e-mountain biking

What is an e-mountain bike?

An e-mountain bike is an electrically assisted mountain bike. With most models, when the motor is assisting at full power, the bike supports the rider with up to 3-fold power increase over her own performance.

All e-bikes are limited to a maximum speed of 25 km/h (the legal speed limit in the UK for a motorised bicycle), this is standard, but before you buy an e-bike, consider more than the motor. What kind of riding you are likely to be doing? What terrain do you hope to attack, now and in the future? If you're confident you'll progress quickly, consider a full suspension. If you're looking to hit your local bridleway or blue trail at your nearest bike park, then a hardtail is more than suitable.

When choosing an e-mountainbike consider these questions.

1) What type of e-mountain bike is best for you? Hardtail to full-suspension?

  • Hardtail: a mountain bike with suspension at the front, rigid frame at the rear. If you're new to e-mtb, a hardtail is a good first choice. Best suited to less aggressive terrain, including the woods, bridleways and potholed bike lanes. 
  • Full Suspension: a mountain bike with suspension systems at the front (in the forks) and rear. Full suspension softens the trail, absorbing uneven terrain, roots and drops.

2) Consider the off-road terrain you would like to ride.

  • Singletrack/Trail Riding: narrow trail of varying width, often through trees. Both hardtail or full suspension bikes are used. 
  • Cross-country (XC): usually a circuit of trail that includes a combination of singletrack and forest roads. Can include more exposed land. Light hardtail bikes are most often the bike of choice.
  • Enduro style: This is really the same as trail riding except it is more technical with trails interspersed with jumps and drops. So these riders are more likely to ride black trails (see trail grading page) and then play on the skills park (often found) at the bottom of a trail centre ie they mix it up a bit. These riders generally ride bikes with more kick (more rear and front fork suspension, 5 - 7 inches) and wider tyres. The bikes are burlier than XC and full suspension trail bikes, and are designed to take steep descents and deal with anything the mountain throws at you (hence the term). Expect to see riders with additional body armour like knee and ankle body protection. 

3) Why consider geometry and suspension?

Geometry reflects in the type of riding you are doing. Cross country bikes will tend to have a fairly aggressive “head down and backside up” geometry, where as a mountain bike with a more sloping top tube, designed to be pointed downhill, is the opposite. They also have chunkier tyres for grip, big rotors in the disc brakes for powerful stopping power and more suspension. Naturally, this kind of bike isn't going to be easy to get uphill, so it's important to choose the right geometry and suspension for the terrain you are riding. If you are looking for a more adventurous type of mountain biking, it is safer to gradually progress, increasing practice time, fitness, technical ability, and later, choice of geometry.  

4) What are suspension forks and do you need them?

Suspension forks smooth out the trail, absorb impact and enhance traction. Different forks will offer varying degrees of travel, the amount of vertical movement the fork allows. For trail bikes the current trend is for longer travel forks offering 140-160 mm but more race orientated 29” bikes especially will often have as little as 80-100 mm.

More travel will generally mean a more forgiving ride and a slacker head angle, which makes them suited to steep and technical descents. However long travel bikes can be unwieldy, heavy and inefficient to climb on. The amount of travel will be dependent on the sort of riding you intend to do.

Forks use a combination of springs and air to deliver the suspension and, depending on the make and model, allow you to tune how stiff the fork is and how it behaves. Most forks allow you to lock out the suspension, which can be beneficial on non-technical climbs, and some have a remote handlebar lever to do this.

Until fairly recently the bikes wheels would lock into the fork’s dropouts with a standard 9 mm quick release skewer but, for the improved stiffness they offer, 15 mm and 20 mm thru-axles are becoming standard.

4) What are hydraulic brakes?

Hydraulic disc brakes are now standard on almost all mountain bikes, although cable operate ones may be specced on cheaper and entry level bikes. Hydraulic disc brakes have revolutionised mountain biking and, by keeping the braking surface away from the trail and offering reliable control, power and modulation not matter how foul the conditions, have allowed riders to push the limits of the sport.

Basic maintenance simply involves changing the pads when they become worn but occasionally the system may require bleeding and, although manageable at home, does require a specialist bleeding kit.

5) Wheel sizes, 27.5" or 29"?

Mountain bike wheels have to be strong, light, stiff and have wide enough rims to accommodate high volume tyres. Although top cross country racers will use carbon rims and sometimes tubular tyres, alloy rims with clinchers are by far the most common. The disc brake rotor attaches to the hub either with six bolts or using Shimano’s Centre Lock system that uses a lock ring.

Rotor sizes vary from 160 mm-203 mm with smaller rotors used for cross country where weight is crucial and the larger sizes, which deliver more powerful stopping, in downhill disciplines. As we have already mentioned there are currently three wheel sizes commonly found on mountain bikes and which to choose is a matter of heated debate.

The original 26” size is becoming less common on new bikes but parts are still easily available. Cross country and taller riders seem to be leaning towards 29” wheels and a middle 650b (27.5”) size seems to offer a best of both worlds solution for general trail riding. There are definite pros and cons to each wheels size and you will probably get a different opinion from every rider you speak to.

The best way to decide is to test ride a few bikes with different sized wheels and see which feels best to you. Find a local bike shop that you trust, discuss the type of riding that you intend to do and they should be able to advise you on suitable options.

7) What size tyres?

The choice of widths, tread pattern and rubber compounds of mountain bike tyres can be truly bewildering. It’s worth talking to some experienced local mountain bikers or consulting with us to determine the best tyres for the type of riding and trails you’ll mostly be tackling.

8) Flat or clipless pedals?

Many novices and plenty of more experienced riders are more comfortable riding off-road with flat pedals. If the terrain gets too much, they make it easier to put your foot down or even walk the sections. Mountain biking flat pedals have aggressive pins on them which bite into the soft rubber soled shoes you will wear. Clipless pedals offer advantages too, such as improved stability and peddling efficiency, but you are clipped into the pedal...so for beginners, we advise you stick to flat pedals until you have gained experience.

9) What is a dropper posts and do you really need one?

Most mountain bikers do opt to fit a dropper seat post which, using a bar mounted lever, allows them to drop and raise their saddle in response to the demands of the trail. We are huge fans of dropper post, so please pop by and demo one, you won't be disappointed.

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