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Will I be able to start mountain biking at my age? with my disability?

The different disciplines encompassed by Mountain Biking range from a bimble on a woodland trail to the wild double-backflip free riding, with all sorts in between.

They'll always be an exceptional 80 year old that can still perform tricks on a mountain bike, or an exceptionally able disabled woman that can shred Downhill with the best of them but here we'll be talking about the average John or Jane.

There are no laws as to an upper age limit for starting out mountain biking!! If you can easily ride a bike on the road, then there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to ride a mountain bike, likewise if you're healthy and have never ridden a bike, you can learn. Mountain biking is harder than a gentle ride on a bike path or paved road, since you are constantly correcting the steering and having to add torque to get over or around even small obstacles.

Fall for fall, young to old, the resultant injury is likely to be worse as you age, and injury to injury, it will take longer to heal as you get older too. Only you know what your body can cope with, so your tolerance to pain and downtime needs some consideration. Think about this when deciding exactly which mountain bike discipline you want to engage in. Whichever you choose, take it slowly, get the experience and be sure of your skills before you tear down a double black downhill course!

Check out my blog on Starting out in Mountain Biking

You have an injury or illness?

No matter your age, if you have good balance but are compromised health-wise in another way, you can still go mountain biking.

The solution: an eMountain Bike (eMTB)

When would an eMTB be useful for you?

When you want to ride mountain bikes but:

  • You have shortness of breath

  • You have painful joints

  • You are considerably over-weight

  • You are lacking stamina and/or energy

  • You have a disability (perhaps due to amputation but can still ride a bike)

  • You have an injury that prevents full pressure pedalling motion

  • You live in a particularly hilly area

  • Your local downhill mountain bike park doesn't have an uplift

  • You can't be arsed with all that strenuous pedalling period!

  • You want some effortless fun!

Overview of eMTBs

Most big bike manufacturers have a range of mountain bikes with electric motor assistance, here are some points to note:

  • In this article I am referring to electric motor 'assisted' mountain bikes, this means you still have to pedal, a little or a lot, depending on the bike and what you have set the level of assist to.

  • An eMTB is different to an electrically assisted commuter bike. An eMTB will be suited to off road conditions, it will be more robust and will have front suspension, and often rear suspension too.

  • Most eMTBs are 29ers, there are a few 27.5" available, these are the diameter of the wheels in inches

  • You could choose not to follow the crowd, there are specialist, low volume eMTB manufacturers out there. You could build your own bike. You could buy one off Alibaba. But one thing you should do is make sure whatever you propose to buy meets the electrical safety specifications in your country, that the amount of assist, top speed and the maximum output of the motor all fall within the realms with what is considered a bicycle, in the eyes of the law, in the country in which you will be riding.

  • There are electric 'off-road' bikes with throttles, that you don't have to pedal to be propelled along. Again check the laws regarding them in the country in which you will be riding.

  • In some countries eBikes should be fitted with a sticker detailing the manufacturer's name, the power output along with some other specification details. Be sure yours conforms to the country or state in which you are riding.

  • There are tuning kits available to increase the assist and the top speed of eBikes, this would take the bike outside of the legal range of assist and top speed but it may still have the original sticker. Buyer beware!

  • Not all venues such as bike parks, trail centers, national parks etc. allow electrically assisted bikes on their trails, so check your favourite riding venue allow them before investing.

  • The mass produced top range eMTBs all have a similar battery capacity of approximately 625Wh and also the motors have a similar torque output, approximately 85Nm.

  • The top speed permitted varies country to country, for example in Europe it's 25-28kph whereas in the USA it's 32kph.

  • Most eMTBs have Walk Mode, this allows some motor assistance whilst pushing the bike, very handy.

  • How long you can ride on one battery charge depends on how much assist you use, how much you use it, the health of your battery and the specification of your bike, so do some comparisons whilst checking bike specs. Should you run out of charge, you can still pedal home, it'll just be hard work!

Benefits of riding an eMTB

  • It allows those previously excluded from mountain biking, due to injury or illness, to be able to get off road and engage in mountain biking.

  • You can go further, quicker and easier

  • You still have to pedal, so it's also a healthy pastime, you'll get your blood circulation going, your joints gently moving and it will help your metabolism by burning excess sugar/fat.

  • Just by getting your blood pumping and your metabolism working, you'll find those simple health benefits will also boost your mental health too. Add that to getting out into beautiful countryside or woodland and you get a double dose of the most natural of anti-depressant.

  • The movement involved in steering and pedalling, providing you have the correct size bike, will be lower impact on your joints than for many other forms of exercise.

  • If you want it to be, eMTBing can be social too, look out for local eMTB groups

  • You'll have your very own uplift, for trail centers that don't have one

  • All mountain biking is fun!

Drawbacks of eMTBs

  • Even the most expensive mass-produced eMTB will be considerably heavier than the equivalent specification non-assisted MTB. As a guide, the weight of an eMTB could be around 24Kgs, some of the really high-spec ones could be as low as18Kgs, but that is still heavier than a good spec MTB, that could weigh as little as 13Kgs

  • These bikes aren't cheap, for a big name, lower spec bike in 2022, you'll be paying upwards of AUD$8000, all the way up to AUD$24000 for a top of the range Specialized S Works Turbo Levo.

  • You need to take care of the battery, so extra work outside of riding is required to maintain the health of the battery and to prolong its life.

  • You'll have to put up with the banter, friendly and not so friendly, about 'cheating' which is something purist cyclists think eBiking is. Whatevs!

Resources for eMTBs

You are unable to ride a standard MTB or eMTB

Should you be unable to balance, pedal or steer a standard or electric mountain bike or perhaps you have poor eyesight or are blind but would still like to get the adrenalin pumping out on the trails, there's an exciting emerging sport just right for you.

The solution: An Adaptive Mountain Bike or aMTB

These two, three or four-wheeled adaptive mountain bikes come in various guises:

  • Tandem

    • Recumbent propelled by leg

    • Recumbent propelled by hand

    • Recumbent propelled by both hand and leg

  • Hand propelled Cycles

    • Recumbent

    • Kneeling

    • Upright

  • Leg propelled Cycles

    • Recumbent four wheeled

    • Recumbent three wheeled

    • Tricycle

  • Others

    • Quad gravity propelled

    • Bucket seated bicycle

    • Specialist adaptation aids and prosthetics

The above list isn't exhaustive by any means, but you can see there are many options, and thrown into the mix are that these can also be electric assisted.

Some things to consider before buying

  • How you will transport the bike to the trails

  • Investigate if there are aMTB trails that you can easily get to

  • Perhaps try some different bikes at an aMTB coaching center or the like

  • Mountain biking will be no less dangerous on an aMTB, so make sure you get some protection

  • Check out state or national sports bodies, there may be help out there to get started

Resources for aMTBs

Just like any form of mountain biking, aMTBing will have some top class riders, check out their YouTube videos and get inspired, noting you don't have to have a disability to ride an aMTB!

Martyn Ashton of Global Mountain Bike Network (GMBN) riding one of his aMTBs

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Feb 24, 2022

You write very well, clear and concise.



Mick Linford
Mick Linford
Feb 24, 2022

Another great article Ange. I’m ‘almost’ tempted 😜. But you should try and get mountain biking magazines to read your articles. You may get an old girl feature/column 😜🥰

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