Written by Claudia Wasko
It was a crisp, sun-filled spring day on May 25, 2018, with skiers and snowboarders gathering at the main chairlift of Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Snow glistened from the mountaintops as skiers crammed in their final runs of the season.
It was much like any other Bike Park Opening Day at Mammoth over the years, except for one monumental change: Class 1 pedal-assist mountain bikes would be free to roam the bike park trails for the very first time.
This could be the watershed moment the U.S. bicycle industry, one that ski resort industry leaders have been waiting for, and not a moment too soon given the tough economic conditions facing both. Mammoth’s eMTB “experiment” should have all of us in the bicycle industry paying attention, and more importantly, rooting for its success for several reasons:
eMTBs make alpine mountain trails accessible to a much wider audience.
Most lift-served bike parks cater to downhill mountain biking, one of the more extreme cycling categories out there, which not surprisingly caters mainly to a young 20-something male demographic. That’s much different than the typical demographic one sees at these same resorts during winter holidays – multi-generational families skiing together, all riding the same chair lift, but taking different routes down depending on skill and need for speed. eMTBs equalize access to the great outdoors for people of all fitness and skill levels, just as the chair lift does for skiers. A well-known Swiss MTB-Tourism professional recently said, “to me, eMountainbiking is the biggest opportunity, of my lifetime, for alpine tourism.”
The Mammoth Experiment will stimulate eMTB sales well beyond California.
Anecdotal evidence from the many eBike demo events I’ve attended over the years indicates that out of four people that demo, one will make a purchase within the next year. It’s also quite common to hear from eBike-curious shoppers at these events that the main reason they’re shopping is because they rode an eBike “on a sight-seeing trip in Europe” – not surprising since eBikes are nearly universal at the famous ski resorts like Portes Du Soleil in France, the Graubünden MTB region in Switzerland, and mountain-bike mecca Finale Ligure in Italy.
eMTBs at Mammoth are now available to rent from the resort itself and many surrounding bicycle retailers. Since Mammoth tourists span from all corners of the country, one four-hour rental in Mammoth could translate into an eBike sale in Birmingham, Alabama. How’s that for a butterfly effect?
The Mammoth Experiment may lead to equal rights between Class 1 eMTBs and regular bicycles.
While these “equal rights” have been the status quo in Europe for several years, the U.S. has been slower to embrace the specific category of eBike known at Class 1. One main reason is awareness – the whole concept of eBike “classes” is still relatively new and unknown to most outside the industry. Its foundation was actually first laid four years ago by the BPSA and PeopleforBikes, who created a framework for low-speed electric bicycles by dividing them into three classes. Back then, many people asked, “Why separate Class 1 and Class 2?” With wise foresight, they realized that on natural surface single-track mountain bike trails, the soil and social impacts of Class 1 eMTBs are much closer to bicycles than are Class 2 throttle-type eBikes. (See the Appendix of IMBA study on this topic).
Because this experiment has the potential to stimulate the bicycle industry, and bring health and recreation benefits to end-consumers, it’s critical we ensure it goes well. Ultimately, education of eMTB end-users will be key to its success or failure. Collectively as an industry, we need to ensure bicycle retailers, the front-line to these end-users, teach proper trail etiquette to both new and veteran riders to ride and share the trails responsibly with hikers, bikers and equestrians. We also need to teach riders to stay on trails designated for eMTB use. See Peopleforbikes.org eMTB Adventure Guides and Mapping Tool for an easy, digital-friendly way to do this. This responsibility is not only relevant for Mammoth retailers, but all dealers, manufacturers and suppliers involved in this wider and equally promising American eMTB experiment.
For more information about Bosch eBike Systems, please click here.