Make the most of your e-bike by mastering a few key skills - then reap the rewards with easier climbs, better handling, longer rides and a whole lot more fun
There’s no denying that you can do more on an e-bike. The more people who try them the more people discover that in reality the additional help that you get from a motor means that you can double your distance, and it makes the slow rolling trails, and spongy soft surfaces fun to ride over. Riding an e-bike will even change the way you approach your route, as you’ll be able to loop quickly back up and iron out all those imperfections from your previous run.
If you’re used to riding a regular trail bike though, then you might find an e-bike handles very differently on the trails. There are definitely some pros and cons to all of that extra weight. So we’ve harnessed the expertise of skills coach and electric mountain bike fan Andy Barlow of Dirt School to break down the essential tips, tricks and techniques you need to make the most of your electrically-assisted ride.
Watt’s your stance?
As soon as you start descending on an e-bike you’ll notice how stable it is. All of that additional weight you thought might make it hard to handle actually moves around a lot less than a regular bike, keeping you planted on choppy or loose terrain.
To get the most out of it though, you need to be in the right position. Remember to stay low at the front and allow for any movement by keeping your arms bent. Most of the additional weight is down at the battery and motor, so being conscious of standing strong with your own body weight heavy through your feet will mean you can literally just stand there and trust all of that stability.
One of the most impressive things about riding an e-bike is how well it corners. The extra weight it carries really drives the bike into the ground in a way that feels planted and predictable. Those extra kilos are essentially pressing into the trail the whole way round in the same way we encourage you to do in all of our jumping and cornering articles.
Keep your weight low by dropping your outside heel and you can really depend on all of that stability as it drives against the trail.
Line it up
Taking a wide line into turns is even more important as you don’t want all that weight taking you over the top of the corner on the exit. Really think about being patient and opening up your turns on the way in.
Remember to stay high and wide a lot later than you think – really as late as the trail will let you. This will allow you to do more of the corner up high before you’ve really started to pick up any speed.
As you drop in and start to accelerate, do a quick body position check and remember that you can still brake. You’re not braking to slow down at this stage. You’re braking to not accelerate too much.
You’re aiming for a late apex, so that as you accelerate you can carry all that momentum out of the turn and down the next straight. If the support on the trail allows, gradually straighten your legs here and the additional weight that you drive against the trail will not only provide more grip, but will accelerate you out further.
Enjoying technical climbs is a challenge that few people saw coming. The reality is that steep, rough, slippery climbs are actually fun on an e-bike. There are a few techniques that will make a difference though as it’s not all down to just sitting there and smashing the pedals.
Dropping your saddle 20-30mm will make a huge difference when tackling technical climbs. You can still remain seated, but this additional room will mean you can get out of the saddle if you need to, allowing your rear wheel to roll up and over things. Keep pedalling and the motor will remain engaged meaning you can almost float above your bike as it continues to progress forwards.
This is an especially useful technique when passing over step ups as well. With the dropper lever at your thumb you can put your post up and down quickly, and return the saddle to the correct height as soon as you feel the challenge is passed.
If you normally spin your legs on climbs then technical climbs might be a place where you slow that cadence ever so slightly. This is because if your feet are constantly spinning round then you’re way more likely to mistime a pedal stroke and make contact with the ground. Slow down your pedal strokes slightly and you can rely on the assistance from the motor to carry your momentum in a way that will become more predictable and easier to correct if you do need to suddenly move your body to balance.
Every time you change gear, you should come off the power slightly. This temporary reduction in power allows the chain to travel over into the next gear with more precision, and means that your drive chain will last longer. With e-bikes using a motor to deliver more power, it’s even more important as you’ll be putting so much torque through the chain that you’ll do damage if you’re not careful.
Practise the timing of this before you’re on a steep climb, as the motor lag will mean you need to relearn when it’s safe to shift. Get it right though and your drive chain will last longer and your gear shifts will be silent.
With all this movement going on underneath you on rough and technical climbs, you’re going to have to be tuned in to your balance. By standing up slightly you’ll create room for the bike to move, but in addition to this try and keep your upper body position somewhat like it would be on a descent. Bent elbows will keep your body lower over the front and make wheelies less likely.
This stronger upper body position should also encourage you to use your knees for balance a lot more, further allowing you to feel like you are isolated from all the chop and instability going on underneath you.
Although it’s tempting to just leave your bike in the most powerful mode everywhere you go, there are times when you might want to back it off. The most obvious places will be on steep, soggy climbs where traction is an issue, or on rough climbs when your bike will be pinballing over loose stones. In both cases Boost or Turbo will deliver way too much torque to the rear wheel and you’ll have difficulty controlling your grip.
Instead drop it into Tour or e-MTB, or Trail, and you’ll be able to measure the traction that you do have with more control.
Mount side on
If you do spin out and have to put a foot down, then be prepared to turn your bike 90° to the climb. This will make it way easier to remount and build up a bit of momentum before you tackle that tricky section again. Better this than fighting the weight of the bike and constantly wheel-spinning as you stumble your way through the worst of it.
Pedal ready position
This might seem like a basic one but a lot of riders still get it wrong. If you’ve ever done any on-road cycle proficiency then you’ll know about the ‘pedal ready’ position. It’s basically when you stop at the traffic lights, pull both of your brakes on, put one foot on the ground, and pull your preferred pedal back up to about the 2 o’clock position with your other foot.
This means as soon as you’re ready you can release the brakes, jump away from the ground and immediately have weight driving your preferred pedal downwards before your other foot has even landed on the pedal. On an e-bike this is important as the motor will really kick in, and if you aren’t ready will cause you problems with balance and traction.
Work out walk mode
Most e-bikes will have a walk mode. It’s worth investigating how to activate this before you need it. After all, by the time you need to walk your bike you might already be tired and frustrated. The walk function is also a great way of taking the weight off your arms when you’re pushing back up to try something again.
Riding your e-bike in winter? You’ll need more clothes!
Remember that when you head out on your electric mountain bike in winter, or even in spring and autumn when the temperatures are cooler, that you’ll probably need to wear more.
The motor won’t be doing all of the work, but you can definitely get into the habit of just flying up the climbs with minimal input. This potential lack of effort will mean that your body temperature is a little cooler, but the additional speed on things like fire roads and traverses will also mean higher wind speeds meaning you really have to stay covered.
You might even want to plan your rides around somewhere you can get a quick charge. Loads of cafés and bike shops have facilities where you can top up your battery while you grab a coffee or a bowl of soup and warm up.