Go and read the comment section of any website and you'll probably find that a lot of them are a bit like herpes: Usually well-mannered and, despite a nasty reputation, things don't flare up too often. Mention e-bikes on a cycling website, however, and the angst will boil out of control until it explodes. As for me, I'm no fan of electric bikes, but I also couldn't care less how you spend your time; you go do you, even if that requires a motor.
There ain't no upside to herpes, but there certainly could be an upside to electric bikes despite a lot of us acting like they're some sort of existential threat to mountain biking. Go ahead and come down off your high horse because they're not, but they are breeding the type of components that many riders want for their acoustic bikes.
No, I'm not trying to force an e-bike vaccination onto you here, but just give me a few minutes to make my case...
Rocky Mountain's Altitude Powerplay 70 features e-bike-specific parts like Fox's beefed up 36 and SRAM's EX1 drivetrain bits. Those electric-centric components might make sense on many mountain bikes, too.
When you're motor-doping, you have an extra 250-ish watts at your disposal that, depending on how you feel about weights and intervals, is roughly double the power that a lot of riders can hold for an hour straight. Those extra ponies mean that the nuances of gearing selection are a bit less important than when it's solely down to your muscles, and also that some drivetrain parts probably need to be beefed up. Enter SRAM's e-bike-focused EX1 XG-899 cassette that has an 11 to 48-tooth spread (436-percent range) over just eight cogs.
If you're one of those people who have fond memories of fewer gears and more robust parts, the all-steel EX1 cassette might be the ticket.
Not only does the EX1 stack fit onto a normal, non-XD freehub body, it also sports 10-speed cog spacing that could be less finicky for some. Compared to a skinnier 12-speed chain, the EX1 version is said to be more robust and better suited to the straighter chain line that comes with using the EX1 block. Downsides?
The EX1 cassette isn't inexpensive or lightweight, and the 30-ish-percent gaps between each cog are far too strange feeling for my legs. That said, it might make a lot of sense for a rider who's more focused on sessioning jumps and drinking wobbly pops than someone who likes to cover a lot of ground during a ride and thinks about silly things like how much their bike weighs.
There's an EX1 shifter, too, that's really just a 10-speed changer with modified internals to make it a more straightforward single-click unit. Combine those bits with a sturdy crankset and derailleur and you could have a stout, wide-range drivetrain that requires less tinkering than the latest 20-something-speed cassette. It should also reduce the chance of your drivetrain self-destructing from you doing nothing besides looking at it wrong, which is something I often read about in the comment sections but have yet to see in person.
If longer lasting, less finicky wide-range drivetrains make sense, e-bike-specifc brakes are surely a no-brainer.
Gwin's TRP brakes were originally designed for use on e-bikes, not World Cup-winning downhill sleds.
You know who agrees with me? A guy named Aaron Gwin, who has a well-deserved rep for being a genius on the binders, and who has also been using a set of TRP's e-bike brakes on his World Cup-winning YT Tues. TRP had originally delivered a set of their G-Spec E-MTB brakes to Gwin's teammate, Neko Mulally, who went and won the US National Championship with them on his bike. Gwin got on a set shortly after that, and both guys have been using them ever since.
Yup, Aaron and Neko have been using e-bike brakes.
What's different between the E-MTB brake and TRP's normal stoppers? About 0.5mm in rotor thickness. Most standard rotors come in at 1.8mm, but TRP's E-MTB rotor measures 2.3mm thick. That extra material makes a difference in heat management, TRP says, with more steel meaning that more heat can be absorbed before it starts affecting the rest of the system at the extreme end of their intended use. They even have numbers: 8-percent lower temps and a 47-percent improvement in ''resistance to deformation under braking.''
It should also mean that the rotor is less likely to bend when it makes that inevitable contact with rocks and roots.
You can't just go and use a thicker rotor, though, as the caliper opening must also be a touch wider, which it is on TRP's G-Spec E-MTB stopper. The pistons are the same and will always self-correct to however thick the disc is, of course. If you're chunkier than the average rider, spend all day and every day in the bike park, or just need more consistent braking, this setup could be ideal. Don't be surprised to see an off-the-shelf version intended for acoustic bikes down the road.
E-bike components are usually (always?) heavier than parts intended for non-motorized use, but it's clear that a lot of riders don't give a shit about the increase in grams just as long as there's a corresponding increase in reliability. It's probably a safe bet to say that this applies to the all-too-common creaky fork crown and steerer tube assemblies more than anywhere else on our bikes. Pinkbike member @BCDragon
called me out in the comment section for not taking fork manufacturers to task for this seemingly unfixable issue that most of us have had to deal with at some point, and you know what? The guy is 100-percent correct.
It's simply unacceptable that creaky CSUs are so common, be it on a $300 fork or a $1,000 fork, and while the engineering challenges of dealing with the leverage that a fork puts on its CSU has been explained to me, I don't care. This issue should have disappeared with square taper bottom brackets and cantilever brakes, but it hasn't. Instead, it's stuck around like herpes. Using an e-bike specific fork shouldn't be the answer, of course, but it could be the best solution you have right now.
E-bikes weigh more and have the potential to be ridden faster thanks to the surplus 250-ish watts, so some suspension companies offer forks with beefed up crowns, steerer tubes, and stanchions that should do a better job of brushing off your hucking. The real solution is a one-piece crown and steerer tube that would eliminate the chance of groaning between what would usually be a press-fit joint.
You know, much like what X-Fusion and Öhlins use. It's more expensive to manufacture, no doubt, and the stanchion and crown interface can still creak, but it's certainly the right way to do things. But in lieu of suspension companies doing that, an e-bike slider, with its burlier chassis, might be the solution for those who are sick and tired of their creaky $1,000 fork.
Our electric cousins might also have the answer for those who struggle to keep their wheels somewhat round and knobs on their expensive and practically disposable tires. DT Swiss, among others, offers a high-quality wheelset with thicker gauge spokes, thicker rim walls, and a steel freehub body, three things that make a lot of sense when you're hard on your hoops or if you have double the watts at your fingertips.
There are a host of electric-centric components that make sense on a mountain bike, including wheels, tires, drivetrain parts, and brakes. What else can you think of?
It's a bit less obvious when we get to tires, though, as who would actually want the firmer, and therefore less grippy rubber compound that some e-bike-specific tires are made of? Oh, I don't know, maybe everyone who's sick and tired of burning up $100 or more every time they're faced with some pointy rocks. You can get longer lasting compounds on normal tires, for sure, but they're often combined with a casing that was intended for anything but pointy rocks. But e-bike rubber is designed and tested for the increased weight and speed of a motorized "mountain bike,'' which could also make them great for people who ride like they're leaving a car meet in a 5.0L Mustang. Like to skid? Me too, which is why I don't want - or need - rubber that has more in common with an eraser than a mountain bike tire.
I get it, there are (always) land access concerns and also that, somewhere deep down inside you might feel like our little two-wheeled tribe is being threatened. It's not, though; things will roll on and we'll figure it out together - if anything needs to be figured out at all - but in the meantime, it might make sense for some of us to take a closer look at our motorized cousins.
Herpes isn't going anywhere and neither are e-bikes or the angst-filled comments against them. But unlike herpes, there could be an upside to having e-bikes around.