Dear Bike Industry,
We have some questions and a few comments about e-MTBs which are related to their environmental impact. No, this isn’t about the usual topics of trail damage and/or access, but rather a question about the bigger picture. It’s about how batteries, motors, and other technologies are essentially turning what is relatively* an environmentally friendly product into one that is less so.
Let us first begin by saying this letter isn’t an argument for you to stop what you’re doing – that horse has bolted and there are a million arguments for and against the e-MTB and we enjoy the continued debate – however we’re writing this seeking both an understanding and assurance of your responsibilities into the future.
We begin this argument with a couple of scenarios to set the scene.
Scenario 1: E-Bicycle to replace cars for commuting
Simplistically if the goal of producing an e-bicycle is to lessen or even remove cars from our roads then this is better for the environment. An e-bicycle is much better for the environment that a car – including considering the production and lifecycle of the bicycle. We think this is a great thing and are super stoked to see people swapping their cars for bicycles. We even want to have some of these in our garage and dream of a day when we don’t need to own a car.
Scenario 2: E-MTB to replace human powered MTB
This is where our thoughts, concerns, and questions lie. Again, to use a very simple argument, an e-MTB is essentially worse for the environment than a standard human powered MTB (hp-MTB). The introduction of batteries and the continued need for the e-MTB to draw power from the grid means that even beyond manufacture an e-MTB has a larger footprint on the earth – which continues even into and beyond the grave of said mountain bike.
We recognise that a very important part of our above scenario is about an e-MTB “replacing a hp-MTB”. This is where it gets a little sticky. We don’t know your goals for the future – we can only guess. We’re so super stoked (again) when we see people with medical conditions or other reasons that would normally seclude them who are now able to throw a leg over a mountain bike and come on the trails – because of the e-MTB. That’s a pretty damn cool and a unique thing where mountain biking can be more inclusive than other sports and we’re 100% for it.
However, there is a little scepticism in us about that being the only end goal. We’re guessing that the millions and millions of dollars poured into the development and marketing of the e-MTB will mean you’ll be looking for a greater market share than the less then 5%** of the market that is truly those “who need it”. We’re guessing that you’re looking for a lot of N+1s, or even people to completely replace their hp-MTB with an e-MTB. Maybe not now, but maybe in the next 5-10 years – we’re looking way into the future with this argument.
Our questions are simple: In a not to distant future world where the e-MTB may hold a significant place on the trails, what are you doing to ensure you’re reducing the environmental impact of this change? Will you have environmentally responsible battery replacement programs? Will you ensure that our landfills aren’t polluted with large batteries that are buried with the death of the bicycles? Will you offer some kind of incentive for people to return the batteries for safe and better disposal – even if they are the 2nd to 5th owner of the bike? Will you look to introduce better technologies to reduce the need to draw from the grid to recharge the bikes (maybe some kind of solar paint or some other cool technologies?).
Those are only a few questions that cover some of the complexities of the subject however ultimately our questions are about things we haven’t yet seen in the marketing materials or even really debated online yet and ultimately it comes down to this: Do you really understand the big picture impact of this new world order of e-MTB and what are you doing to ensure environmental responsibility? It’s not what you say, it’s what you do that matters.
* Yes, we recognise that the production and lifecycle of a standard human powered bicycle does have an environmental impact.
** This is only a wild guess but we know it’s going to be a small number