Accompanied by the light sound of their engines, Robert and Ursula Werner greet the hikers they meet by pedaling by. But in the Bavarian Alps, the increase in the number of electric bicycles often makes you wince.
“The first thing they look at when they see us is our bike,” smiles Robert Werner. “If we have an engine, they respect us less.”
This couple from Lenggries in southern Germany climbed the Herzogstand, a famous Bavarian summit, in about 30 minutes, an 800-meter ascent.
On an electric mountain bike, the cyclist still pedals, but the assistance provided by the engine and its heavy batteries installed as part of the bike reduces the effort and allows the rider to move faster.
At the end of Werner’s route, an idyllic view of two lakes and dozens of peaks opens up.
“It allows us to have a great experience in the mountains even if we don’t have much time,” says Robert Werner, 46, barely out of breath.
“If we were to go on real mountain bike trails, it would be very tiring,” he says, looking at a cow, which is looking at her e-bike a little too closely.
E-bikes may bring danger to hikers
But e-bike presence in the mountains is a matter of debate.
Hikers accuse electric bicyclists of rushing down the trails, without having the experience of “organic” mountain bikers, i.e. without a motor. This rushing as well is coupled with a risk of collision.
In addition, there are environmental problems. “Electric bicycles allow more people to access previously unused and unspoiled paths,” says Friedl Krönauer, 59, spokesman for the environmental association BUND Naturschutz.
“This causes soil erosion, for example,” he says.
For Mr. Krönauer, who has a breathtaking view of Germany’s highest peaks from his office, setting a few rules will not be enough.
“To reach the top of a mountain is something to be earned,” he says. “You have to feel like you’ve worked your muscles, you must be exhausted. Electric mountain bikes make this notion of effort disappear,” regrets this great sportsman, a fan of walking and (traditional) cycling… without a motor.
Despite these criticisms, more and more Germans, as in other mountainous countries, are riding electric mountain bicycles to explore the summits.
Electric bikes take over Switzerland. Read the story in this post.
E-bikes are in high demand in Germany
In 2018, Germans bought 980,000 electric bicycles, a quarter of which are mountain electric bikes, according to the German Cycling Federation. A godsend for German manufacturers Haibike, Cube or Prophete, as well as for battery producer Bosch.
“The bicycle industry and in particular the electric bicycle industry is extremely important for Germany,” says David Eisenberger, Communications Officer at the German Cycling Federation.
“It creates thousands of direct and indirect jobs, with tourism for example,” he says.
In Lenggries in Bavaria, a city of about 9,000 inhabitants, the Werner family opened a bicycle rental shop a few months ago, right next to their hotel.
“The demand is huge and the customers very diverse: everyone wants to try,” says Robert Werner.
With the prospect of attracting new tourists, the municipality of Lenggries also has installed three charging stations for electric bicycles.
“We see it everywhere, mountain cities are developing their offer for cyclists,” says David Eisenberger.
To resolve conflicts, some municipalities are considering setting up special routes reserved for mountain bikes. “How would we control them? It’s impossible,” says Robert Werner.
With his foot firmly on his non-slip pedal, he tempers: “It’s just a matter of sharing the mountain better by following a few rules of living together. For example, hikers always have priority over cyclists.
A similar debate took place when motorless mountain bikes arrived in the mountains a few decades ago. “Today, no one complains anymore,” he says.