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A CASE FOR SELECTIVE ELECTRIFICATION

Trailbuilding With E-Bikes - Another Tool in the Box

Words Scott Veach / RideWrap
Date Oct 8, 2020
Reading time

It’s got the makings of a hot summer day, with the sun just beginning to rise above the mountain tops. The forest is peaceful and calm with morning dew still settled on the ground moss. You’ve prepared your gear the night before knowing you have a relatively small time window and a project site that is not easily accessible. With the contents of your hefty backpack, including a chainsaw, gas, oil, mini-sledge, a quarter box of nails, your trusty Pulaski and mattock, a first aid kit, and carefully planned portions of food and water, you are well prepared for a full day of manual labour hidden away on the mountain. The final tool you grab from the garage?… well, it seems that it may just be an e-bike.

Mountain bike riders are aware of the debates surrounding e-bikes for trail riding and the potential damage to trails. Worry not, this read is absolutely not more of the same. Instead, this is a search for insight from around the world, to see e-bikes are the new must-have tool for trailbuilders. Starting out back of our shop here in Whistler, where it seems that big elevation, steep climbs, and an insatiable demand for riding have encouraged the adoption of e-bikes by local builders.

Long time Whistler trail builder and current trails director for WORCA (Whistler Off Road Cycling Association), Seb Kemp argues that the e-bike allows builders to work longer hours on the trail itself and with more energy. With 10-hour days for 4 days a week of digging, one of the benefits Seb has realized is that trail crews might actually have the energy to ride their bikes on their days off. This spring in support of the WORCA trail crew, Santa Cruz Bicycles donated two Heckler e-bikes. Aligning with Seb’s statements, the goal is to maximize the crew's day-to-day efforts.

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Renee and Benoit of WORCA trail crew have been enjoying the new tools!

While a debate rages on the internet, it seems that the community accepts e-bikes for building, even in areas where use by non-builders is not permitted. I am one half of the duo who built Dark Crystal, and I saw firsthand how attitudes change toward e-bikes when they are used by builders. I remember using a Kranked e-bike to deliver some nails to the top of Dark Crystal. My pack probably looked fairly empty, but it was an illusion with over 30lbs of nails in there. When I passed a group of people pedaling up, they were booing and telling me to F- off. When I went up later that day with a chainsaw sticking out of my pack, I got a bunch of cheers while passing people who probably realized I was heading up for trail work.

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At an elevation of 1,282 meters, getting tools to the top of Dark Crystal is no easy task without a little help. Photo: Scott Veach

In the time of COVID-19, Tom ‘Pro’, famed Whistler builder of Gravity Logic, has even taken to riding his e-bike within the confines of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park where access has typically been via trucks and side-by-sides.


“I use it to inspect trails and to do work. We stash tools on the trail and access by bike to do the work, I access it with an e-bike. Currently, we are limited on how many people we can have in a truck due to COVID-19, so the bikes, e-bike in my case, make a perfect access vehicle.” - Tom Pro, Gravity Logic
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Would you pedal a regular MTB to the top of your project with a chainsaw? Photo: Tom Pro (Gravity Logic)

Whistler is a hub in the mountain bike community; Trails like A-line, Lord of The Squirrels, and Dark Crystal have all helped to set the global standard for modern day trails and trail building. Perhaps the local adoption of this tool will signal a shift in building kit globally.

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SORCA (Squamish Off Road Cycling Association) has been using e-bikes since last year. Photo: Ben Haggar

Down the road in Squamish, I checked on the local message board to gather some extended information. It was clear the trail builder “double-standard” is alive and well and the community is wholly accepting of e-bikes in any restricted area as a tool for SORCA builders.


“Ya man, an ebike makes it what, 20% easier? Just get a trials moto, makes it 100% easier and it’s a real access tool - and if it matters that much to ya, they make electric ones.” - Andrew Norton

Andrew Norton provides an interesting point in regard to selecting an appropriate tool for the job. An e-bike is not a moto, it does not have a throttle, and you still have to input work to use it. In the case of maximizing efforts to the trail itself, it is a logical route. A quick inspection will tell you that a trials bike MSRP is ~$10000 CAD, right in the sweet spot of ever-increasing e-bike pricing and electrified versions are available, alleviating noise and legality issues in certain areas. Let's be honest though, once you build the trail, you definitely want to shred it, and the advantage goes to the e-bike on that one.

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E-bikes are clearly used here, but it turns out this tool is also being put to use outside of our BC bubble. Stefan Falkeis, of Tirol, Austria, does a massive amount of work in alpine networks and he explains some of the benefits; “I use it to work at first daylight in the morning as it is quiet and inconspicuous as compared to motorbikes/quads and you are often working in sensitive environment/wildlife. As well, you are independent of lift operation times…”

Often working in zones that are distant and at high elevation, the ability to access terrain in a fraction of the time has proven a winner for Stefan, with the added benefit of some fun riding when compared to hiking. He notes that it makes him “twice as efficient collecting data” with the ability to ride up and down trails at twice the speed, making trail planning less taxing.

In Australia, Mark Turner does not use an e-bike for trail work. Currently he is using his feet, which most of us have forgotten how to use, and 4WD Kubota vehicles to access the building areas. He admits to being a critic of the category until he rode one. He sees a clear advantage as a tool and will look at one in the future to add to his kit; for now though, it's diesel and the old human-powered steed.

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In California, younger generations of trail builders along with pro riders like R-Dog (Ryan Howard) have added the e-bike to their arsenal of tools. The dirt there is amazing for digging and the mountains provide plenty of vert, but with most of the trails in California being unsanctioned, builders are constantly venturing further into the bush to keep things discrete, making an e-bike even more critical.


“Saving up to 2 hours per day over the span of a week, month or year really starts to add up and benefit the trails and the builders. About half of the time spent on my Trek Rail has been hauling tools in and out of trails. Time saved getting to the spot adds more time digging, and if you do the math over the course of a project, that’s a lot of dig time and that's a lot of trail!” - Ryan R-Dog Howard

This once controversial topic has evolved and it's a different story in 2020. With such high adoption, what will the future of e-bikes for trail building look like? Will there be 'builder spec' e-bikes featuring chainsaw racks, like Kona's Remote shown at Sea Otter 2017? What wild ‘out-there’ trail is going to get built? Are they a ‘solution’ or merely a band-aid to the growing need for trails and the labour to build them?


At RideWrap we pitched in to protect WORCA's new Santa Cruz Hecklers with our Tailored Protection™. Building trails is tough on equipment; tools, gear, clothes and bikes are all in the impact zone of grit and grime and are used frequently. Bike protection will aid in preserving these assets for future use.

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Ride Wrap considered how these beauties might improve visibility for both the crew and the association, creating a custom ‘trail-crew’ wrap featuring a “trail under construction” notice. The wrap ramps up the visibility of the work WORCA contributes, potentially increasing memberships, while also warning users to steer clear unless they are there to help.

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Comments

Pnwpedal
+4 Vik Banerjee brajal OldManBike Evil_bumpkin cxfahrer twk Endur-Bro Michel Vis Sandy James Oates Angu58 Henrik Martikainen Merwinn
Pnwpedal  - Oct. 7, 2020, 1:27 p.m.

I'm getting really tired of seeing so many discussions trying to push "e-bikes" as solutions to this problem or that problem. None of them bother to address the actual issue: motorized is motorized. An "e-bike" is an electrically motorized bicycle. It has a motor, therefore it is motorized. Yes, they are fun. Yes, they can allow you to do A or B or C better than a human powered bicycle. This doesn't change the fact that allowing motorized vehicles onto non-motorized trails is a net negative for all mountain bike riders. This isn't comparable to skis vs snowboards, so that argument needs to die as well. And of course, no media source is going to publish any negative opinion because of that sweet sweet advertising money. It's getting ridiculous.

Reply

Evil_Bumpkin
+2 Vik Banerjee brajal 4Runner1 Angu58
Evil_bumpkin  - Oct. 7, 2020, 1:52 p.m.

My first thought when e-bikes started being a thing was "how great they would be to assist the trail builders." I have learned since having assisted a grumpy trail builder or two that they are not welcome no matter how they are used-at least by the grumpy trail building community. Plus I don't how they'd be useful for anything other than dropping tools off at the top. Most of the trails I've helped with can't be ridden up...the pretty pictures look good though!

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mothrock
0 Evil_bumpkin Lu Kz rolly Mammal 4Runner1 twk
mothrock  - Oct. 8, 2020, 7:53 a.m.

Help me understand what the big deal is. I have yet to see any reports showing that e-bikes are causing any trouble. Have trails actually been closed somewhere due to e-bike usage? Are trails actually being thrashed by a handful of people with pedal assist? Or is everyone just mad that there might be a few more bikes on the trail?

I've seen them on the trails and it's just another bike as far as I'm concerned. 

I think that you could also argue that if e-bikes get more people on the trails, representation and funding would inevitably increase.

Note: I don't have an e-bike or live in BC. All of my trail building/maintenance has been done via shuttle and hiking.

Reply

LoamtoHome
+3 4Runner1 mudhoney Endur-Bro
Jerry Willows  - Oct. 8, 2020, 2:47 p.m.

it's a big deal when ebikes are going up trails like John Deere and Expresso...  what could possibly go wrong.

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rolly
0
rolly  - Oct. 11, 2020, 10:35 a.m.

Signage to correct this is an easy solution.

Reply

rolly
0
rolly  - Oct. 11, 2020, 10:37 a.m.

I live in BC and see quite a few e-bikes.  I don't own one, however.  I used to be against them, but that was partially due to the annoyance of me grinding a climb while getting passed by some dude putting out way less effort.  Now I don't really care as long as people are considerate on either e or regular bikes.

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Captain-Snappy
-3 4Runner1 Pnwpedal twk
Merwinn  - Oct. 8, 2020, 9:02 a.m.

No need to conflate an ebike and a moto as magically being the same thing. Based on that oversimplified logic an electric wheel chair is now an ATV.

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Pnwpedal
0
Pnwpedal  - Oct. 8, 2020, 3:25 p.m.

One is motorized, and the other is also motorized. When being non-motorized an EXTREMELY critical factor that allows MTBs on a majority of trails (in America at least) this is a serious issue.

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Oct. 8, 2020, 10:03 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

cam@nsmb.com
+1 OldManBike Adrian Glover 4Runner1
Cam McRae  - Oct. 8, 2020, 10:09 p.m.

We have published several negative opinions about ebikes and would do it again if it's a well-reasoned argument rather than a hyper literal point of view or outrage based on elitist attitudes.. We endeavour to represent a range of viewpoints and will continue to do so. It's possible we could be bought, (how can you know until you're made an offer that gives you pause?), but we've never come anywhere near an amount of cash that has made us pause even for a moment. And that is unlikely to happen.  

If we ever have to choose between pleasing an advertiser and telling the truth, we'll choose the latter endlessly. We've also not received any e-bike related ad campaigns that I'm aware of,  HT some could show up from affiliate advertisers, with whom we have no contact.

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rolly
0
rolly  - Oct. 11, 2020, 10:40 a.m.

People can have their opinions pro or con, totally fine. But if anyone is anti-e-bike and uses erosion as an argument, but then is all excited over roosting or kicking out their back tire on berms, they need to check themselves.

Reply

GladePlayboy
+4 Sandy James Oates Angu58 Mammal Cam McRae
Rob Gretchen  - Oct. 7, 2020, 1:28 p.m.

E-bikes for trail building are an awesome idea... I use them a lot for maintenance after storms, and shoulder season clean up efforts.   However, a Craftsman chainsaw?    Ha ha... ;-)

Reply

TomPro
+4 Cam McRae Rob Gretchen Dan Pete Roggeman
Tom Prochazka  - Oct. 8, 2020, 6:52 p.m.

Hey Rob. This photo came from my insty account. The saw belonged to my late father in-law and is a 1983 vintage saw. I found it while spring cleaning. I hasn't run in 30 years. I got it running and put it to work for the fun of it. It actually worked really well and fits into my Dakine Trailbuilder pack better than my Husky 352 XP. She a relic, but there is something satisfying about using a vintage tool. Our other saws  are Husky 392, 372, 352 and 346 XP. Cheers

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GladePlayboy
+1 Pete Roggeman
Rob Gretchen  - Oct. 9, 2020, 6:16 a.m.

Hey Tom... I was just razzing you... I was pretty sure you had a quiver of high end saws in your toolkit... And you are 100% right about the feeling of using a vintage tool. I still have saws at home that are from my great grandfather's era. Cheers..

Reply

Losifer
+1 Pete Roggeman
Carlos Matutes  - Oct. 9, 2020, 4:37 p.m.

I know some Husky users get offended by it, but our Stihl MS260 fits in the Dakine Trailbuilder really well, and is a solid saw if’n you don’t want to push your dad’s vintage saw.

Reply

Losifer
0
Carlos Matutes  - Oct. 9, 2020, 4:34 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

craw
+7 Vik Banerjee Sean Chee Angu58 mrbrett Evil_bumpkin cxfahrer Endur-Bro
Cr4w  - Oct. 7, 2020, 4:58 p.m.

The article was remarkably dismissive towards the e-trials-moto.

Reply

Squint
+1 Merwinn Evil_bumpkin grimwood
Squint  - Oct. 7, 2020, 8:36 p.m.

Based on the e-moto I saw on Seymour a few weeks ago, sending rooster tails of dirt on a climb trail and trying to ride up Severed... I support dismissing them.

Reply

craw
0
Cr4w  - Oct. 8, 2020, 7:33 a.m.

In case I wasn't specific enough I meant e-trials. Gas or electric trials motorcycles do not have to make roost.

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Endur-Bro
0
Endur-Bro  - Oct. 11, 2020, 8:20 p.m.

I’m strongly considering getting an e-moto trials. Because it’s the same as an ebike. Better yet a moto trials bike with its own built in genset. All the range. Ride further. Ride more. Ride on.

Reply

Bad-Sean
-1 Evil_bumpkin Angu58 Sandy James Oates
Sean Chee  - Oct. 7, 2020, 9:33 p.m.

My backhoe moves dirt far more effectively than an e bike ever could.

Reply

Captain-Snappy
+2 Dan Sandy James Oates
Merwinn  - Oct. 8, 2020, 9:04 a.m.

True, however it cannot access or fit in the the majority of trails that an ebike can.

Reply

Ricketz
0
Ricketz  - Oct. 8, 2020, 5:51 a.m.

The author mentions restricted areas in Squamish. Where are these restricted areas?

Reply

oldmanbike
+1 Evil_bumpkin 4Runner1 Dan Merwinn Mammal
OldManBike  - Oct. 8, 2020, 6:34 a.m.

The limp sales pitch at the end was the bright red cherry on top of a piece NSMB never should have agreed to run.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+2 OldManBike Dan
Cam McRae  - Oct. 8, 2020, 10:05 p.m.

You're probably right there. Live and learn. We didn't even get paid.

Reply

dan
+1 4Runner1
Dan  - Oct. 9, 2020, 7:45 a.m.

Agreed. 

Fwiw frame wraps are lost on me. It’s simply more plastic that will inevitably wind up in a landfill, or worse, the ocean.

Reply

cbennett
+6 Cr4w twk Dan AJ Barlas Endur-Bro PeterO
cbennett  - Oct. 8, 2020, 6:49 a.m.

I would argue that no, not "every core trail builder in the Sea to Sky has and uses an e-bike." I'd guess it more at around 50%. It's also an expensive piece of equipment pushing a volunteer to buy to keep up with maintenance for said piece of equipment.

Reply

Evil_Bumpkin
+2 Dan Endur-Bro
Evil_bumpkin  - Oct. 8, 2020, 10:09 a.m.

It's my thought that there aren't that many trail builders with a surplus $5k (more or less) to spend on a e-bike and still buy/maintain their equipment. The bikes in the article were likely gifted to the trail associations...doesn't a certain Santa Cruz marketing director live in Whistler? But heck, if someone tossed me a free e-mtb for trail work I wouldn't say no either!

Reply

Endur-Bro
0
Endur-Bro  - Oct. 11, 2020, 8:21 p.m.

I noticed a conflict of interest in the very first quote. 🤔

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Oct. 12, 2020, 8:13 a.m.

From the article. Direct quote:

"With 10-hour days for 4 days a week of digging, one of the benefits Seb has realized is that trail crews might actually have the energy to ride their bikes on their days off. This spring in support of the WORCA trail crew, Santa Cruz Bicycles donated two Heckler e-bikes. Aligning with Seb’s statements, the goal is to maximize the crew's day-to-day efforts."

Reply

andy-eunson
+4 Merwinn Mammal Dan Sandy James Oates
Andy Eunson  - Oct. 8, 2020, 8:44 a.m.

Why would anyone be opposed to ebike use for trail workers accessing work areas. Would people oppose the use of mini excavators for building trails too? Or chainsaws?

Reply

oldmanbike
+4 Evil_bumpkin 4Runner1 Cam McRae cxfahrer
OldManBike  - Oct. 8, 2020, 9:10 a.m.

My comment was directed at nsmb's decision to publish this, not at whether trail builders should use ebikes.

Reply

mammal
0
Mammal  - Oct. 8, 2020, 12:03 p.m.

I think this, and city commuting, are ideal reasons for using an ebike. I've certainly got my opinions on whether they are an appropriate alternative for recreational mountain biking, but it makes perfect sense for building.

Reply

oldmanbike
0
OldManBike  - Oct. 8, 2020, 12:40 p.m.

You're downvoting my comments, Mammal, but I more or less agree with you and didn't say anything to the contrary.

Reply

pepperJerome
+1 Sandy James Oates Pete Roggeman 4Runner1
pepperJerome  - Oct. 9, 2020, 8:12 a.m.

Finally an article I was hoping would be enlightening but got very little out of it.  I am a trailbuilder, I have been working on the same trail for 20 years and this year because of Covid, I had to do a lot more work on my own since we could not congregate. 

I do ride up the trail with my ebike and I do pay attention if someone is coming down. Most people have no idea how capable these bikes are. There are climbs that are impossible on a regular bike, become possible with the right setup. It is always challenging to climb with tools or nails in your pack but it is wayyy faster and less effort compared to hiking in.

The next evolution is building a builder bike with a stronger motor (350 watt instead of 250 watt) keep the speed limit at 32km/hour but give me more torque please!!!!

There are a few options for trailers but most of them are terrifying going downhill (trailer brakes anyone?)

I agree the ebikes will become more and more important not just for mountain bikers but other trail users as well. think about people working in Provincial and Federal parks, they have already inquired about ebikes for trail maintenance and there are a few ideas brewing on how to maximize the trailer use so that it could be used to haul dirt from a pit to a trail section, carry tools, carry rocks or other usage (parts of benches, parts of bridges). there is lots to think about!

Please don't fear change, your 8 speed fully rigid bike is indeed an antique and I am not getting any younger and I will use technology to my advantage any time I can.

On that same note, I do have a single speed bike, it's not 29er, 27.5 or 26 it's a 20 inch wheel BMX that I use at the pumptrack. the right tool for the job!

Reply

Losifer
+2 Pete Roggeman Sandy James Oates
Carlos Matutes  - Oct. 9, 2020, 4:43 p.m.

Our organization has played around with the idea of an ebike for trailbuilding duties. There are a number of areas that would benefit from being able to get tools on them more frequently that are difficult to get to on foot. 

I was also hoping for a more in depth article, possibly nsmb could look into som of the builders’ set ups.

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