
Much like motorcycle trials, it is surprising what you can conquer with the right mode/gear and the right technique. These new challenges will not only keep a ride fresh but will also encourage you to develop techniques to find traction and stop the front wheel climbing off the floor – boost mode isn’t always best!
It’s worth remembering that technical up hills shouldn’t mean going back up a downhill track. Any rider would rightly be furious and scared to see an e-bike riding back up a known downhill, so do take a common-sense approach.
3. Repeat runs for more fun
Some of the best technical sections are often only ridden once in a ride. The loop takes in an amazing track, but the steep climb, or route planned wouldn’t make it logical to repeat the same track on that ride.
With an e-bike these rules are torn up and suddenly those trails you only rode once before moving on become accessible and repeatable. Not only does this bring more ‘smiles per hour’ to a ride but allows you to develop your technique and skills on technical terrain – tricky corners are often tricky as they aren’t analysed, ridden multiple times or actually looked at properly to find the right line. Learning tracks and riding sections multiple times is an amazing way to develop your skills and progress your riding.
4. Use the modes wisely
After buying an e-bike, the first few rides are most likely ridden in Turbo mode, with a monstrous grin on your face, motorbike sound effects and being blown away by the ease at which you can swallow up climbs (or maybe that was just me). However, as you settle into e-bike riding, there is so much more to be gained from using different modes and not just riding Turbo everywhere.
Trail or Tour mode gives enough assistance without it feeling intrusive and can allow you to feel decent heart-rate increases for a climb – giving an added fitness reward. Also, for steeper climbs, turbo gives a huge dose of power before hitting the limiter, which often spins up the back wheel and makes climbs harder. Instead, consider dropping the mode to give more bite and traction to the rear wheel.
Practise moving between modes and seeing how it affects the bike’s characteristics
The mode you are in also plays a big part in how the bike reacts to descents – tight tracks with slow exit speeds can be harder to control in turbo mode as the bike wants to pull forward out of the corners.
Gearing also affects how the motor pulls – easier gears with higher RPMs give a bigger hit of power and assistance, which can take some adjustment compared to riding a normal trail bike.
Finally, Eco mode is often overlooked and actually gives a mellow, sustainable ride that is much more like a normal trail bike, and can give great results downhill too, so practise moving between modes and seeing how it affects the bike’s characteristics.