E-bikes help cyclists explore steep trails throughout Sonoma County
Eric McHenry has ridden mountain bikes since he moved to Santa Rosa in 1991, and bought a house three minutes from the entrance to Trione-Annadel State Park. Two or three times a week, he gets on the saddle to face the challenge of riding one of the most beloved, and most punishing, mountain-biking destinations in Northern California.
Last September, McHenry celebrated his 60th birthday, and as he completes his fourth decade as a trail rider he will do so with a little help. To celebrate the birthday milestone, he bought himself a Trek Powerfly FS1, which comes with full suspension, a drop seat, disc brakes — and an electric motor that provides power-assist to his pedals when he needs or wants it.
“It sort of changes one’s whole perspective of riding,” he says of his new bike. “It becomes all fun.”
The e-bike also seems to be good for his health. McHenry says he’s put more than a thousand trail miles on it. “I would never have ridden my old bike that much,” he says, “and so I’m exercising more than I ever would have.”
McHenry hasn’t abandoned his non-electric gravel bike, and, according to the heart-rate monitor on his watch, he gets just as good a workout on the Powerfly. “I just end up going further and faster and climbing steeper hills on my e-bike,” he says.
McHenry’s definitely heard some of his fellow mountain bikers voice concerns about power-assist bikes in parks — in Trione-Annadel they are still classified as motorized vehicles and are only allowed on the paved entrance road known as Channel Drive.
Other biker’s concerns include that they damage trails and that those who ride them are cheating. He gently bats both arguments down.
Pointing out that he has seen studies, such as one performed by the respected International Mountain Bicycling Association, which show that electric-assist mountain bikes do no more damage than their non-motorized counterparts, he says he nevertheless sticks to fire roads. “So that’s a non-issue for me.”
As for the idea that e-bike riders are cheaters, McHenry quotes a friend of his: “When someone says, ‘Hey man, you’re cheating,’ he replies: ‘This is not a race!”
Kyle Bundesen of Trek Bicycle Santa Rosa says he understands why some riders came out of the gate hating e-MTBs — but he believes whatever controversy they inspired initially is calming down.
“These folks have worked really hard, physically, to get to the point where they’re able to make it to the top of these hills,” he says of his fellow mountain bikers. “And sometimes they get frustrated when someone using [electric] assistance comes flying up. But the only complaints I hear about are guys who are quite aggressive.”
“There’s always going to be that one guy who goes out and ruins it for everybody — the guy who disrespects the trail,” he says. “The number-one thing is being respectful wherever you ride. Just don’t be that guy.”
Bundesen says he is seeing the market for e-bikes expand. While they initially were popular with older riders, the customer base is growing as the product improves.
“I’ve seen customers in their seventies, who’ve had issues that limited them to not being able to ride and now they’re back on their bike,” he says. “I’ve seen a father buying one for his 13-year-old daughter who couldn’t make it to the top of the hill, and now she can do it.