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16 January 2018

What's an E-MTB Like to Ride?

Does it feel like a normal bike? Will I skid? Is it difficult to handle? Many riders have questions—and sometimes some doubts about what it’s going to be like to pedal and handle an E-MTB. Here’s a rundown on what to expect.

E-MTBing with pedal-assist

Almost all E-MTBs the big brands are bringing into North America are pedal-assist. This means that the motor is actuated by your pedaling action, and the harder (or faster) you pedal, the more assistance the motor provides. With pedal-assist, it’s easy to cruise up the hill to your favorite descent as many times as you like. EMTBing feels a lot like watching your favorite movie, but with all the ads on fast forward.

The amount of support your E-MTB delivers depends on the ride mode you’ve selected. Shimano’s STEPS E8000 system, for example, has three settings, Eco, Trail, and Boost. In the Eco setting you’ll still need to put in a bit of effort to crest that big hill, while in Boost setting you’ll nose-breathe all the way to the top (be careful, you’ll be using your battery power faster, too!).

Pedaling feels natural, but more powerful, like you’ve woken up with superpowers. Shimano’s STEPS system is designed around the specific needs of mountain bikers, so it the motor assist cuts in the second you begin pedaling, and cuts out as soon as you aren’t. If you’d prefer to descend without any assistance when you put in the odd pedal stroke between berms, it’s simple to turn assistance off with the bar-mounted Firebolt switch —which looks and feels just like a Di2 shifter.

Shimano STEPS US Ebike Launch

And the weight?

There’s no denying that E-MTBs are heftier than their analogue cousins. While the weight of E-MTB systems is coming down, the motor will add at least six pounds, while the battery adds another four or six. Good manufacturers also build strong E-MTBs, so there’s often also a bit of extra weight in tougher wheels, frames, and suspension than might be the case on a similar bike without the electronic assistance. Good quality E-trail bikes will tip the scales at 44–52 pounds —not too much to lift if you need to, but enough to change the bike’s handling.

Good E-MTB systems also come with a Walk mode, which provides a tiny bit of power to help maneuver the bike when you’re wheeling it to and from the car, or across the road, or maybe if you chicken out on a trail 

Shimano STEPS US Ebike Launch


On the trail

E-assistance looks after the extra weight on the hills and flatter terrain, but what about downhill, through berms, over jumps and drop-offs? E-MTB handling is a bit different all-round. E-MTBs, apart from being heavier than analogue bikes, also often have slightly different geometry to accommodate batteries and motors.

While it’s true that more weight means more to push around in corners, recent developments in E-MTB drive systems are focusing on getting battery and motor weight as low as possible, as this can actually enhance ride feel relative to traditional mountain bikes. Some riders find they feel more stable on steep descents and in the air on E-MTBs thanks to the added stability. Think of the low weight acting like the keel of a ship, keeping the bike planted and stable, even when it’s getting thrown around.

Shimano STEPS US Ebike Launch

Still wondering? Try an E-MTB for yourself

Shimano STEPS and dealers of all the big bike brands are holding demo days regularly throughout North America in 2017/2018.