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How to Climb on an E-Mountain Bike

with CAROLINE WASHAM, Liv Ambassador and Professional MTB Skills Coach

Let me start by being honest: I love my E-bike because it makes getting to the top of the mountain quicker and easier. I’m a professional downhill racer, not a “climber.” 

That being said, I’ve also discovered while electric bikes make climbing easier, they definitely don’t do it for you. In fact, climbing singletrack on an E-bike can actually accentuate your climbing skills (or lack thereof). Timing each pedal stroke to get the most benefit out of the motor while keeping your body weight carefully balanced over the bike and choosing the best line is easier said than done. 

I’ve stalled out, slipped out, tipped over, and plowed into plenty of square edges on climbs while learning how to ride an electric bike. But where I’d probably just hop off my analog bike and push up a techy section, something about the E-bike pushes me to try it again and again. And pretty soon I’m looking for the steepest hill just to see if I can climb it on my electric bike. Who would've thought? 

Here are my top-tips for climbing on an E-bike:

a woman climbing on an e-mtb

1. Bike Setup

Setting your seat height for pedalling on an E-bike is important for comfort while riding. Riding with a seat that is too low (or too high) over long distances can cause knee, hip, and lower back pain. For more information on setting your seat height, check out our article on bike fit

In general, your seat height for pedalling should be the same on any bike you ride, particularly if your mountain E-bike has a dropper seatpost. When climbing technical trails on your E-MTB, it’s helpful to use your dropper post to lower your seat slightly. Lowering your seat will help you move your body weight around more easily to absorb technical terrain. When using your E-bike to climb extremely steep and/or loose sections of trail or fire road, lowering your seat while sitting on the saddle and pedalling will give you more traction by lowering your center of gravity and spreading your body weight out between both front and rear wheels.

a woman climbing on an e-mtb

2. Line Choice

When riding any mountain bike, it’s important to continuously scan the trail so you're ready to tackle obstacles, maneuver around corners, and charge up climbs. Here are some things to remember:

  • Look ahead to anticipate climbs.
    • Shift into an easier gear early.
    • Don’t try to grind up climbs on your E-bike.
    • A slower or erratic cadence will drain your E-bike battery quicker.
    • Aim for a consistent, smooth cadence.
  • Look for the most efficient line.
    • Hesitating on your line choice while climbing could cause you to stall out, and you’ll end up pushing your E-bike up instead of riding! 
    • Practice and experience allows you to make decisions on line choice quickly.
    • Sometimes the smoothest line isn’t the best line. Picking your way around roots and rocks adds a lot of cornering that actually makes the line more difficult. 
    • Sometimes the straight line isn’t the best choice either, if there is a slick root right in the middle of it. 
    • The most efficient line is usually somewhere in between the smooth and straight lines. Make your choice, commit, and use your E-bike to get you up to speed to float up that climb!
choosing a line on a technical climb

3. Body Position

Climbing on a mountain bike is a game of balance and traction. To maintain traction, you want to keep your body weight balanced with equal pressure on the front and rear wheels. Here’s how: 

  • Since you’re going uphill, shift your weight forward slightly to keep your front wheel from popping up. 
  • If you move your body too far forward, you may experience loss of traction with your rear wheel. This can sometimes be exaggerated by the added boost of power you get with a pedal-assist E-bike. Adjust your weight back on the saddle to maintain pressure and traction on the rear wheel.
  • While sitting, move your chest closer to the front wheel for steeper climbs and lift your chest away from the front wheel on more moderate grades. 
  • For extremely steep/loose climbs, lowering your seat while keeping your chest low/close to the handlebars will help maintain traction.

While E-bikes make climbing quicker, technical climbs will require more finesse and body movement on an E-bike. To maneuver your bike up rocks and roots, you will need to stand up! Here’s how: 

  • Lower your saddle and stand.
  • Maintain a consistent pressure on the pedals. Putting too much power into the down stroke will cause the rear wheel to spin out, particularly if you are in a higher support mode that amplifies your pedaling power. 
  • Keep your chest low and hips above the saddle, effectively spreading your body weight out so it’s easier to maintain traction on both the front and rear wheels. 
  • Elbows should be bent and wide, this will help you absorb bumps as you climb. 
  • For larger steps, lift your chest to unweight your front wheel, then move your chest forward to unweight your rear wheel briefly to clear the obstacle. Use your E-bike to get a surge of power with a pedal stroke as you approach the obstacle, then pause as you unweight your rear wheel. If you take a pedal with your rear wheel unweighted, you will likely spin out.
a woman climbing on an e-mtb with her chest down

Lowering my chest and moving my weight forward, I am balanced between my front and rear wheels.

a woman climbing on an e-mtb with her chest up

By lifting my chest up while climbing, I am unweighting my front wheel to get over a root or rock.

Perfecting your climbing skills on an E-bike takes practice, so don’t get discouraged. Keep at it and before you know it, you’ll be climbing up technical trails on your E-MTB with ease. Be sure to check out our other E-mountain bike skills guides below for tips on shifting, using your E-bike support modes, and going downhill!