Comment: How long until we're all on e-MTBs?

Pondering the pace of change and how the industry reacts when it's time to firm up legislation for speedier tech
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It might have snuck under the radar for those not keeping a trained eye on the electric bike market, but some bold claims have been tossed about lately in relation to a motor’s place on bicycles. 

Electric market bods have been guilty of speaking perhaps prematurely about the impact of the UK market in days gone by, so it’s with some curiosity I read about the European head of Focus Bikes suggesting that non-electric mountain bikes will almost cease to exist inside a decade.

Take that in. Purists, laugh or be outraged, I’m still with you, I don’t think it’ll be such a short timescale – in the UK at least. (Although it has to be said, since originally writing this column for October's magazine just one month ago. My opinion is now more on the fence than it was, such is the pace of change in both the tech and bike industry. Afterall, 20 years ago who could have pictured we'd fit a computer, sound system, phone, camera and much more all inside one device in our pockets. 2016 e-bikes already look like different animals compared to those launched even two years ago.)

As pointed out by Carlton Reid last month, the average UK bike sale price alone will put a stop to commonplace luxury e-bike purchases for a while yet, despite promising signs in specialist stables.

Long-term, anything can happen and electrical tech will continue to develop and reduce in price, as has been shown elsewhere.

Price aside, legislation for motorised bikes on the trail is an obvious barrier. It is gradually becoming harder to tell which bikes carry assistance, but there are a few motorbike-esque machines around. It’s easy to foresee land owners being very hot on blocking access to these and rashly. Where will that leave the traditional MTB? Could we end up with a situation where licenses to ride off-road are being called for – just like many do for the tarmac go-er. That’s ridiculous, of course, but I can’t imagine this topic escaping mainstream media sensationalists for long. We as an industry need to carefully think about a response when the time comes.

Specialist in the territory Paul Stanforth of EBC recently told me e-MTB growth has seen greater than expected for his firm. Indeed, the electric specialist grew its turnover some 70 per cent over the prior year in 2014.

Furthermore, the ubiquity of the e-MTB at Eurobike and indeed the numbers on the dedicated test track confirm to me that there’s legs in the market, even in territories with a resistance to spending proper money. It be quite a costly error of judgement by the industry if that's proven wrong. 

Will we see a day where motors outstrip willing legs? The cynic in me says it’s inevitable given our gadget addiction and fondness for effort-free fun. The mountain biker in me is wary of change and unsure about selling the soul of it all, even if it does encourage more off the sofa and onto the trails. 

From a business perspective, this could be one game changing trend with its high-ticket tags that can’t come soon enough, especially for the off-road specialist. Contrarily, those who have been pushing themselves up the UK’s often sloppy, gravelly hills for decades, myself included, will hope this one takes a little longer to come to fruition.

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