by: Jason Weigandt
Electric mountain bikes! They’re all the rage! Everyone is talking, riding, investing, and thinking about them! Our man Steve Matthes talked about these bikes for an hour on Monday’s PulpMX Show. When I see Strava Steve every Saturday, he looks 10 pounds lighter than the previous week. He’s into it. Also, in a first, it seems the top supercross racers actually agree with him. Eli Tomac, of the first family of mountain biking, loves these bikes, and Aldon Baker has all of his boys riding them, too.
These bikes are game changers because they actually don’t change the game that much. Rapid advances in electric technology will likely completely change cars and motorcycles, but e-assist mountain bikes put that revolution on hold for a moment. These aren’t weirdo hybrid mountain bikes/dirt bikes. They’re just regular mountain bikes, but the pedals get a bit of electric assistance. They look and ride just like standard mountain bikes, but they make you feel like you’re stronger than you really are. Pedal harder when you need it, and the motor gives you extra boost. These bikes don’t have throttles, they’re just like the bicycles you already know, only… better?
That extra boost doesn’t change things completely, but it helps the rider just enough, and also makes the bikes a little more versatile. That’s going to open doors. The eMTB bikes caught on early in the Amsoil Grand National Cross Country pits, because teams aren’t allowed to use pit bikes or side-by-sides to get from one side of the track to the other. Bicycles (or walking) are the only option, and pedal assistance is GREATLY appreciated. Teams can also scout the track on bicycles, and again, pedal assistance is GREATLY appreciated.
So with all these bikes around... why not just hold a race? So GNCC Racing held a few test events last year, and launched an eight-race series for 2019, backed by Specialized. I checked out round two over the weekend in North Carolina. I was tempted to actually race it, but I figured it would kill whatever tiny energy reserves I have for Sunday’s dirt bike race. Also, I thought it was only for hardcore bicycle psychos who train nine days a week.
Well, there were some of those, but some people really did just show up and race. Charlie Mullins, former GNCC Champ, now training for pro mountain bike races, does, indeed, ride seven days a week, and he clobbered everyone. But another former GNCC Champ, Barry Hawk, raced the amateur class, and then enjoyed a bag of Doritos and a Bud Light when the race was over. If anything, as of now, the eMTB races are trending toward the weekend warrior instead of the seven-day-trainer. Hawk’s son Talon is not trying to be a GNCC superstar like his dad, but he does love the eMTBs and is racing the events. Dad edged son in lap times, but that might not last. Barry told me he’s trying to get his wife and daughter to race, as well. Would they do a regular mountain bike race? No. Would they race a dirt bike at a GNCC? No. Would they do the eMTB race? Maybe.
I also saw my old friend Colin Dierman at the finish. Colin is the classic “live to ride” bicycle guy, works at the local Morgantown bike shop and spends all of his spare time riding. About a decade ago, Colin got all into dirt bikes and battled for some GNCC amateur titles. Then life caught up to him and he stopped traveling as much. Now that eMTBs are part of the deal, he’s back! Colin has raced plenty of mountain bike races and said he likes these because it’s not a full on redline heart rate suffer fest. It’s more enjoyable. He still went fast enough to win the 50+ class.
My overall take away is that this is a very accessible form of racing. You had some super biker dudes, but some people just checking it out, too. Obviously the maintenance costs of a eMTB are going to be less than a dirt bike, and the intimidation factor is lower, too. Elite fitness isn’t required the way it is in a regular mountain bike race. It looked pretty fun.
Then Mullins took to Instagram to say: “If you think e-bike racing is easy, check out my heart rate from this past weekend. I work just as hard on an e-bike as I do on a regular mountain bike! It’s no joke, but so much fun.”
Okay, you’ll have your professional training psychos anywhere you go. For the regular Joes, this might still be pretty cool.
Images: Ken Hill