Skip to main content

South Valley Journal

It's electric! How to hit the trails with integrated propulsion

Aug 07, 2019 05:19PM ● By Amy Green

Bike experts like Mike Buckley, shop manager at 2nd Tracks Sports/Level 9 in Millcreek, are excited to talk about electric options. For any rider, beginning or advanced, motor propelled mountain bikes are a great emerging option for commuters and outdoor adventure seekers. (Amy Green/City Journals)

By Amy Green  |  [email protected]

You can't see it… (it's electric!). You gotta feel it… (it's electric!). Ooh, it's shakin'... (it's electric!). Actually, you can see it. It's a bike. It's an electric bike. Boogie woogie, woogie!

More mountain bikes with integrated electric motors are popping up around Utah—in bike shops, on city streets and on trails across the Wasatch. Utah and its mountains are abundant with off-road recreation opportunities. Those uphill places are even more accessible to ride now, thanks to electric mountain bikes or eMTB. For those who love exploring dusty dirt avenues, rocky trails and Utah’s infamous washboard roads, long-distance rides are now more doable. 

Broadly speaking, there are two types of e-bikes: full-power or pedal-assist. The difference is in how they are powered by the motor. A full-power bike is meant for short distances with little to no pedaling over relatively short distances. Pedal-assist bikes are designed to be pedaled most of the time. But when you are tired and need a boost, these bikes can provide a bit of electric help.  An eMTB falls into the category of pedal-assist. To read more about how they work check out www.explainthatstuff.com/electricbikes.

Eddy Steele of Salt Lake City, is an avid rider. He has a Focus Jam Squared eMTB. “I love my particular bike. It affords me the ability to ride the trails that are by my house, or on my way home from work. I can ride quicker, whereas on a normal bike, I wouldn’t have the time to ride before it gets dark. A trail that would normally take two to three hours to ride, takes only about an hour on my eMTB with pedal-assist,” Steele said.

Mountain bike hobbyists might wonder if one can get the same kind of challenging workout on an e-bike. “It’s not the same kind of workout, but you’re still getting a workout. I’m still breaking a sweat, and I’ve still got an increased heart rate. But anytime you are working out two-three hours vs. one hour, you’re going to burn more calories,” Steele said. 

On an eMTB, one can ride longer. Steele explained the pedal-assist advantage saying, “It helps out a lot on the hills and you can make it give you a little more assist on uphills. So if you’re using it aggressively, you can really cut down drastically on the amount of pedaling work. So it’s less of a workout to conquer hills than it would be if you had a normal bike. But it’s still a workout.”

Steele recently met a guy in St. George who has the same bike. After confirming that the other guy didn’t steal his bike, the men got to talking. “The southern Utah guy was in his 50s or 60s, retired, a little overweight, and had bought his bike a few months ago. The guy hadn’t mountain biked before. He wanted something that would help him out a bit. In the short time that he had been mountain biking he lost around 30 pounds. I think without an electric mountain bike he probably wouldn’t have been out being so active,” Steele said.

The fun thing about mountain biking is going outside and being on the varied terrain. An electric mountain bike can help one enjoy the sport more fully when one might not otherwise be physically capable. 

“The other nice thing I like about my bike is it’s a little heavier, so I feel a lot more stable. I feel like I can be a little bit more aggressive in my downhill mountain biking without getting so bounced around. I feel more secure. But it’s not too heavy. I still feel like I can control it really well,” Steele added.

e-bikes are pretty amazing. One might wonder if anyone can just go out and take it anywhere? Mike Buckley, manager at 2nd Tracks/Level 9 Sports in Millcreek where eMTB bikes are sold said, “Currently, the people who maintain the trails make the decision (whether to allow e-bikes).” So check the rules before hitting the off-road trails. Where one is allowed to ride an eMTB can vary greatly on federal, state and local trails. As a general rule, any trail open to motorized and non-motorized use, is also available to eMTB riders. 

Because land rules can change frequently, don’t ride where rules aren't clear. For information regarding Utah e-bike laws, consider the following:

  • LOCAL: Consult your local land management agency.
  • STATE: Utah State Parks do not have an eMTB policy. Contact the department for the most up to date information. 
  • FEDERAL: On federal lands, e-bikes are considered motorized vehicles and have access to motorized trails. Contact the U.S. Forest Service Intermountain Regional Office or the BLM Utah State Office for more information.

A great place for more information on where to ride an eMTB is:

  • A map of great eMTB rides at peopleforbikes.org/emtb
  • eMTB “Adventures” at peopleforbikes.org/e-bikes

There is little doubt that electric bikes are better for the environment than traditional gasoline engines. But they aren’t perfect. The development and disposal of batteries causes pollution. The electricity to power an eMTB might be coming from a source of significant pollution. However, e-bikes are a good start at improving air quality. As some say, "Perfect is the enemy of the good." 

It’s a neat time to be in the market for a bike, to start thinking about a first one, or upgrading that vintage Schwinn. It’s also a great option for folks who need their bike to do some of the pedaling. See if you can spot these e-bikes wheeling around the Salt Lake scenery.