A new battle has emerged pitting the e-bike industry against itself. Gear Junkie’s article detailing the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s (IMBA) softening stance on e-bike use is nothing new. IMBA has been encouraging, and I feel “promoting” e-bike use on non-motorized, multi-user recreational trails for years. What the Gear Junkie article reveals for the first time is a civil war started by IMBA between pedal-actuated e-bikes and throttle-actuated e-bikes.
The Gear Junkie article states that IMBA now supports “Class-1” electric-motorized bike access to non-motorized trails. What the article incorrectly states is that “Class-1 eMTBs* have the least power of the three classes of electric bicycles.” That is inaccurate. Class 1 and Class 2 have the exact same power and speed shut-off limits (below 750-watt motor and power cut off at 20 miles per hour). The only difference is a Class-1 bike’s motor kicks in as soon as a rider pushes down on the pedals while a Class-2 electric bike applies power with a twist-grip throttle or thumb-push throttle (no pedaling necessary). So what’s the big deal with this slight nuance? Plenty, according to IMBA. The war has begun. It is rich against poor. Ready-made high tech versus affordable DIY. Brother e-bike fighting brother e-bike.
Low-cost e-bikes versus elite e-bikes
Class-2 electric motorized bicycles are usually less expensive than the more mechanically sophisticated Class-1 bikes. Class-1 e-bikes include offerings from established bicycle manufacturers like Specialized, Trek, Giant and Cannondale. Popular Class-2 e-bikes come from brands like Sonders (possibly** the largest selling e-bike brand in America), Pedego (the largest dedicated e-bike retailer network in America) and hundreds of companies who sell e-bike conversion kits directly to riders through Amazon and eBay.
The article does not clarify why IMBA feels Class-1 motorized bikes are okay on recreational trails and Class-2 bikes are not, but it is clear that there is dissension in the e-biking ranks. IMBA’s stance splinters an already fragmented effort by all motorized bike manufacturers to get their products approved for non-motorized recreational trail use.
IMBA clouds already muddy water
Regardless of how the power is applied, motorized bikes represent a substantially faster trail-user speed and a new potential fire hazard, both of which have a negative impact on the special resources and wildlife found in previously non-motorized recreation areas. I feel IMBA should have stuck with its core membership; human-powered mountain bikers and let the e-bike industry form their own organization (maybe EMBA?). Instead, IMBA uses dues paid by traditional mountain bikers to appease Class-1 motorized bike manufacturers while throwing Class-2 bikes under the proverbial bus. Land managers who once trusted IMBA’s input and guidance will be rightfully confused by IMBA’s latest stance of approving select motorized recreation vehicles for non-motorized recreational use.
* “eMTB” is a marketing term and not a legal definition of a bicycle. The legally recognized definition is “electric bicycle.”
** Because sales figures are not published, I cannot confirm sales figures.