The View – on E-mountain Bikes in Queensland
The European standard EN15194 for ‘pedelec’ (pedal-assisted) electric bikes was introduced into Australia in 2013. This standard provided a 20% boost in power from the existing standard and gave Australia access to a much wider range of electric bike designs and models from European manufacturers. The adoption of the legislation across the various states in Australia, and subsequent regulation introduced in some states, has made it a bit confusing for riders.
The law in Queensland – what’s in, what’s out
We are lucky in Queensland: - Firstly because we have awesome weather which allows us to ride our trails all year round - Secondly, because we adopted EN15194 when it was first introduced into Australia so there is a broader understanding of the ebikes themselves and how they work, and - Thirdly, riding En15194-compliant electric mountain bikes on public mountain bike trails and singletrack is perfectly ok, unlike some states which have banned them.
So, what is ‘En15194-compliant’?
These are ebikes fitted with an electric motor that provides up to 250W assistance in addition to the riders own pedal power, and provides assistance up to 25 km/ hr. For weaker riders it means you ride at quite a good speed; for strong riders who are used to those speeds you accelerate much faster when you start and you can travel much faster up hills. What many people don’t realise though is that you need to pedal for the motor to work, hence ‘assisted pedalling’. The general rider will push out 150– 250W of power themselves so, if you want to know what it feels like to ride with the power of Cadel Evans who will produce 400-500W, ride an electric bike up a hill in the highest power setting! Not to be forgotten on the legal front though is that the earlier category of electric bikes, before EN15194 came in, still exists.
This legally allows bicycles with electric motors of up to 200W power. What’s different about this standard is that these bikes can be fitted with throttles and are not restricted in speed on public roads. Bikes complying to this older standard are generally a lot cheaper and obviously aren’t as powerful. While they still have a place as an alternative form of transport, especially from a mobility perspective, they are not suitably equipped or built for mountain biking.
What is not legal?
What is not legal quite often gets misinterpreted. Basically, if your electric bike is not legal (see below), by law you should ride on private land, not ‘offroad’ as is often the interpretation.
Your ebike must be ridden on private land if it has: > a motor greater than 250W – so a lot of homemade ebikes with eg. 1,000W motors should not be riding on publicly accessible mountain bike trails; > a 250W motor that is not delimited to 25 km/hr – yes, there are ways around this limitation; > a motor greater than 200W that is being operated with a throttle.
Now all this sounds a bit overcomplicated and we agree. For how much longer the 200W category standard will remain is hard to tell but what we do know is that the compliant purpose-built electric mountain bikes that are being manufactured in Europe are simply superb.
Take the brand Haibike, for example. It’s e-mountain bikes are designed specifically to cope with fast, technical downhills and to climb well. Turn off the power and you still have an excellent, albeit heavier, mountain bike. Turn on the power and you will have some of the most fun, exhilarating mountain biking riding ever! All the components are purpose built for singletrack mountain bike riding.
They are equipped with excellent shocks, brakes etc and there has been a huge investment made into the design and engineering of the frames and electrics. This means that the bikes ride and perform like a mountain bike should and can endure the wear and tear of faster speeds. What’s more, choosing drive systems partners such as world-leader Bosch delivers superb pedalassist performance that enhances your riding, not overrides it.
If you are a good rider already, be prepared to be challenged. Riding fast up technical singletrack requires skill! If you are an ok rider then be prepared to have a ball. The extra power levels the playing field more, for climbs in particular.
Like all new emerging technologies there those who are for and those who are against. In Queensland, while we have a small and rapidly growing community of e-mountain bikers, there are still some doubters. Nick and I have been involved in the sport of mountain biking for a long time; long enough to witness the resistance when suspension was first being introduced.
Funnily enough it is largely the same arguments against ebikes as there was against suspension!
Key concerns tend to be about excessive trail damage and rider behaviour. When we delve into what is driving this point of view though it is primarily because that person still relates an electric bike to the old standard where throttles are used, or they have had a poor experience with a rider on a bike with an oversized motor.
In these instances we totally agree! But these are not pedelecs.
We have, and continue to, put a lot of effort to providing people – including legislators – an opportunity to try an e-mountain bike on trail. The resounding conclusion each time is that they are fantastic fun and a great bicycling experience.
Concerns about trail damage fade away as there is a clearer understanding of what a pedelec is. After all, if we banned electric mountain bikes for concerns about trail damage then should we also ban Cadel Evans from mountain biking again?