The early e-bikes were heavy, cumbersome, and ugly, but that wasn't why I hated them...

When the first full-suspension e-bike turned up at the MBR office it was certainly a novelty. It couldn’t be further away from the best electric bikes available now: it was a Cube Stereo Hybrid, with a Bosch CX motor, external battery, and abnormally long chainstays. It was crude, it weighed as much as a bank vault, and it really got me riled up inside. Sure, it was great fun ripping around the underground office car park. even if it was almost impossible to manual or bunny-hop, but for me at the time, it represented nothing to do with mountain biking. I mean, I really hated the idea of it much more than I hated the absence of any finesse or dexterity to the handling. It was cheating, simple as that.

The first proper e-bike we had on test at MBR was the Cube Stereo Hybrid in 2014.

This was 2014, and I was relatively fit and building up to race some Enduro World Series events. I was ten years younger, I didn’t have kids, I was riding to and from work almost every day on a road bike, and I was riding my 29er trail bike two or three times a week. Every trail was a Strava segment, and I’d regularly thrash out a lap without stopping, diving into descents without catching a breath at the top. I was putting in all this hard work, yet here was this thing that you could give to an old grandad and get beaten up the climbs. It didn’t seem right.

In 2014 I raced my first EWS in the Tweed Valley, taking third place in the Masters.

I hated that there was suddenly a shortcut to accessing the addictive fun of descending. In my naivety, I thought earning that elevation somehow made the rewards sweeter, or more virtuous. It wasn’t even as though there were any e-bike riders on the trails overtaking me on the climbs, either. It was the mere thought of it that annoyed me.

Merida eOne-Sixty

The Merida eOne-Sixty was the first e-bike I rode that really handled like a regular enduro bike. It raised the bar.

It wasn’t until three years later that I woke up, and get over my prejudices. We’d moved offices and were surrounded by trails. E-bikes had improved considerably – mostly thanks to Shimano’s ground-breaking E8000 motor allowing brands to engineer shorter chainstays and turn up the dynamism. I was going out at lunchtime and packing in 20km of trails, blasting the boring bits and lapping the best sections over and over. I was sliding about in the mud like a motocross rider, two-wheel drifting through corners, power-sliding out of muddy ruts, and boosting jumps with rock-solid stability. The thrills came thicker and faster than I’d ever dreamed were possible.

electric mountain bikes

I spent most of the winter of 2016/17 razzing around the woods near our office on the Cannondale Moterra. From then on, I was a convert.

Suddenly I was looking for the most ridiculous climbs, searching for the limits of my skills and the bike’s power and traction. Old trails that were too much effort to climb out of were suddenly back on the menu. I was exploring new zones, safe in the knowledge that i wouldn’t be wasting energy if they turned out to be dead ends. This was mountain biking like I’d never known before: longer, further, faster, more often. Gradually my analogue bikes started spending more time hanging up in the shed than hanging out at the trails.

Orbea Wild M-Team

Now I’m rarely riding anything but e-bikes. When they are as good as the Orbea Wild M-Team, why wouldn’t you?

Life also started getting in the way of my old riding habits. Family time became more important, and those all day Sunday rides became a few hours in the morning. School runs ate into pre-work shreds, and the office re-location put an end to commuting on the road bike. So getting the most out of my limited ride time became a priority. With an e-bike, I could do a full day’s riding in just a couple of hours if I got my head down. Winter rides were worth the effort again – instead of slogging around at walking pace in the mud, I could now get that elusive buzz all year round.

Mondraker Dune XR

Mid power e-bikes are the most fun for me: Agile and rewarding, but you need to do your fair share of the work.

And that’s why I hardly ever ride my analogue bike anymore. I’m not going to pretend its trouble-free. When e-bikes go wrong – and they do go wrong – it’s a frustrating and potentially expensive nightmare. Even if they work perfectly, the regular app updates and extra layer of complexity and TLC needed is a total pain. Even so, given the choice, I’d always pull the e-bike out of the shed now. More significantly, I no longer consider it cheating – I think of it as the mountain biking’s ultimate life hack. For thirty years I pedalled an analogue bike around. I’ve done my time, I’ve earned my spurs, and I’m not going to feel guilty, or any less of a mountain biker, for riding an e-bike. So if you’re feeling time poor, or lost your MTB mojo, swing a leg over an e-bike – you won’t regret it.