A few weeks ago I was lucky to be in the Dolomites mountain biking in Italy. Staying at the lovely Adler Dolomiti Spa Resort, I was given the choice of riding a normal mountain bike or an electric mountain bike. So I decided to ride both to compare MTB vs eMTB.
Dolomites mountain biking in Italy
This MTB vs eMTB test was carried out in the UNESCO world heritage Dolomites of north east Italy. If you have not been to the Dolomites, they are one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in Europe and look very different to much of the Alps.
I was staying in Ortisei an attractive town in Val Gardena. In the winter it is a popular ski resort, but unlike many mountain resorts it is just as busy in the summer. Ortisei combines all the typical summer mountain activities with golf, wellness and spa breaks, so it makes a great holiday destination.
While I was in the Dolomites mountain biking in Italy, I stayed at the stunning 5 star Adler Dolomiti spa hotel. Everything from the luxurious rooms to the sensational spa, the incredible breakfast to the 7 course delicious dinner, and the friendly staff to the range of activities on offer, was much better than I am used to.
In conjunction with the Ortisei Bike School, the Adler runs a fleet of mountain bikes. Offering both full suspension and hard tail bikes in both electric and pedal power versions. They also run guided rides everyday for a range of ability levels and provide good advice if you want to explore yourself.
MTB vs eMTB: The bikes
My steeds over the next few days were both Ghost bikes. In case you are unfamiliar with Ghost, they are a popular German brand who have been making mountain bikes for over 25 years. Olympic golds, plus UCI and XCE world cups have been won on them, so they have good pedigree.
The normal mountain bike was a Ghost FR AMR 8 LC. It is an 11 speed 27.5er with a carbon frame. The combination of Fox Float, Rockshox Monarch air damper and Cane Creeks Double Barrel steel suspension provides 170 mm travel at the front and 160mm at the rear.
With it’s light carbon frame it weighs in at just 14.2kg. It’s built to handle bike parks, gnarly natural terrain and downhill trails, whilst still being light enough to climb. The Ghost FR AMR 8 LC retails at around £3500.
Electric mountain bike
The electric mountain bike was the Ghost HYB KATO FS S3.9 AL. It also costs around £3500 and is a 27.5er. But its travel is only 140mm plus the brakes and other components were not as good. It’s the equivalent of a £2000 bike if you took away the electric bike element.
The extra cost pays for the 250W Bosch motor which can produce up to 70Nm of torque. In the mountains the battery has a range of around 40km offering up to 300% assistance. All this adds to the weight taking it up to around 23kg.
MTB vs eMTB: The riding
On my first day in the Dolomites Mountain biking in Italy, I decided to ride the eMTB in the morning followed by the normal MTB in the afternoon. The goal was to directly compare the riding, in a MTB vs eMTB showdown doing similar distance and climb etc.
eMTB uphill review
For my morning ride I headed out on the electric bike for a couple of hours and ended up riding 24km. I cycled up the mountain on paved and gravel roads climbing over 1000m without getting out of breath or getting much of a sweat on.
Seriously it was very easy, but also really enjoyable. The electric element was easy to use and I tended to go between 100%, 200% and 300% assistance depending on how steep the climb was. Meaning the effort put in always felt like I was riding on the flat.
Recently I climbed 1000m in the mountains on a normal mountain bike, it was exhausting and took over 2 hours. I had to stop many times, partly due to the altitude but also because of the effort. Overall riding up was not that enjoyable – except for the achievement element.
On the eMTB not being shattered riding up 1000m meant I didn’t need to stop along the way, and I could enjoy the views. I also had plenty of energy left to enjoy downhill in the Dolomites mountain biking in Italy.
eMTB downhill review
The downhill started with paved and gravel roads but soon headed off onto single track. It was a combination of flowing trails that were not too technical, and some sections that were quite technical with some very tight switchbacks, rough terrain and step downs of around 30-40 cm.
The electric bike handled the flowing single track very well during this trip in the Dolomites Mountain biking in Italy. In fact all the time I was riding fast it was a joy to ride. Although I would have prefered it to have better brakes, as stopping was not quite as controlled as I like.
But once the trail became more technical meaning I had to slow down, the heavy bike became harder to handle. In particular on the tight switchbacks I found the extra weight and reduced maneuverability meant I could not ride how I like.
On step-downs I was OK if I could take them at pace. But where I couldn’t ride quickly – I didn’t know the trails after all –the extra weight meant I felt perilously close to going over my handlebars a few times and had to bail once. The extra weight also made it difficult to get my front wheel up over obstacles.
MTB uphill review
In the afternoon the plan was to ride the normal bike on a different 20km ride with another climb of 1000m. To be honest I was not looking forward to the uphill.
Fortunately, the guide insisted that we get the lift up which took care of around 700m of the climb. The 300m that remained of the ascent was on a combination of gravel trails with slightly technical sections.
Although there was only 300m to climb I was quickly out of breath – we were riding at over 2000m – and I had a proper sweat on by the time we reached the top. In total there was only 3km of riding uphill, but after less than half a kilometer I was wishing for the electric mountain bike.
I was pleased when we had stopped halfway into the climb to let the group catch up. And at the top I was far more knackered than I had been after the three times bigger climb on the eMTB in the morning.
MTB downhill review
The Ghost HYB KATO FS is made to go downhill, which there was a lot of during this trip to the Dolomites Mountain biking in Italy. The extra travel makes for a very smooth ride, and the better brakes on a much lighter bike gave me considerably more control.
The trails here were much more technical than I had ridden in the morning, but the lighter bike with better suspension made them easier to handle. I was easily riding 50cm step downs and getting the front up and over large obstacles without any problems.
It was great fun to ride, partly because being light I could really throw it around, and partly because it is quite forgiving so I quickly learnt to trust it. So when I got things wrong the lower weight made it easier to correct my mistakes to avoid eating dirt.
MTB vs eMTB: Conclusion
The goal of my trip to the Dolomites mountain biking in Italy was to directly compare MTB vs eMTB of similar value and set up. The most obvious difference between the two is that for £3500 the standard MTB is a much better bike, on the eMTB the money buys the motor etc.
A better bike makes more technical trails easier to ride, so I found the MTB a lot more fun than the eMTB when things got difficult. Now I am a fairly good mountain biker, but a long way from being great, so I am sure a better rider would have had less issues with the eMTB and got more out of the standard bike.
Unsurprisingly, the eMTB is much more enjoyable to ride uphill. The highest point where I ride at home on the South Downs is just 217m above sea level, meaning on local rides I don’t ascend more than 200m in one go. So when riding in the mountains, with ascents of 1000m or more an eMTB would be a godsend.
Overall the electric bike was better on the ups and the standard bike was better coming down more technical trails. On the flat, on less technical trails and flowing single track both bikes were as much fun as each other.
To conclude this MTB vs eMTB comparison, I’d say the best bike depends on the riding. If I was cycling up and down, or exploring somewhere with long climbs then I’d choose an eMTB. Simply because gives you the freedom to do much more than you could handle on a normal bike.
But when riding downhill where uplift is available, or technical single track I’d choose a standard mountain bike. This is purely because for the same money you can buy a much better bike, and the lighter weight makes it easier to handle when the trail is dificult.
One final thought. If I had gone out on a normal bike in the morning of the test, climbed 1000m and ridden 23km, not only would it have taken much longer, but I wouldn’t have made it out on the bike in the afternoon.
So eMTBs enable you to ride and explore more, and more time in the saddle is never a bad thing. And although the electric mountain bike was not quite as much fun riding downhill it was still fun.
I hope you enjoyed this MTB vs eMTB comparison as much as I enjoyed my Dolomites mountain biking in Italy. A full review of the trip is in the pipeline, but to find out about the hotel go to: www.adler-dolomiti.com or visit www.valgardena.it to learn about the region.