Every bike nerd has had that daydream, that conversation: What would your perfect garage have in it? How many bikes? Which disciplines? How would you build each one? It's a nice way to pass a little time, working each bike out, especially the ones that, when you're honest, you couldn't justify owning if you were being sensible. The old cliché for the perfect number of bikes is N+1, there is always another bike it would be nice to add. But what if the tables were turned the other way? Rather than an unexpected bonus or a lottery win, it's a tax bill or a lawsuit? What if you needed to sell them all, move quickly, streamline your life? If you had to cut them all but one, if N=1, which one would you keep?
I've been there. For a few years, my entire life had to fit into the boot of my car. I was bouncing around Europe, doing some guiding, some journalism and as much riding as I could. I had my base in Molini di Triora, but it was no good for the winter, the valley would be too cold, too miserable through the long, dark winter months. Once the season wrapped up it was time once more to pack, force it all into my poor, little Alfa Romeo and head on to the next stop. That last winter I relocated seven times, I think, sometimes just moving hut within the campsite I stayed at, other times it was more drastic. Either way, there was no room for more things, my life, my work and my bicycles had to fit into that car. Anything that wouldn't fit was for the chop.
These days I'm more settled, comfortable, even, and, in case you wondered, my bike collection currently stands at six right now but a mate was talking about trials bikes the other week, and I've always fancied having a go at track cycling... But life is fragile, things fall apart. Just because the going is good today, tomorrow is not promised.
It's this I tend to dwell on more than the big windfall. Maybe it's because I still don't quite believe that I'm making a living taking pictures of and writing about bikes, or maybe, as some helpful Instagram commenter remarked recently, "you really are a negative c*nt." Either way, what if, for whatever reason you had to sell up, pack up, shift your whole life tomorrow and there is only room for one bicycle? Which one would it be?
With the long climbs around where I live there is plenty of time to consider such matters as you winch yourself to the top, and recently I had a moment of clarity, although I suspect it's one that many of you will not like too much. If I had to get rid of all my bikes tomorrow and could only keep one, it would be my eMTB. Now before you start sharpening the pitchforks, it's not for the reason you think it is...
Before we go any further, and I'm sure there will be some sighs of relief when I say this, but I don't think my eMTB is better than my mountain bikes. For pure fun, I would keep my current Scott Spark – it's probably the best mountain bike I have ever owned. But, the question is not "which mountain bike would you keep?" There's an elephant in the room when we talk about mountain bikes. One that starts to echo with hypocrisy when we start talking about environmental concerns. There's an argument that a European-made alloy bike may be slightly more dolphin-friendly than my Taiwanese-made carbon bike(s), but it's marginal at best. The one thing that is left out of this discussion is that you don't actually need a mountain bike. Not in the living from day-to-day sense. Yes, I too would say that I need to ride, it keeps me sane, keeps me happy. Certainly, I have never been more miserable in this life than when I lived in Central London and couldn't ride my bike. But when we get down to nut-cutting time, a mountain bike is still a toy. And a toy, by definition, is not an essential item. Quite simply, if you're not using it to commute, nip to the shops or whatever, then you don't need it.
This is where my eMTB is different. The problem is that I'm lazy. When I was in my early 20s I didn't have a driving license. Living in a big city I just didn't think I needed one all that much. To get to work every day I would either take the bus or menace the local traffic on my 4X bike. And menace is the right word. On the road a 4X bike with a big gear will out accelerate almost everything off the lights, it will out-turn, out-brake and out-manoeuvre pretty much anything else on the road. Throw in a 23-year-old me, full of piss and vinegar and yeah, I was probably not a great commuter to have on the road with you. Then I got a girlfriend. She made it clear to me that she would not continue dating a man who did not have a car. This seemed reasonable, so I booked some lessons and got my driving test done. I promised myself that nothing would change once I got my car, I would keep riding to work every day. That, of course, was horseshit. Who wants to suffer their arse off in the cold each day when you could be nicely sat down in the warm with some good music in the speakers? The simple fact is that the car was so much easier to use for commuting that my bicycle became neglected as anything more than a toy. This is a roundabout way of saying that I'm just not the righteous guy in a hemp shirt who is going to crank his cargo bike up the mountain each morning to buy milk.
From where I live now it is about 3km into town, with some 20% ramps thrown in on the way home that quite frankly suck, even without a 10kg backpack. My eMTB is the first thing I have found that is less hassle than a car to nip to the shops. Ok, on the flat road bits a car is faster and the eMTB lags behind, but once you remove the constant bunfight that is parking, it's at least as quick, if not faster. You get a little, gentle exercise and have more fun. In fact, I have now worked out a loop where I climb the mountain opposite, which only takes about 20 minutes on the eMTB, and sneak in a lap of the DH track on the way to the weekly market
. A 30l backpack is plenty to carry the fruit and vegetables for a week, then stick it in turbo mode and cruise home. If I need pine cones for kindling, I grab the same backpack and head up the mountain. If I have a meeting in the next valley I grab a second battery and plan a route. Adding in that extra bit of fun to the practical stuff means that all of last year I did around 90% of my local mileage on the eMTB, while my car lay idle, which was a first for me. Maybe you're now asking why not get a moto in that case? Aside from the hassle of buying and storing fuel, servicing and parking, if you only have space for a single bike, then there certainly wouldn't be space for a moto. On top of that, a moto doesn't scratch the itch for me when I need to unwind. It is too different from a mountain bike to cut it for me. Too noisy, not a precise enough a tool on the trail, not to mention the fact that they are banned by law from my local trails. An eMTB, however, is close enough...
This is why I would keep my eMTB before my mountain bikes. It is practical, it gets my car off the road, which saves me money and one less car on the road makes the world a slightly better place in so many ways. When we get back to the environmental math, if you use your eMTB as your day-to-day runaround, I'd bet the sums start to look rather different. On top of all that, when I get to the trailhead, I can have about as much fun as I would on my other bikes, making it the one machine that I can use for the practical things, but also for the fun ones too. So yeah, my N=1 is my eMTB, what would yours be?