• Bud Ward

Throw your Ebike off a cliff. Wait, Can I do it?

EMTB's and why I've changed my mind as to how much they suck.

People didn’t used to smoke cigarettes, you know. Many people helped tobacco to become one of the most popular ways to kill yourself over time. Enabled by some of the most influential marketing of all time: The Marlboro Man, the blonde Beauty holding the cigarette in the pin up ad… simple marketing was able to get everyone to smoke so that they could feel like they had a chance to be that cool. Now, instead of smoking, we have some modern marketers pretending to have a cure-all for fun in the sun, telling us that E-bikes are now the way to have fun on a bike.

My opinion is simple. Ebikes have their place. It’s a very small place, with very few people that it applies to and will ever actually solve problems for. The problem for bike companies is probably exactly that. There may not be enough people who are physically held back from riding bikes in just the right ways that if only they had a little assistance, they could AND WOULD have fun on a bike too. This has been the flagship argument that early announcers used to have e-bikes gain acceptance. Now, fast forward a couple years and we have a few of the worlds pre-eminent shred-gangsters out there doing all kinds of impressive shit on these huge, heavy, stupid looking fat bikes. Sam Pilgrim, Danny McAskill and the like, always with a couple hype men in the background (or right in the fucking mic on the gopro screaming “OOOOHHHHH MY GOOOOODDD, that’s unbelievable, mate!!!!” Why are they doing this? You know why, its cause they are trying to trick people, ALL PEOPLE, into thinking that this is for them. That it’s fun and that you can ride like a pro on this heavy-ass turd, and you will be shreddy too.

First off, lets dispense with the “marketing wank.” In an excellent podcast called “Just Riding Along”, produced by a group of three bike mechanics who spare no swear words and frequently drink on air. I know… awesome, right? I’ve been listening to them for years and owe a lot to their them and I appreciate the interest that they inspired in me through their intelligent shit talk. Kenny, one of the bike mechanics on the show would say it’s all “Marketing Wank.” It’s his phrase for the slight-of-hand that companies use to make us think that their products are worth a damn by putting some famous person on them or naming them something special. The best example of this is “mid-stroke support,” which we have all heard roughly a metric shit-ton of times from every manufacturer out there. If we had really seen increased midstroke for the last 3-4 years, wouldn’t the bikes of 2020 have too much midstroke by now? Hmmm… guess not. Keep in mind that this is the job of the manufacturers, I can’t begrudge them some BS language to try to initiate demand for their bikes. BUT- that should stop based on our intelligence as riders. FOLKS- What the actual fuck does Danny McAskill doing a backflip on a big fat ebike have to do with the potential fun, safety, and fitness one can gain from the bike? Exactly. Not a single fucking thing. The whole virtual argument that ads like that make are garbage and it infuriates me.

Now, in a shrewd move that we all could have predicted, we’ve got some of the coolest and sickest riders in the world shredding trails on these battery-laden cows that the industry calls “ebikes.” It was hard to see many people going crazy over ebikes a couple years ago. But now we can see content making it appear that the likes of Danny Mcaskill and Sam Pilgrim have abandoned their regular rigs for Duracell trail sleds that are somehow more fun than the bikes that they have been riding their whole lives. The comments from the riders are always the same “this is so much fun!” You might see a rider having a blast, what I see is the product of a mathematical question- How many people don’t want/need an Ebike? You see, a bike manufacturer can’t make 200 EMBT’s a year and make up the cost of engineering and setting up the processes for doing so profitably. So, they need to sell way more of them to achieve that most important of manufacturing requirements… economy of scale, though profit is simple enough to understand. Now, instead of solving a problem that some people have, we are solving a different problem altogether… the problem of how to make people think that they need an ebike. Of course, there are other things happening. Santa Cruz, in this case, doesn’t want to stop selling their other bikes. They want to carve out a NEW MARKET of people who would not normally buy a bike like theirs, but will if it is an ebike (…for all sorts of reasons-not least of which is that the marketing from them is convincing people that its cool to do so).

Maybe its ok with me if people ride e bikes. I don’t care what you’re doing or why… But… I get a rash when I see brands abandoning the good things about their products in leu of some more profit. I can see the upside here. Of course, if you can break into a new market with a product that isn’t in direct competition with your current products, you have a new product segment that can bring in 20-50% incremental revenue. No brainer, right? We should stop here for a second. Incremental means that the revenue is IN ADDITION to the revenue you would already have made this year. This is of course not totally possible by adding a new product segment. There will always be some cannibalization, which is what its called when you steal your existing customers from yourself. In this case, those are the people who would have bought a normal SC bike this year, but bought your e bike instead. How big a deal this is depends on two things: magnitude and profitability. If the margins are smaller in ebikes, then you don’t want the magnitude (how many people you are stealing from your other segments) to be significant at all. But- if the margin is good? Send it, bruh!!! Then we can steal a much larger amount of those people and still make more money.

I don’t blame Santa Cruz, I blame you. The problem we have is that while I fully support a person’s “ride fantasy” (thanks to Tani Walling of the Path Podcast on Mountain Bike Radio), I don’t want to see the brands tricking you into thinking that your super fun-loving, shreddy alter ego is a guy on an e Bike. Unfortunately, when you see Danny McAskill Bunny hopping onto a 6 foot tall rock on an E Bike and then hear some MTB specific version of a hype man spelling out a reaction for you to have, what can you do? There’s a time during your tenure as a mountain biker in which your mind is very pliable and simple, like a toddler’s. Ride-o-lescence, I’ll call it. This is a time where your ride fantasy and the bike that you will lust after can be tainted easily by any marketing that gets thrown at you. Minds like that are under attack at all times, like our children are attacked by tobacco manufacturers. This attack disgusts me as it has gone off the rails on which the argument for ebikes was founded. An argument I fully support. Choose you own narrative for why you need one on my local trail: you’re old, you’re young, you’re injured, you’re slower than your husband or wife and you want to ride together. Whatever to all that shit. The reality is that what’s going on out there is that there are some that ride ebikes and have a blast going hella fast (as they would do anyway on analogue bikes), but they can get more loops in or whatever. I used to tell people that whatever gets more people out there is better. Now I’m not sure.

This is probably a good time to mention that I live in California, where we simply do not have trail access and the reality of getting tickets for riding our local trails is one we face with a dignified apprehension. In my local area, we have what a tentative and unspoken truce with most of the stakeholders involved. Hikers, Horsepeople (yes, I know the fancier term for them, but fuck that. This isn’t horse and Hound Magazine, this is a blog)and rangers. We are not exactly legal, but they let us do our thing. But at every access meeting when we are pushing to get actually invited onto the trails, comments from upset hikers about how dangerous we are come up. NOW- in addition to the usually declining number of those incidents, we now have this new guy (or girl, for sure, but to a lesser degree), birthed by Santa Cruz or Scott and all the other brands who are clamoring to get to market with an ebike. The guy who rides an ebike for the following reasons. I’ll jump in to let you know just how full of shit they are for saying any of this:

1. He can get more loops in because its way faster on the climbs- So much bullshit, where do we start? First, if that’s all you’re doing, I don’t fucking want to share trails with you. I don’t want to take a pastime that is half about fitness and half about fun and turn it into a lame version of motocross. That’s not why I advocated early for access for the ebike riders I thought we were gonna get, and that’s no good reason to ride one of those on my trails. The biggest concern, we are now seeing hikers (read: 28 year old mom arrying her 4 month old baby in some contraption that holds him/her against her chest or back) get scared/endangered from both directions. No bike should be going 15mph UP the trail. That’s what you get when we all imagined guys who COULDN’T ride unless they had an ebike and trade them for all the guys who think it’s cool that they can approximate the moto feel without going to a place where it belongs. How fucked is that anyway? There are places you can legally ride motocross all over, even in the bike-hating state of California. The phrase “earn your turns” should be as ubiquitous in riding bikes as “hang loose” is to surfing. We are a culture that understands there is no free lunch. Maybe that is why the ebike thing troubles me so much. It’s a total free lunch mentality. I have not yet met the guys who can suddenly ride when they couldn’t before-I’m sure they are out there- but I’ve met plenty of dudes having a ball during party laps around my local tracks passing people uphill without so much as an “excuse me.” This is not good, that’s my problem. We don’t have lifts here, no shuttling either. So the thought that some would bring a motor on the trail for something as shallow as getting in more lazy, no effort riding uphill is such a weak move.

2. The suspensions work better on the downs due to the added weight of the bike- We’ll get technical some other time. We can talk about chassis weight and the sprung v unsprung BS. Bottom line is that this is not why you’re riding an ebike, it’s because it has a motor… liar.

3. It’s more fun- BS, then ride motos and be gone. This is about bikes, not motorcycles. It will never be allowed long term to ride motorcycles (even weaker, stupid lame bike shaped ones) on local trails. In fact, the main issue I see from an access perspective is that the National Park service is just adding Ebikes to all the areas that Bikes are currently allowed. Guess how much easier it is to get rid of all bikes when it becomes a problem. It would be better if the two things were separated. Speaking of this one. Ebikes are definitely bicycles that have motors. But what would they be if they were motorcycles with pedals, instead? Mopeds?

4. He uses it for training- this may just be a different use for getting more loops in the same ride time. Training what? I say BS.

5. I can go so much further.- yeah, you’re not riding a bike, dufus, it’s a motorcycle. And, like a motorcycle, if that shit breaks in the backcountry, you’re gonna be bummed. This is the same reason I’ll stick with cables vs wireless in my derailleur and dropper posts. No need to add shit that can’t be easily fixed on a ride.

Remember that this dude(t) was created. They didn’t exist before the bike manufacturers had their legion of shredtastic riders make it look like they love nothing more than tearing up their local woods while hooting and hollering about what fun it is to ride an ebike on a one horse open sleigh. The point is, I would trade so many different dumbass things in MTB if only we wouldn’t have to deal with the problems caused by this new customer that the industry has awakened. There’s a rule in modern day, probably ancient days as well, called the “Don’t be a dickhead rule.” It means don’t let your good time fuck up someone elses good time. We can agree that one is worth observing, yeah? OK, well the riding of ebikes fast omnidirectionally, and with full face helmets and DH gear while hunting for Strava PR’s among unwitting youngsters and parents on trails with poor line-of-sight is, well, Dick. You heard me.

Factoids/Addendum:Just Riding Alongis a great podcast, check em out on Mountain Bike radio.The Path Podcastis also good, same location. If you like thinking about suspension topics, like sprung v unsprung weight and all that, check out Vorsprung Suspensionon YouTube.

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