This one can be a pretty controversial topic – how do you choose between electric mountain bikes (eMTB) vs. the old trusty analog (traditional non-electric) full-suspension mountain bikes, and what are the pros and cons of each?
You might already have your opinions on this one, or maybe you’ve found yourself here because you’re genuinely not sure which is best. The boom of the eMTB has changed the game for many riders – assistance on the climbs means that more riders can get into the sport and go for longer, however, purists who swear by their trusty legs to get them up the climb sometimes consider motorised assistance cheating. Keep reading to find out the benefits and disadvantages of electric mountain bikes versus their traditional opponent – the classic analogue mountain bike.
Electric Mountain Bikes (eMTB)
E-bikes have boomed in the past few years as the technology has improved. They’re becoming lighter in weight with longer-lasting batteries and feel more like a traditional mountain bike when riding downhill. However, like everything in life, electric mountain bikes have benefits and disadvantages and there are definitely reasons for, and against, investing in a motorised rig.
Benefits of an eMTB
Remember that time you had someone zip past you at lightning pace when you were doing the hard slog on a climb? We’ve all been there. E-bikes obviously make climbing way easier, as you’ve got assistance. It’s important to keep in mind that different models of e-bikes will have varying assistance options – for example, the Trek Fuel 7 EXE has a smaller battery and less assistance/power, whilst the Trek Rail will make the uphill feel effortless. As e-bikes come in many varieties, you can choose what’s the most important to you. Maybe you want it to still feel similar to a pedal-powered bike, or maybe you’re keen to lap your mates. Regardless of your intentions, you can find something to align with your priorities. But, if you want it all, it’ll come at a cost.
Another benefit of choosing an eMTB is that you can ride for longer due to the assistance you get. Our team uses an eMTB daily to do the final sweep of the bike park and check that nobody is out on the trails after closing – if this was completed on a pedal-powered bike, it would take waaay more effort.
Electric mountain bikes are also great for getting more people into the sport. Whether it’s due to injury, age, fitness ability or all of the above, eMTBs help to get a variety of people moving and enjoying the beautiful bike trails in their area. Plus, getting outside is known to improve our mental health.
Thinking of ditching the car for your commute to work? An e-bike can be a great option to use for travelling to work. Not only do you start your day on a pretty good note, but you’re also reducing your carbon footprint and avoiding the battle of finding a park. Better yet, you’re saving the cash you would use on fuel (that’s mountain bike math right there).
Parents can sometimes be glorified mules for their kiddies. When you’ve got little kids who can’t quite hack the uphill, plus all of the stuff you’ll need to take when they’re with you, the load gets pretty heavy. Using either a tow rope, shotgun seat or trailer is much easier on an eMTB. They’re not only great for parents, but grandparents too – it’s the perfect excuse to get the whole family out and even enjoy a celebratory picnic at the end or halfway mark.
When it comes to the downhill section with eMTBs, heaps of riders feel more stable on features. Due to the extra weight, you can often feel like you’re not being thrown around as much when riding bumpy terrain.
Cons of eMTBs
There are heaps of advantages to choosing an eMTB, but there are some disadvantages too when you’re comparing them to their pedal-powered alternative. The most commonly known downfall of eMTBs is the price – they’re not cheap. If you purchase an entry-level eMTB, you’ll get what you pay for. This will mean more weight and less battery life, but it really depends on how you intend to use your e-bike. If you want to hit single-track downhill trails, you’re better off to invest.
Although the eMTB designs are getting way better than in previous years, it is still pretty different to riding a bike powered by your legs. The weight means it’s harder to pop, switchbacks take a little getting used to (you get assisted power from pedalling around the corner which might feel strange at first) and you’ll also notice that you’ll get more of an upper body workout on an eMTB due to the additional weight to manoeuvre on the downhills.
E-bikes are heavier. Because of the weight, you might feel like you’re riding the brakes more. People who are quite light in weight may find it more of a beast to control an eMTB in comparison, especially when it comes to terrain with fast, technical descents. It also means that it’s a little trickier to load your bike onto your bike rack too.
Although you do generally get further with assistance from a motor, this is still a generalisation. If you’re doing big days in the saddle, you might need to invest in an additional battery. When it comes to multi-day trips, it gets problematic to ensure your eMTB always has a charged battery. And if you like cold morning winter rides, beware that your battery will drain faster too.
When it comes to servicing, there are more components with more technology. You’re likely to get more kilometres per ride in the saddle, which can mean that servicing time can feel like it comes around quicker. It’s common for electric bikes to have electric components, which can require updates too – it’s another piece of the puzzle that some riders prefer to avoid.
Even pro mountain bikers are investing in eMTB setups, but it doesn’t mean they’re just getting rid of their analog bikes. Instead, they use them for different purposes, so it really depends how deep you want to go down the rabbit hole of gear. We all know that eMTBs are expensive, so if you don’t have the budget to invest, you might be better off sticking with an analog bike for now.
Pedal-Powered Mountain Bikes
There’s a bunch of different names for pedal-powered rigs – analog, acoustic, traditional, regular, purist, breakfast-powered… the list goes on when it comes to saying “not an e-bike”. It’s the bike that most of us probably have or at least started with, and just like e-bikes, it comes with benefits and disadvantages.
Benefits of Analog MTBs
The weight of a traditional full-suspension mountain bike is a fraction of most e-bikes. This means it’s way easier to load onto the back of your car, as well as more nimble when it comes to technical terrain, popping over obstacles and whippin’ that tail out. Heaps of people reckon they feel more playful than your average eMTB due to how much lighter the rig is. The lighter weight also means that braking can feel much easier because you don’t have as much momentum to slow down.
When it comes to maintenance of your bike, you should know by now how important it is (and if you don’t you should learn about why MTB maintenance is important). The reality is that both eMTBs and analogs need regular servicing, however, the components in a traditional pedal-powered bike are generally a little more straightforward. You’re probably going to clock fewer kilometres compared to a motorised version, so it can feel like there’s more time between services (even though you should be completing services around the same number of kilometres). Most analog bikes skip the fancy Bluetooth components that need to be updated, which can make servicing and fixing things easier.
The cost has gotta be a pretty big factor in the benefit here too. Yeah, you can find pricey full-suspension bikes, but in general, they are way cheaper than the motorised option. This means that it’s much more accessible to get into the sport, especially when you want to dip your toes in.
The trusty breakfast-powered bikes have been around waaaay longer, so it’s much easier to pick up a decent second-hand mountain bike. There’s more variation in every aspect of it, so it’s easier for you to get specific with preferences.
Some people thrive off type-2 fun, and the uphill is no exception. You’ve gotta admit – even if the climb is a sufferfest, there sure is something special about the satisfaction you get when you reach the top. This belief is held firmly by many purists and if you try and disagree, you can bet they won’t consider your reasoning for a second.
Disadvantages of Analog MTBs
The biggest downside of a traditional analog bike is the climb. For those who are into a more leisurely type of fun, the struggle is real – especially when it’s the start of the season and your legs aren’t quite as strong as you’d like.
People who are either unfit, injured or feel like they’re “too old” (there’s no such thing) can be put off from biking on a traditional MTB because they don’t feel like they’re cut out for it. This is a pretty big barrier for entry into the sport, which is not ideal in the grand scheme of things.
Although the weight can be a benefit, it can also be considered as a disadvantage sometimes too, depending on the type of riding you prefer to indulge in. Riding your bike on rougher terrain can often feel less stable – you’ll notice that the bike can bounce around more than an e-bike.
When you don’t have the help of an eMTB, you’ll find yourself covering much less distance from a ride. It really depends on what you’d consider a “successful ride” to be and your current fitness levels, but those who like to clock a decent amount of miles might see this as a disadvantage.
How to Choose
There are pros and cons to each – both have their place in the MTB scene with different uses, suitable for different riders and of course, budgets. However, riders who have made the switch to an e-bike often never look back. When you’re weighing up which kind of bike suits you the best, consider how you like to ride, who you like to ride with, the length of time you prefer to spend in the saddle and why you ride. For example, do you mountain bike for the fitness, the thrills, the journey, or simply just to get outside with friends and family?
If you’re not sure which is the best fit for you, come try out a bike from our rental fleet. We’re got the Trek Rail 7, EXE and breakfast-powered analogue bikes too. If an e-bike tickles your fancy, we’ve even got a few of our ex-rentals from our old fleet up for grabs too, so come have a chat.