When Mammoth Bike Park opens for its 2018 season on May 25, it will become the first major park on U.S. Forest Service land where riders can saddle up on electric mountain bikes.
Mammoth, which leases its 3,500 acres from the USFS and is one of the largest mountain bike parks in the country, will allow e-MTBs on its 80 miles of singletrack and 3,100 feet of vertical descent. Specifically, Class 1 e-bikes—those without throttles and with motors that max out at 20 miles per hour while the rider is pedaling—can ride on all trails within park boundaries. They won’t be allowed on any neighboring USFS land. Park access points will be clearly marked with signage, according to a statement issued by Mammoth officials.
The move marks another first for Mammoth, which has been a pioneer in the mountain biking community since opening in 1987. It was the first mountain bike park with lift access to its trails, helping fuel the downhill riding craze.
“First and foremost, it’s about accessibility,” says Joani Lynch, a spokesperson for Mammoth Bike Park. “Many of the trails require a fair amount of pedaling to get to some cool destinations. And we think that with the use of e-bikes, our guests will be able to able to travel to those places in a much more comfortable fashion.”
But some in the modern-day MTB community see this latest development as potential fuel for the ongoing debate between e-bikes and their human-powered predecessors.
“We do have some concern any time e-bikes are lumped in with 100 percent human-powered bikes,” says John Fisch, a board member of mountain biking advocacy nonprofit Sustainable Trails Coalition. “We see them as two separate entities, one of which—strictly human powered—is in concert with wilderness ideals, while the other—artificial power—is not.”
In other words: “There’s no way for this not to sound pejorative, but what we’re concerned about is lazy city people will go buzzing into the backcountry without any respect for it,” Fisch continues. “Then we’ll get the wilderness advocates saying, ‘See, this is what bike people are all about,’ and that would be, in our view, misleading.”
Indeed, debates over access are heating up as e-bike usage continues to increase. But the current situation at Mammoth is unique for several reasons. First of all, the park is zoned predominately for downhill mountain bike use—hikers, trail runners, and equestrians are not permitted on mountain bike trails, eliminating potential conflicts between the different groups. Second, most trails are one-way downhill, meaning that head-on crashes between all riders, whether e-MTB or traditional, are less likely. Finally, park officials don’t anticipate e-MTB riders seeking out the park’s most difficult terrain.
“Our expert terrain is technical downhill trails that people with eight inches of suspension and a full-face helmet and full body armor are riding,” Lynch says. “I don’t see, at this stage of the game, consumers who will come and rent an e-bike and start attacking those trails.”
E-bikes aren’t entirely new at Mammoth. For the past two years, the park has included an e-bike category called the Electric Boogaloo (which was allowed under a special use permit by the USFS) during its annual Kamikaze Bike Games. That served as a sort of trial run for the current permit, which took about a year to obtain, according to Lynch. (The USFS did not respond to Outside’s request for comment before publication.) Trek is also on board: A fleet of 70 of its e-MTBs will be available for rental at Mammoth early in the season.
So far, Lynch says, park officials haven’t heard much criticism from MTB purists about sharing the trails with their motorized versions. But the local MTB community is keeping a close eye on how things unfold.
“If the trails are being trashed and people are getting out of control and lot of damage is being done, then, yeah, you have to deal with that,” Alan Jacoby, owner of the Maven Bike Shop in Mammoth Lakes, told Outside. “But I agree with them trying something. And a lot people are going to hate me for saying that, since I’m a human-powered advocate, and everyone who knows me knows I’m a singlespeed rigid rider—that’s been my M.O. for years. But in the bigger picture, I think about myself in 20 years, and I think of my dad. If he comes up to Mammoth, he could ride an e-bike beside me while I ride my regular bike. That would be huge for me.”