Olly Wilkins on why e-bikes are a force for good - Red Bull article

January 06, 2019

Olly Wilkins on why e-bikes are a force for good - Red Bull article

E-bikes; perhaps the most controversial, or at least most talked-about, topic in modern mountain biking. What implications does the inclusion of an electric motor have? Are they even relevant, or are they the dawning of a new day? Olly Wilkins is perhaps one of Britain's most influential bike riders. He rides with the style that we all wish we rode with. He's a dirt jumper at heart, but a trail bike blaster by trade. If there's a corner, on any trail on Earth, Olly will get around it faster and with more style than anyone. His thoughts on the e-bike debate are not only illuminating, but important as well.Before you first rode an e-bike, what were your preconceptions of them? I must admit, I had a few. The thought of mixing battery power with a bike scared me. Even electric gears had bothered me previously. I felt it somehow took away from the purity of our sport. The ‘man and mountain’ feel to simple cog grinding was being tainted. Beyond that, I'd imagined they would only improve the elements of riding which I didn’t really care about. I thought it would simply make riding uphills and flats ‘easier’ and was basically cheating. I never thought I would have such pure ‘MTB’ style experiences onboard them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means saying that these are a replacement to MTB for myself. Some things never change and that includes my love for mountain bikes, plain and simple. I would be lying, however, if I said I didn’t enjoy e-MTBs a great deal though. I would also be lying if I said I hadn’t disproved nearly all of my preconceptions about them.
Where and when was that first ride? What was it like?
My first ride on an e-MTB was at Nine Knights in Reschenpass. I only had a quick ride on a bike with the brakes the wrong way around. At that stage, I simply enjoyed the novelty of the motor powering me along. The first time I feel like I really got it was when my very own e-MTB arrived from Focus Bikes. I took it out on the super-steep trails on my doorstep and completely forgot what I was on. I rode my normal lap at a stupid pace. The de-motivating sluggish climbs became like rally stages, I worked harder than I would on my normal bike, albeit in a different way. 
Once I had friends riding e-bikes it changed once again. The e-MTB became a training tool. I was riding for two hours straight with my World Cup racer friends and we were barely talking. No waiting around at the top of descents, the loop quickly became like one long track. The riding here at home is really steep and it meant we were riding on the days we would usually stay at home and getting a lot more descending in than a usual day on our MTBs. E-bikes haven’t replaced normal rides for me, they're an additional ride altogether.
Do you think e-bikes are here to stay, a flash in the pan or a niche product?
Undoubtedly, they're here to stay. Providing there aren’t any crazy rules or legislation brought out against them. I think the misconception that they are like ‘mopeds’ is super off. They are arguably more of a mountain bike than a DH setup, you pedal back up after all. Up AND down the mountain. The power gained is not as much as the haters might think. That said, I don’t think a normal MTB is going anywhere. For me it’s not a replacement, but I can see for some it might be I guess. If you’re 50 and can’t cope with the efforts involved then the e-MTB may well be your saviour.
You're a famously stylish rider – does the weight affect how you ride them?
Well, the weight is significantly higher in numbers than my MTB. It's proportionately lower down on the bike which means they descend really well. Like upsettingly well. I ride my e-bike in a more efficient manner and probably descend much faster. I don’t feel like many things are impossible on them but certainly I can play around on my MTB more. This is what I enjoy the most in life which is probably a big reason why I wouldn’t consider an e-MTB as an out-and-out replacement. It's a different thing. In terms of getting airborne the e-MTB is mega stable, its not something which people should worry about. This stability is good for some things and bad for others. DH bikes take a lot more muscle to move around on the trail and the e-MTB certainly shares this. I set my suspension up much softer on my e-bike as I’m not as bothered about moving around on the trail, I plough a lot more!
What would you say to those people hating on e-bikes?
If you’re looking for a high horse to sit on then it’s perfect. It’s too easy. Keep on going with the ‘moped’ and ‘cheating’ lines. Other haters will gather around you and look up in awe as you preach. 'How pure and true this MTB guy is’ they will whisper. Hahaha!  The reality is that a high percentage of the haters would struggle to keep a straight face given the chance to ride my loop on an e-MTB. Once you get over the fact that its not necessarily a replacement to your MTB I think its easier to speak objectively on it. That’s only really clear after riding one. It’s not for everyone but it’s definitely for me. Regardless of hate I will continue the beautiful symbiosis of MTB and e-MTB which I have created in my life. I’m not saying there are no negatives to power assisted MTB's, but give the positive aspects a go before you weigh them against the negative, you might be surprised. PS. Dear hater. Please consider: I ride my MTB more than you, in fact I probably ride my road bike more than you ride your MTB. I’m more of a road rider than you are an MTBer. Keep that in mind in the comments young bloods. Hahaha!

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