Rebecca Morley takes a look at the mountain bike sector, the benefits of riding electric, and what’s behind the rise in popularity
This piece first appeared in the August edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
Cycling of any discipline and its benefits are well known across the cycling and micromobility industries, particularly as we move towards more sustainable forms of transport and a healthier form of living. And one area that seems to be growing in the UK is mountain biking.
According to figures from the Bicycle Association (BA) in January 2023, total UK mechanical bike volumes fell 22% to an estimated 1.88 million units in 2022, 27% below pre-Covid levels in 2019, but gravel bikes were a rare stand-out performer, with volumes up 8% in 2022 versus 2021. And even though e-bikes have reportedly been more stable, overall volumes have plateaued since 2020.
This is in contrast to much of the rest of Europe, where, according to 2022 sales statistics reported by national European industry organisations, e-bike sales volumes increased by double digits last year, replacing demand for mechanical bicycles. Market research firm Mintel does however predict a return to faster growth in the market from 2024 onwards.
“E-bike growth in Europe continues unabated,” Andrew Lally, digital marketing manager at Cycle Revolution told BikeBiz. “This is a direct result of two very important factors that the UK seems to have difficulty in addressing: infrastructure and culture.
“If you compound this with seemingly endless waves of political uncertainty and the recent cost of living crisis it’s not really much of a surprise that although Europe’s figures are in double digits we’re struggling to keep up.”
But one area of cycling that seems to be growing in the UK is MTBs and e-MTBs, the latter presenting an opportunity of opening up the sport to a wider demographic of riders. To quote mountain bike commentator Rob Warner: “Electric mountain bikes represent the most significant thing to happen to mountain biking since mountain biking”.
Speaking to BikeBiz, Adam Browne, director of Advanced Bikes UK, said: “Mountain and e-mountain are bucking the trend and experiencing substantial growth (along with the whole e-bike sector), in fact 8% from May to June 2023 according to the Bicycle Association statistics. This trend is looking like it will continue into autumn/winter.”
On the factors contributing to this, Browne said: “The fact that there are so many great riding parks in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland have seen the sport go from a fringe sport into a fully respected and revered sport. This will be amplified by the UCI World Championships in Scotland in August.
“In fact we at Advanced Bikes have our German UCI team coming to race. We can’t wait to be there cheering them on.”
As far as a global sport, mountain and e-mountain biking is a ‘sweetheart sport’, continued Browne. “Massive in the USA with the origins of the sport in Marin County California, very strong in Australia and New Zealand and has been a strong sport in Europe for a few decades now.
“The UK has a powerful history in cycle sport and there is no difference in this sector, only growth and a healthy competition between the brands that compete in the exciting sport.”
A recent study, from January 2023, undertaken by Edinburgh Napier University found that e-MTB riders are riding ‘further, faster and more frequently’ throughout the year compared to other cyclists, with mental health cited as the biggest benefit of riding e-MTBs.
The demographics of e-MTB riders in Britain showed that 96% of people riding e-MTBs are white, 15% are disabled and primarily ranged from 45-74 years old, with the majority of riders being male. The study did however show that there is a greater proportion of older e-MTB riders, particularly aged 45-74 years, when compared to general MTB data.
Most riders (83%) were likely to avoid trails in fragile areas and the majority of riders, particularly women, were looking for social rides with the preferred location being trail centres.
Commenting on the study, Forestry England’s national cycle infrastructure manager, Dan Cook, said it’s “clear that the ever-increasing proportion of e-MTBers will be a crucial part of the future growth of mountain biking.”
“Cycling participation in e-MTB has skyrocketed in recent years and is becoming increasingly accessible to the wider population,” said British Cycling’s official and off-road leadership lead, Ben Creed.
Creed continued: “The volume of e-bikes and e-MTBs is already significant and growing fast. We know that they support many riders to be more active, as well as being a lifeline for those who might not otherwise be able to ride.”
Lally said: “One interesting finding from the research is that e-MTB riders tend to cover greater distances and achieve higher speeds throughout the year compared to other cyclists. This suggests that e-MTBs can enhance the overall cycling experience, with many individuals participating to benefit their mental health or simply have fun.”
“Bike riding isn’t just about transportation, or getting from point A to point B,” said Lally. “It’s about connecting with the world around you and your community in a way that feels right.
“E-bikes are breaking down barriers and making cycling accessible to all, regardless of fitness level, gender, disability, or age. When people get out of their cars and onto bikes: It’s good for the environment, good for our mental health and it helps us feel like we have more control over our lives. E-MTBs offer everyone, regardless of ability to go out and seek adventure. Enriching their lives with a wealth of experiences.”