One reason e-MTBs are tremendously successful is that they attract two types of consumers. One type consists of experienced mountain bikers who have discovered that a motor means more fun. They can now ride uphill through steep or more technical passages that on a conventional mountain bike would have required them to get off and push.
An electric drive lets them climb a mountain three times in a day instead of just once, for three times the fun. Gravity riders no longer have to rely on a shuttle or a chairlift to return to the top. They can simply ride back up.
E-MTBs as SUVs. But there’s a second, large group of e-MTB customers who rarely take their bikes on mountainous trails. Instead, you see them riding their e-MTBs on roads and cycle paths, even at night. They prefer e-MTBs over electric city or trekking bikes, and they want to stay as far away as possible from the kind of e-bikes associated with pensioners (such as Flyer’s highly successful C-Series). These cyclists use their e-MTBs more like SUVs, and stick mostly to roads, bike paths, and easy trails in forests and fields. We can give these customers’ e-MTBs almost the “all-clear” signal. Over its 30-year history, the mountain bike has become so durable and technically advanced that most e-MTBs can easily cope with the higher mileages associated with city use. (...)
The problem, however, is that no bike designer or product manager knows who will buy a particular bike, or how they will use it. For example, a hardtail might be used by an ambitious athlete who is training for a marathon and intends to push the bike hard. For these reasons, it’s important to take a more detailed look at how riders actually use their e-MTBs, and how the loads that act on e-MTB components differ from those that act on conventional MTBs.
E-MTBs vs. MTBs. Based on market observations and the Zedler Institute’s extensive tests, we can identify several fundamental differences of e-MTB use compared with classic mountain bikes:
- Cyclists don’t pedal as hard because they let the motor do more of the work.
- Cyclists remain seated for longer periods and spend less time out of the saddle.
- E-MTBs attract heavier riders, and the bikes themselves are 6 to 12kg (13 to 26 pounds) heavier than conventional mountain bikes.
- E-MTBs are increasingly used for towing kids in bike trailers.
- When e-MTBs are ridden for sport, they are subjected to more downhill use . Cyclists are more likely to ride out of the saddle over rough terrain and jumps, significantly increasing the loads on the bike and its components.
- Unskilled riders tend to ride the brakes continually when going downhill, putting them under severe stress.
- Unskilled riders stress their e-MTBs more than experienced riders, even on unchallenging terrain, because they don’t have the skills to navigate even small obstacles and cannot minimise the loads by active riding.
As a result, there are clearly higher loads acting on some components and thus an increased potential for failure — but not under all conditions. Compromises have to be made. Bike developers, and testing institutes, should consider all of these potential issues. But trying to address them all would lead to a longer and more expensive development process, and an e-MTB that is heavier than many users really need.
However, we can identify certain areas that are well worth the expense: E-MTB developers are well-advised to invest in beefier brake discs and should never use minimal, lightweight discs. Heavier discs reduce the problem of brake fade and improve the brakes’ heat stability, helping protect unskilled or heavier riders from accidents. Better brakes also make customers happier because they don’t have to make so many trips to the bike shop to replace worn-out pads and discs. An investment in testing seatposts, forks and frames beyond the vertical loads outlined in the standard is also money well-spent. Trying to save money here can cost brands dearly down the road. Before an e-MTB is certified for towing trailers, manufacturers should perform weight-adjusted tests of the frame, fork and handlebar. The extra weight of a child trailer has a particularly harmful effect on a bike’s braking performance – and increases loads on the frame and front fork.
Toward a new category. Some market surveillance authorities have fined bike brands and banned the sale of some models because they violate standards. E-MTBs sold in the EU are supposed to be equipped with a bell and a full lighting system, because these bikes are also expected to be used on public roads. Manufacturers often choose the cheapest lights they can find, which is not the right answer. Instead, they should learn from the auto industry, where lighting plays a major role in the design of a new vehicle. It’s an opportunity for smart manufacturers to include lights in the overall design of an e-MTB, especially as they already have the power source on board. Combine that, for example, with an e-MTB that is specifically designed and marketed for towing a child trailer, and the industry could create an important new bike segment — call it the e-SUV market.
While these bikes would be less suited for riding on rough terrain, they would satisfy the needs of many customers.
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