In some places, “winter” just means shorter days and the need to wear a sweater. For others however, it means snow and salt on the roads and having to park your beloved motorcycle for several months, resulting in PMS (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome). I’m here to tell you there’s a cure.
For as long as I’ve been riding motorcycles, I’ve been in search of a winter (or “off-season”) activity that stimulates the same part of my brain as my warm weather 2-wheeled love affair. And although I’m not going to try and convince you it’s the same, I would like to talk about a sport that comes damn close.
For a while, I’d been hearing tales of people essentially mountain biking on snow-covered trails but had been resisting the urge to try it, based on the sheer amount of perceived effort required. Pedaling a mountain bike up hill is tough. Pedaling a heavy fat bike up hill is even tougher and the concept of adding ice and snow to the mix just didn’t seem like my idea of a good time. Enter e-assist mountain bikes (eMTB) and eFatBikes.
If you’ve never ridden an eMTB before, your first time will be a revelation. I would describe it as “a lot more of the fun part of mountain biking with none of the annoying parts”. For me, the “annoying parts” was basically struggling to get up the 10th incline when you’re hot, sweating and out of breath. Yes – the e-assist takes care of that and basically lets you ride a mountain bike very similarly to how you’d ride a dirt bike and allows you to maintain a much quicker pace. Oh, and you can do it in the snow too!
Let’s get one common misconception out of the way: riding an e-assist MTB isn’t “easy” and can be as much, if not more exercise than riding a conventional MTB. Although there are some eMTBs that have a “throttle”, most mid/high end models are assist-only, meaning you need to pedal if you want help from the motor. Yes, the motor makes it easier to pedal and reduces the effort, but it also allows you to ride farther, longer and probably more often. And that all adds up to having a lot more fun!
The basic anatomy of an eMTB or eFatBike is essentially the same as it’s non-motorized counterpart: frame, suspension, handlebars, pedals, gears and brakes. The two additions that change the game are a battery and a small motor. The latter can be mounted in the rear wheel (known as hub-drive), or in the bottom bracket of the frame (known as mid-drive). In addition, eMTBs will often have cockpit displays that indicate the various drive assist modes (often customizable, just like on motorcycles) and other relevant riding info such as speed and distance.
So what about grip in the snow? I must admit I was skeptical here at first. As with any snow sport, snow conditions matter a great deal but I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to ride in nearly any conditions, as long as you have the right tires (and are dressed for it!). For light snow and packed snow, a knobby tire will often suffice. The grip is good enough to get up hills and around corners without the bike washing out from underneath you. What’s great with this setup is that you can often slide and drift the bike in a very similar way that you would a dirt bike (“steer with the rear”).
When the conditions get gnarly and there is ice or wet snow, studded tires help even the odds and can offer summer-like levels of traction. I didn’t believe it until I tried it but they allow the bike to corner as if it were on rails while riding on very slippery terrain.
If you’ve wrenched at all on motorcycles, then working on eMTBs is a breeze. They are simple in comparison and require very little maintenance. Changing/swapping tires, lubricating the chain and charging the battery are the most frequent items and are easily picked up. Tools are pretty standard as well (mostly hex keys) and an inexpensive bike stand makes it even easier to perform maintenance.
Finding places to ride is also easy, with great apps like Trailforks and Strava that provide difficulty ratings and often trail conditions for your local trails.
What’s not to love? Exercise, adrenaline and camaraderie -not to mention getting some of that fresh air that your mother went on about for so much of your childhood. Don’t just sit there this winter, grab your motorcycle crew, check out your local eMTB shop and when the snow starts falling, keep riding!