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26 December 2017

Your Top 10 E-MTB Questions Answered

How long does the battery last? Can I get it wet? Can I maintain an E-MTB myself? We've compiled a list of the top 10 questions we've been asked about E-MTBs so you have all the information you need at your fingertips.

1. How far can an E-MTB go before I need to recharge?

It depends on a few factors, like how much you and your bike weigh, wind, tire pressure, how hilly the terrain is, and especially what assistance setting you’re using. Shimano STEPS Eco mode, for example, is the most efficient, and could power you through about 62 miles of riding. Trail and Boost modes will get you less far, but with more help. The range you have left (calculated on current settings) is dynamically displayed on the bike’s computer, so you’re unlikely to stretch your ride too far.

2. Do E-MTBs handle differently?

E-bikes weigh up to 22 pounds more than a standard mountain bike with the same capabilities, so they do handle differently. That’s not necessarily a bad thing! Some riders feel the extra weight, especially as it’s down low (most E-MTBs have crank-based motors to keep the weight close to the ground), helps with bike stability in the air and down tricky descents. There’s more bike to muscle around, so you’ll get a decent upper-body workout on an E-MTB in fast, techy terrain. Learn more 

Shimano STEPS US Ebike Launch

3. What happens if my E-MTB battery runs out?

An E-MTB is still a mountain bike. Your gears, drivetrain, and brakes will all work fine if you’re unlucky enough to run the battery dead. If you run out of juice, you’re simply left with a bike that’s heavier than normal—a bit more than the weight of a downhill rig. Chances are you’ll be pushing up a few hills and you’ll end up with some good stories… and it’s unlikely you’ll let it happen twice.

4. How do E-MTBs work?

Nearly all mainstream E-MTBs sold in North America are pedal-assist. Pedal-assist E-MTBs pair batteries and motors to generate 250 watts of assistance. A rechargeable, Lithium-ion battery powers the motor, which is fitted into the bottom bracket area, and activated by pedaling. Stop pedaling, or hit 20 mph, and the power cuts out. The rider controls the assistance level using a switch mounted to the handlebars, and information like assistance setting, range, and battery level are displayed on a compact computer. The Shimano STEPS E-MTB system has three levels of assistance: Eco, Trail, and Boost, plus a ‘walk’ mode for a bit of extra help on the bike, operated using left-hand, Di2-style ‘Firebolt’ shifter.  

Shimano STEPS

5. Aren't E-MTBs motorbikes?

No! E-MTBs sold in North America and most countries are legally classified as bicycles and adhere to standards that limit their power output and dictate how they operate. They’re far less powerful than motorbikes and operate completely differently. The vast majority of E-MTBs sold in North America are pedal-assist, so instead of a throttle, your pedaling operates the motor, which responds by providing a modest allowance of extra watts (basically giving you pro legs for a couple of hours). You’ll still do a fair bit of the work, and the assistance cuts out at speeds over 20 miles an hour.

6. How noisy are E-MTBs?

E-MTBs are quiet, nearly silent—if you get your ear close enough to the motor you may hear a faint hum, but that’s about it.

Shimano STEPS US Ebike Launch

7. Do E-MTBs ruin trails?

No. The modest allowance of extra watts provided by an E-MTB motor will only really give you ‘pro legs’. E-MTBs don’t operate with the same drive system or under the same torque as petrol-powered dirt bikes, which can chop up trails. Instead, E-MTBs respond intuitively to your pedal stroke, providing natural-feeling assistance. ‘Blowing out’ trails will always come down to a rider’s bike-handling, and has more to do with braking, weather conditions, and trail traffic than watts.

8. Can you get E-MTBs wet?

Yes! While not amphibious (don’t throw yours in the pool), E-MTBs are fine in the rain and you can wash them like any other mountain bike—just avoid the high-pressure hose and use a bucket or garden hose instead.

Shimano STEPS US Ebike Launch

9. Can you travel with E-MTBs?

Currently, lithium-ion batteries used in most E-MTBs can’t be taken on any domestic or international flights, in either cabin or checked baggage. E-MTBs are limited to car travel, and a number of bike rack manufacturers offer rear racks that accommodate E-MTBs, so you won’t necessarily have to heft yours into the boot, or onto roof racks.

10. Can I maintain my E-MTB myself?

E-MTBs might come equipped with some pretty high-end technology, but apart from the battery, motor, and wiring, they’re still mountain bikes, and have the same rear derailleur, brakes, and shifter. You can usually swap out a battery yourself (they have a life-span of a few years, and new ones should be bought from the original manufacturer) but any maintenance that involves the drive unit, including changing the front chainring or bottom bracket, will need the help of your bike shop. Apart from that, you can swing in some new cables, adjust your brakes, and otherwise give your E-MTB as much loving as you like.