It was the easiest mountain bike climb ever.
I was cruising up Yew R Here on Mt. Macpherson, pedaling casually while a motor assisted me upward. A few days earlier I had ridden this trail as part of a race, but today I was on an e-bike and I roared upwards at a faster pace while pedalling in a harder gear on a bike that weighs eight kilograms more than my regular steed.
And then I hit full throttle. The bike lurched forward and I rocketed past another mountain biker, who stood aside and shot me a bit of a look. “I’m on an e-bike,” I cried out, somewhat apologetically.
E-bikes – electric bicycles – are the next big thing in mountain biking and probably the biggest change to the sport since, well, forever. E-bikes come in two forms – ones with throttles, which act like small dirt bikes or off-road scooters, and pedal-assisted bikes, where a battery-powered motor speeds up your pedalling. They’ve already taken off in Europe and are slowly catching on in North America, allowing people to ride faster and further than they could before.
“It’s for anyone from just a regular mountain biker who wants to ride more to, there was a guy here this morning who was disabled, so he can actually get on the trails again,” Keith Stark, the B.C. sales rep for Rocky Mountain Bicycles, told me during a demo day at Mt. Macpherson in May. “And you see older guys who can’t do what they used to do, so they hop on these bikes and they’re doing the rides they used to do.” Rocky Mountain joins most of the major mountain bike companies who are spending big on e-mountain bike development, a sign they believe they’re part of the future mountain bike mix.
Of course, they’re not without controversy. Opponents consider them an antithesis to mountain biking, where the point is to travel by your own power and using a motor is effectively cheating and against the spirit of the sport. They also express concerns about safety and the impact to the trails.
Possibly the biggest thing holding e-bikes back is the fact they’re not allowed on Government-designated non-motorized trails in B.C. Recreation Sites & Trails (RST), which regulates trails on Crown Land, considers e-bikes to be motorized vehicles, a definition that was upheld in a policy that was released in May. That means they’re illegal to ride on most mountain bike trails around Revelstoke, except for the unsanctioned ones.
“By classifying them, it gives us the ability to regulate e-bikes on non-motorized trails,” explained John Hawkings, a director with RST in Squamish, who helped craft the policy.
Hawkings said there were concerns about safety and impact to the trails with e-bikes. E-bikers can go much faster uphill than a regular mountain biker, and on two-way trails, that could lead to more collisions between downhill and uphill riders. E-bikers can also go much further in a day than your average mountain biker, so their widespread use could lead to more wear on the trails.
“E-bikes extend the reach for people. It can bring more people into areas where the distance was a natural filter,” said Hawkings, using the remote trails of the Chilcotins as an example.
The policy doesn’t mean e-bikes will be forbidden forever. Instead, local recreation officers will be able to work with trail stewards to designate e-bike trails. That discussion is only just beginning for the Revelstoke Cycling Association (RCA).
Henning Schipper, the president of the RCA, said the association’s board realizes e-bikers will be coming here in greater numbers and the club should be ready with routes for them. He doesn’t have an issue with e-bikes on downhill only trails, but at Macpherson, where most trails are two-way, there are special challenges.
“If uphill traffic is that much faster, it’s not going to work. That’s what I’m concerned about, and I think other people in the industry are concerned about that issue,” he said. “We need to come up with a plan with RST on what trails they’re allowed to be on.”
As an example, the RCA could designate an uphill route along logging roads to access the top of TNT, and then e-bikers would be able to rip down.
There is little doubt that e-bikes are part of the future of mountain biking. Stark said he noticed a significant jump in interest at demo days between this year and last. Local bike shops have e-bikes available as demos, and can order one for you if you want one.
Selim Bedoya, the co-owner of local bike show Tantrum Ride Co., owns an e-bike for commuting around Revelstoke and said he sees himself buying one for the trails in a few years. “It’s part of the future and it’s coming,” he said. “I don’t think it’s wrong. If you still like it the old fashioned way, just pedal.”
E-mountain bikes for adaptive uses
One local who wants to be allowed on Macpherson is Brady Beruschi. He was an avid mountain biker until 2000, when a snowboarding injury left him partially paralyzed from the waist down, and completely paralyzed below the knees. He can ride on flat trails, up roads, and go downhill, but when it comes to navigating the technical trails at Macpherson, all bets were off.
That is, until he bought a pedal-assisted e-bike last year. “On a personal level, it has been a game changer and has re-invigorated my passion for mountain biking,” he said. “The purchase of my pedal-assist bike has enabled me to venture throughout our vast trail network and re-exposed me to the mountains that I have missed for 18 years. I was tired of being on the sidelines while my friends would go on a full day epic rides. With pedal assisted bikes, I am able keep up and ride with friends again.”
Beruschi, the manager of the Regent Hotel, is a big supporter of the local mountain bike community, and he hopes an exception is made to the rules to allow people with disabilities or mobility issues to ride the trails on pedal assisted e-bikes.
“This group of people are not going fast, are not riding aggressively, they are strictly enjoying physical activity and being in the mountains,” he said. “I have not seen trail damage whatsoever from my e-bike and I am always conscious of this as I know people may be judging me and the bike.”
The Revelstoke Cycling Association has decided to not allow e-bikes on any of its trails for now, in a decision that was made following the printing of the June, 2018 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. Henning Schipper, the president of the RCA, said the board decided to adhere to Recreation, Sites & Trails BC policy for the time being, meaning e-bikes are not permitted on the Mount Macpherson, Boulder and Frisby Ridge trail networks. He said the issue would be raised at the club’s annual general meeting this fall.