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How Do Electric Mountain Bikes Work? Are They Worth It?

It feels like everyone is riding around on electric bicycles these days and if you want to get in on the action, you might want to educate yourself on how to they work so you can pick up the best type of bike for you.

So how do electric mountain bikes work?

Mountain e-bikes work by providing assistance to the rider when they\’re pedaling. The level of assistance is chosen by the rider and that\’s part of what makes e-bikes so appealing…they can get people who aren\’t used to riding a regular bike out and enjoying life on two wheels!

So what do you need to know about these bikes? Let\’s find out!

What Is An Electric Mountain Bike?

An electric mountain bicycle is a bike that has a built-in motor. The motor provides assistance to the rider when they\’re pedaling. 

E-mountain bikes won\’t have a throttle, so basically if you don\’t pedal, you won\’t receive any assistance from the motor. 

[Do you have to pedal when on electric bicycles? Find out here]

What Are The Different Types Of E-Mountain Bikes?

If we just take conventional bikes for the moment, they fall into different categories for mountain bikes and they all have different features.

Downhill MTBs for example is designed to be used largely for steep descents. They have smaller wheels to get better control. 

This is very different from cross-country mountain bikes as they need to have a great amount of stability. 

The difficulty is that currently not all of these specialisms transfer to the electric bike range. It\’s difficult to achieve because in some cases the weight of the battery doesn\’t work well with the type of cycling the bike is aimed at – downhill is a good example here. 

As things stand you can get electric hardtail mountain bikes or full suspension eMTBs. Whilst some are better in certain sectors of their sport, it doesn\’t really get narrowed down further than that…yet. I\’m sure it\’s going to as time goes on and the technology develops.

Should I Get A Full Suspension Or Hardtail E-MTB?

This is going to come down to personal preference and your skill level. 

If you\’re new to mountain biking, then I would recommend that you opt for a hardtail. It teaches you how to handle the bicycle and what lines you should be taking when on a trail. 

Whereas a full-suspension is much more forgiving – which I know sounds appealing but it does limit your skill development. 

For riders who will be taking their pedal-assist bikes on the road, then a hardtail is more suitable. You can lock out the front suspension and your pedaling is reasonably efficient. 

As there are more components with a full suspension, they are more expensive so you may want to factor that into your decision. Then there is also the fact that they are heavier, for the same reason, there\’s more to them. 

However, if you want to be hitting the trails big time, then an electric full suspension could be the perfect purchase! 

Consider what type of riding you like to do and that will help you decide which suspension is best for you. 

How Does The Controller On An E-Bike Work?

A lot of electric bicycles come with a controller either on the handlebars or some come with a button on the top tube of the frame (this is becoming more common). Depending on the bike, there may be a display on the handlebars too – this will display the battery level and which power mode you\’re currently in.

These controls will allow you to choose between different levels of power – i.e, the amount of assistance you\’ll get from the motor. 

They\’re usually incredibly easy to use and just one press will change the different modes so when you\’re needing to get power in an instant, you can!

One thing to keep in mind is that the more assistance you use, the less your range will be. 

[How far can electric bikes go? Read more about it here]

Different Types Of Motors On Electric Bikes

Different manufacturers develop electric bikes with different electric motors. 

Let\’s take a look at the types of motor and the different pros and cons.

Front Hub Motor

Some electric-assist MTBs have the motor on the front wheel – think of it like front-wheel drive for your car.

This means that the front wheel is basically pulling the rest of the bicycle along. 

The upside to this is that it\’s usually pretty stable and the weight distribution is well balanced – particularly if the electric bike batteries are at the rear of the bike. 

Having said that the downside is that if you\’re going uphill or on tricky terrain, you will struggle to get traction and therefore any benefit from the front motor. 

Rear Hub Motor

Think of a rear hub motor like a rear-wheel-drive car. the motor drives the rear wheel. This feature is more popular than the front hub as it has more benefits.

Firstly, you get more traction. As you\’re sitting in the saddle, your weight is sitting on the rear wheel, this means that the rear wheel is able to hold itself in place better, essentially, it\’ll perform better on a steep hill!

You can usually get more powerful motors than a front-wheel option as the e-mountain bikes are able to take the power when it\’s delivered from the rear. 

A downside is that they do tend to be more expensive…but you do get what you pay for!

Bottom Bracket Motor

Finally, we have my favourite! The mid-drive or bottom bracket motors. The motor on these e-bikes is located in the middle of the bike, attached to the bottom bracket, where your pedals are.

The reason I like these electric motors is that they perform really well on challenging terrain – making them perfect for MTBs. 

They are tucked away on the frame so you get a decent amount of ground clearance – something you do have to consider when on a mountain bike. 

As the power is coming from the same area as where you pedal, you get a great distribution of power and they\’re incredibly responsive. 

There may not be my number one choice for every time of bike but they\’re my number one choice for a mountain e-bike. 

The downside to this type of motor is that they do tend to be quite expensive but for good reason. 

Which Electric Bike Motor Is Best For An E-MTB?

When electric mountain bikes first became a thing, hub motors were fitted onto the rear wheel. This isn\’t the best way to do things, especially not for a mountain bike as they can quickly overheat when you\’re climbing.

They work ok for electric road bikes because the climbs aren\’t as steep but even for a road bike, I\’d try to avoid them. 

You will see hub motors being used in the lower end of the electric bike market. 

Bottom brack or mid-motor designed bikes work particularly well for mountain bikes. 

Final Thoughts 

There we have it. Your guide to what a mountain e-bike is. 

I\’m a huge fan of e-bikes generally and I firmly believe they have their place. I know some people believe that they are cheating…but you might be surprised to learn that they aren\’t!

If you\’re looking to get yourself a mountain bike with some power, then I would start by looking at those that have a bottom bracket motor, for a mountain bike, they offer the best performance. 

Last Updated on October 5, 2022 by Evan

Evan Medders

Evan Medders

I'm Evan an avid cyclist and bike consultant. Besides my biking, I enjoy being a dad to two, a husband to one. Cycling is a fun and sustainable means of transportation, something not only our planet but also your body craves. We need to stay in physical shape, and keep our Earth in a good condition so we face fewer natural disasters. Biking is our way to see we do our part :)

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