Ryan’s Take on Electric Mountain Bikes

Friends of the shop know that Alison and I are huge E-bike fans. We both zip around the 9th and 9th neighborhood on them to get lunch or run an errand. We’ll ride to games at the University or to any event where parking is going to be a challenge. At the shop, I am frequently trying to convince friends to take them for a test ride. Most of them leave with a puzzled face of “What do I do with this?” and all of them come back with a huge smile. We knew the day would come when our brands would finally start delivering their E-MTBs to the US Market. As these bikes are obviously completely different animals than commuter E-bikes, I wasn’t sure how one would fit into my cycling schedule. But after getting out and exploring, there is a place in the quiver for yet another bike.

In May, the shop finally received our first shipment of Cannondale Moterras. This is their full suspension E-MTB. While Scott and Orbea also have some great E-MTBs en route from Europe, I jumped on the Moterra to get my taste for a handful of dirt-E rides. This is what I like about having an E-MTB.

Riding an E-MTB is not necessarily a “walk in the park”. At least it doesn’t have to be. Since my riding time is very limited these days, I wanted to make sure that I was getting some exercise on my rides. Depending on what setting the bike is on and how hard I pedal, the Moterra definitely allows me to empty my own tank or to get the heart rate up to the rabbit range. With four settings or levels of assist on these bikes ranging from ECO as the starting level of pedal assist to the top level of TURBO, the possibilities are endless. In the ECO model, the Moterra’s Bosch power system delivers enough power to make up for the fact that this bike weighs nearly fifty pounds. If I was to just ride in ECO all of the time, I’d probably cover around 20% more distance that I would on my normal bike for the same effort. With all that extra power available, who wants to stay in “first gear” for their whole ride.

So this brings out one of my favorite things about the E-Mountain Bike concept. For the same effort, I can cover a lot more ground. Personally, I don’t really get any satisfaction out of passing someone on it. So I try to ride it where I’ll encounter less traffic on the trails. When there are others around, I’m usually in ECO model and working pretty hard. I already have a few big loops in mind to do that will like up some great sections of trail. In other words, three out-and-back trails will now become one big ride.

Cannondale Moterra Electric Bicycle

I also like this bike for exploring trails that are new to me or that aren’t well documented and then later going to ride them on my normal bike. On my normal bike I’m always asking myself, “I wonder where that goes?”. With the E-bike, I can venture a bit more on trails that I’m not familiar with and not worry about running out of time or getting into an epic ride where I am not prepared.

Plus riding the E-MTB makes me better on my regular mountain bike. The E-MTB rewards me for spinning. If I want the bike to really step-up and help, I have to spin faster. Spinning is like turning the throttle. It teaches me to keep pedaling through the obstacles and tricky sections of the trail. If I get in the mindset of things coming at me faster like they do on my E-MTB, then on my normal bike it seems a bit “slowed-down”. This holds true on the climbs and flat sections, but the E-MTB doesn’t really go any faster than a traditional mountain bike would on a descent.

At the end of the day for me, E-Mtbs are just simply fun. I look forward to exploring more uncharted territory and after decades of riding that excites me.


Image of Sarah Bennett
Sarah Bennett says
July 21st, 2017

Hey Ryan,..... In the video and in the photo above you are clearly riding fall line at somewhere around 15-20% grade. Is this something that the E-mtb lets you do more easily and therefore you see yourself seeking out steeper grades? Do you hear from other folks that they are riding steeper besides going further/longer? Wondering how they will impact older, steeper trails. Thanks! Sarah

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Image of Alison Littlefield
Alison Littlefield says
July 22nd, 2017

Hey Sarah!

For sure you can ride some steep stuff on these bikes. Hard to know exactly what the grade "threshold" is. The challenge is to be able to keep pedaling at a fairly high cadence and keep the bike going straight at the same time. While I would not say I'm seeking out steeper grades, steeper trails sometimes come hand-in-hand with the search for less crowded trails.
In making the video, we went back and forth on the same section of trail several times. The trails were still fairly firm from our wet spring which made it easy to see the impact the bike was having on the trail. From my observation, it seemed pretty low impact and in line with regular mountain bikes. Most of the E-Mountain bikes feature plus-sized tires so there is plenty of tread for good grip. When you combine these bigger tires, a much heavier bike and most importantly, a steady torque output of the E-bike, you're less likely to get tire slippage when climbing under load or during controlled braking.

While these bikes will not going any faster downhill than a traditional mountain bike, I could see a less experienced rider getting in a situation where they're coming down something steeper than they normally might encounter and that might lead them to skid which we know speeds up erosion. This is a place where I think a little effort on etiquette and education go a long way. Purpose built trails also seem to mitigate this issue. Overall, I'd say the E bikes add to trail wear and tear is pretty small especially in comparison to the load on the resources brought on by shuttles and chairlifts.

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Brian says
July 23rd, 2017

What about the fact that you are riding a motorized vehicle on trails that are not designated for them? Where do you draw a line on this? Is any bike that you can pedal acceptable to ride on any trail? As e-mtbs get more efficient and longer battery range do you ride down the slippery slope of convience and ease and justify it by saying it allows you to ride farther and check out more trails?
My opinion is probably easy to see; Keep these off the trail. Get a motorcycle if you want and ride it anywhere motos are allowed. I understand bikes evolve. I understand there is resistance to change. Mountain biking is an escape from cities and motors. Even blocks from your shop you can "Get away" from the modern hubbub. Please protect the sanctity of the trail and understand it is unique and different from the pavement.
Thanks for your time and I look forward to your reply.

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Alison Littlefield says
July 24th, 2017


I totally understand and share your concerns. While my review on the Moterra E-MTB reads super positive, I do not see myself using an E-MTB on a regular basis at this point. I still do care about getting a good workout and being conscious of the concept of "share the trail" and feel like the places where I frequently ride aren't the trails where I find myself wanting to use the e-bike. My escape is also my mountain bike. I rode today for three hours and never thought once that I should have been on an e-bike but I also didn't feel the trails I was riding should be banned from e-bikes. There seems to be the notion that people using E-MTBs are either cheating or they don't have the skills to be properly using the trail. We have found that this simply isn't the case. In selling E-bikes it has been interesting to see who has been buying them. When we first starting carrying urban e-bikes we thought we would by and large only see people interested in commuting purchasing these bikes. However it has been eye opening to see all the different reasons folks have sought out e-bikes. Here are a few examples. We've had a women who used to play collegiate soccer and got on an E-bike after her second heart transplant so she could ride with her friends and husband. There have been folks with orthopedic issues purchase the bikes. A father who still regular rides standard bikes purchased one so that he could go out with his fast and fit son.

At the same time, I understand the concern about it. I think people should try these bikes and get an understanding of what they can and cannot do before they make judgement. Honestly if I was riding up Big Water in Millcreek I'd rather encounter a small group of E-bikers than face a dozen people who rode the Wasatch Crest shuttles and are descending full blast. We keep hearing how popular E-MTBs are in the alpine areas in Europe. They have done a good job at setting the standards and keeping the bike manufacturers from turning it into an arms race. I'd really like to see for myself how they coexist with hikers and bikers in Europe.

I think it is a mistake to just say "they're banned on all trails". I've been thinking about it a lot and have tried to draw comparisons to issues such as dogs/no dogs, skiers/snowboarders or backcountry skiers/heli-skiers. Not sure any of these work for you, but in my mindvpeople are just trying to get out and enjoy the outdoors in their preferred mode of recreation. With systems in place like we currently have of even and odds days for riding in certain canyons, uphill or downhill only trails, etc I think we can navigate the new waters of E-MTBs. There needs to be more overall education and respect for the trail systems in general whether it is picking up after your dog or deciding to not take that run or ride when the trails are muddy. E-MTBs make minimal noise and really when ridden with proper etiquette in mind it's just like having Nino Schurter move to town. Alex Grant loses all of his KOMs on Strava and there is one more person out enjoying the trails.



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Image of Peter Donner
Peter Donner says
July 25th, 2017

Yeah, I've been meaning to touch base w Salt Lake City on whether e-bikes are legally classified as motorized. Here is what Bike Utah said to me about e-bikes on the Great Western Trail:

We at Bike Utah absolutely agree with you regarding the need to restrict e-bike usage on trails that are clearly marked as non-motorized. When we drafted this legislation, we worked with national organizations to ensure that it would protect all of the places where we love to ride. If you refer to line 391 of SB 121, we included flexibility for state and local entities to restrict usage on their trails. If you were on federal land, SB 121 has no jurisdiction.

We don't deem classification to be the issue, but rather enforcement. As you stated, the trail is designated nonmotorized and this was being disregarded. We could slap all of the classifications and restrictions we want on the trails, but if there is no one to enforce them these regulations will be continually disregarded.

My suggestion at this point, would be to contact the responsible land management agency about the issue, especially if you come across e-bikes on a consistent basis. I'm sure they would be willing to support you in protecting the trails. If one person gets a ticket that would send a strong message to other people who might be disregarding this regulation

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