US industry veteran David Turner believes electric mountain bikes have the potential to smother and kill sales of pedal-power-only MTBs.
At the recent Impact Media Summit held in Idaho, he said that the high-end mountain bike industry would be finished within eight years.
"It will be exterminated by the electric mountain bike because there’s no logical reason why somebody’s gonna walk into a [local bike] retailer and say ‘you know, I have five thousand quid six and I’m gonna buy a nice new [non-electric mountain] bike,’" he said.
"You’re gonna look at [what’s available and you’re gonna go ‘I’m an idiot if I don’t buy the one at the same price but with a motor [on it].’"
He founded his eponymously named MTB marque in 1991, and is acknowledged as one of mountain biking’s suspension experts. In his time as a racer in the 1980s Turner helped designers at Rock Shox, Mongoose and AMP Research race-test and fine-tune early advancements in suspension design. He also later worked with suspension guru Horst Leitner to create lightweight suspension bicycle frames and forks.
Turner was at the Impact Media Summit to get journalists on his company’s latest line of gravel bikes. The Summit, organised by the Cranktank agency, also let loose journalists on Specialized and BMC e-MTBs.
"I don’t think that [e-MTBs are] gonna be used for the wonderful reasons that keep getting bandied about which is [for] the ageing or the disabled or the neophyte," said Turner.
"I see them as motorised fat-tyred vehicles, not unlike motorcycles.
"I’ve ridden them – you go considerably faster, not a little bit faster. We’re not gonna say ‘oh, well twenty watts [more] is really all I need.’ That would be like saying, ‘well, you know can I still get an iPhone 4,’ or ‘I don’t need the car that talks to me.’
"We First Worlders always want more, and I don’t think that the e-bike is going to be any different.
"So, it’s gonna be like [demands for] 60 watts, 70 watts more and then hack it. I’m an American and here we chip-shit [everything]. We buy brand-new $40,000 cars and $80,000 trucks and we [hack them to] make them go even faster.
"The electric powered bicycle [has] power that far exceeds the rider’s output, far exceeds the output of [even pro-MTBer] Nino Schurter.
"[The power] is substantially greater and the potential [is] for more. For example, a friend of mine works for Bosch and [at] a high-profile race here in America [he saw that riders] were pulling out their phones and readjusting [their bike’s power]. I don’t know how they do that but he said that he checked [the GPS logs and found that] they were going 28-miles-an-hour uphill."
Given Turner’s views, it’s probable that Turner Suspension Bicycles won’t be launching an e-MTB any time soon.
"As long as I’m physically able I will continue to pedal," confirmed Turner.
"But I think that e-bikes are great for people that are not physically able – I’m talking about physical disabilities, not obesity, not lethargy.
"Most of us we started riding slow and painfully and we worked our way up, a little bit, a little bit stronger [day by day].
"When you add a motor [this stage is no longer needed]. If you don’t want to [ride] you can put [your e-MTB] in ‘turbo’ [mode] and soft-pedal it uphill faster than any human can pedal."
This will kill off sales of human-powered-only MTBs, stated Turner.
"I believe that in a few years – maybe five, maybe eight – that the high-end mountain bike industry will be done. It will be exterminated by the electric mountain bike because there’s no logical reason why somebody’s gonna walk into a [local bike] retailer and say ‘you know, I have five thousand quid and I’m gonna buy a nice new [non-electric mountain] bike.’
"You’re gonna look at [what’s available] and you’re gonna go ‘I’m an idiot if I don’t buy the one at the same price but with a motor [on it].’
"Human nature [dictates that if I have the choice between a bike with] a motor, and one that doesn’t, but they cost the same, why would I get the one [without the motor]?
"Say I’m a thirty-five-year-old. Like I could lose a few pounds but it’s dumb to pay that much and not get the most [bang for the buck.] So I’ll take the motor. Then you test ride it – of course, the motor [feels] nice.
Turner worries that the spread of e-MTB riding could harm access to the great outdoors for all riders.
"Here in the US we have a war between [those] who want no [recreation in the outdoors], those who want to put a chain across roads and plant trees [on] the trails, and at the other extreme, the motorised [lot]. We have this war going on, with [pedal-powered] mountain bikes in the middle. All too often we’re getting shut out. It’s urban mountain biking areas that are the ones where there’s the greatest potential for conflict, but also the highest number of e-MTBs. I don’t see that being a long-term happy-place."
Turner’s view that electrification will snuff out pedal power is one shared by some in the e-bike world. Battery-powered-cycling evangelist Hannes Neupert runs ExtraEnergy, a German-based non-profit consultancy that has been promoting battery-powered cycling since 1992.
In 2010 he told a Light Electric Vehicle conference that traditional bicycles would go the way of the dodo: “Electrification will kill the mechanical bicycle within a few years like it has killed many other mechanical products. Bicycles … will remain as historical items hanging on the wall.”
Neupert described the pedal-powered bicycle as likely to become a “fossilised cult object” similar to the washing mangle, the mechanical typewriter and the mechanical camera.
He has since softened this view, admitting that “analogue” products also have a future, but remains convinced that the majority of consumers would rather be battery-boosted up hills rather than tax their muscles alone.
“Any analysis of development trends over the last 100 years shows a strong and unmistakable trend towards electrification,” he said.