Barely a year ago, e-mountain bikes were a curiosity on backcountry trails—now they’re here to stay. Twenty-five percent of all dollars spent on mountain bikes in 2020 went to models equipped with a motor and battery that boost pedaling power. That’s because pedal-assisted bikes offer indisputable advantages: They lessen the gut-punch of harsh, relentless uphills, and help riders crank over blocky rocks and other muscle-sapping technical features. Consequently, e-mountain bikes (e-MTBs) let cyclists of varying abilities and fitness levels ride together compatibly, with badasses on regular bikes and less-aggro types using pedal-assist. Action photographers are increasingly using e-MTBs to chase pros into Gnarville—while hauling loads of camera gear with far less pain. Riders in scorching climates love how e-MTBs let them dodge heatstroke in temperatures that typically make cyclists hang up their wheels and retreat to air conditioning.
E-mountain bikes blur the line between motorized and human-powered recreation. Class 1 systems offer pedal-assist power (no throttle) up to 20 mph. Class 2 adds a throttle (pedaling not required). Class 3 ups the pedal-assist threshold to 28 mph. Not everyone is a convert. E-MTBs are verboten at many singletrack networks—e-bikers should check local regulations. And because e-MTBs are typically twice as heavy as standard setups, they take some getting used to, especially during technical descents and unintended dismounts.
But build technology is improving. Pivot’s carbon-fiber Shuttle uses Shimano’s 250-watt EP8 drive unit (lighter yet 21 percent more powerful than predecessors) and a 726-watt battery that supports hours-long rides. Specialized’s flagship S-Works Turbo Levo achieves similar performance thresholds. (Its tagline is “It’s you, only faster.”) Entry-level e-MTBs start at around $5,000. Higher models can get as spendy as $15,000.
As federal land managers comply with the Department of the Interior’s 2019 edict to allow e-bikes on “regular” bike trails, opportunities are expanding. “Generally, the desired ride experience on a Class 1 e-MTB will be similar to a traditional mountain bike, so any great rides for mountain bikes that are also open to e-MTBs are stellar,” says Eleanor Blick of the International Mountain Biking Association.
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