Will a potentially huge new sales stream for the bike industry be restricted by a lack of trail access?
It’s clear that both within the fledgling ebike market in Australia and the much larger market in Germany, the e-mountain bike is the newest and fastest growing sub-category of ebike.
As anyone who’s done even a small amount of mountain biking will know, it’s great fun and physically not too demanding to ride on the flat or downhill, but hard work riding uphill.
All of a sudden e-mountain bikes are giving non-elite riders comfortable access to trails that previously would have been out of reach.
But this is causing potential concerns. Some ‘purist’ mountain bikers are worried that their hard-won trail access gains might be lost if land managers (such as National Parks, local governments etc) don’t accept e-mountain bikes and then throw everyone out because they find it too hard to delineate which bikes are below the 250 watt limit and which are not.
At this year’s Eurobike, Bicycling Trade spoke to someone who’s right at the heart of this issue.
Heiko Mittelsaedt works full time for the DIMB (Deutsche Initiative Mountain Bike) as Project Manger, fighting for trail access for mountain bikers across Germany.
The organisation was founded 20 years ago. He’s been an active member for four years and working there full time for one year.
The DIMB has 70,000 members. 60,000 are through affiliated cycling clubs, plus a further 10,000 direct memberships, which makes them one of the largest mountain biking organisations in the world.
BT: What is your policy on e-mountain bikes and what are the various land managers reactions to what is happening with e-mountain bikes and trail access?
Heiko Mittelsaedt: In Germany and whole of Europe we have the distinction between pedelecs and e-mountain bikes. Pedelecs count by law as bicycles, limited to 25 kph and 250 watts. It means pedalecs are allowed anywhere where a bicycle can go.
Other e-mountain bikes count as light motorcycles and they are not allowed by law in the forest. We (the DIMB) don’t care about them because they are not bicycles or mountain bikes.
BT: Of course it’s hard for some park ranger or land manager to know if the bike is a 250 watt pedelec or something more powerful…
HM: That’s easy, because pedelec bicycles don’t have a number plate and the over 250 watt ones have to have a number plate, so they can see and they can punish if someone rides a high powered mountain bike.
BT: What if they don’t comply with your number plate law?
HM: You cannot talk about the black sheep. What can we do about that? We just say to the people, ‘It’s dangerous to go without a number plate. You lose your insurance if something happens, you’ll have to pay by yourself. Just think about it before you do something stupid.’
BT: There’s a lot of high powered e-mountain bikes at this year’s Eurobike Show. The might be 500 watts, 900 watts or even more.
HM: We wonder why they are here because it is a bicycle exhibition. That’s our position.
BT: Are there private ski resorts or land holders who allow them access?
HM: This is an international exhibition so you never know if some countries allow these kind of mountain bikes but in Europe they’re problematic and we say to the manufacturers, ‘We don’t know why you show them at this exhibition because it’s a bicycle exhibition.’ Maybe they should show them at a motorcycle exhibition.
BT: What about the 250 watt compliant pedelecs? Has there been acceptance from the land holders for the pedelec mountain bikes?
HM: It’s too early to say. I would say now maybe 25% of the mountain bikes in the forest are pedelecs. We can see at this exhibition that it’s an absolutely booming market and I think in coming years that half the mountain bikes we have will be pedelecs and we will get many more people on bikes. That’s good because we’re a bike association and we like people to be on bikes. But the more people in the forest, maybe more problems can occur, so we have to have a discussion, ‘How can we lead this in a good direction?’ In Germany we say we will share the trail with the hikers and this can only work if everybody behaves well.
We are a densely settled country and around the cities where a lot of people are, we already have conflict.
BT: What are the opinions of members within your organisation members about pedelec mountain bikes?
HM: It’s about half and half. It’s more and more accepted because people can see the advantages. You can go maybe with your wife. She was always a little bit slower than you and now she can go with you. You can go with your children or you can take friends that have tried to get on a mountain bike but didn’t have the power.
We also have people say, ‘That’s no sport!’, ‘That’s not human powered.’, or they say maybe they will destroy the path ways, maybe they will lead to conflict. But the discussion is going more and more to, if people know how to use pedelec there would rarely be problems.
BT: Do you think there’s any evidence about more physical damage to trails from a pedelec mountain bike?
HM: We haven’t done a study yet. But from my point of view, when I was invited to do some pedelec mountain biking, I would not say that we have more erosion. I would say it is just like a mountain bike.
BT: How is the mountain bike scene overall in Germany? What’s happening?
HM: Mountain biking is a big booming sport in Germany. We’re getting more and more members. There’s more and more people going into the forest to do mountain biking. The trend is to do freeride mountain biking. Several years ago people just had a hardtail and rode easy tracks. Now you’ve got more suspension and more body protection and people doing more difficult pathways.
This might cause us more problems because the hikers wouldn’t expect us on the difficult trails. For years they’ve been alone on the difficult trails and now mountain bikers are coming. So we also have to lead the discussion with hikers and do this in a good way.