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E-bikes at Work: How E-MTBs Can Help Build Trails

with Erika Schmid, Ladies AllRide MTB Skills Coach and Trail Steward

Bend, Oregon

I started mountain biking in 1989. I showed up as a freshman at the University of Oregon sporting my super-sweet bright-yellow road bike. Being Eugene, this bike was immediately stolen, which left me needing a new ride. I replaced the skinny-tired bike with a mountain bike: the new Giant Butte.

The best things about this bike:

  1. With a permanent marker, you could change the model name “Butte” to “Butt”. I got to spend my weekends riding around on my Giant Butt.
  2. I instantly became a mountain biker and have been one ever since.

Through mountain biking, I can satisfy my love of progression. As a mountain bike skills coach since 2010, I get to be a voyeur of other peoples’ breakthroughs, ahha moments, and successes. I have a nearly unending supply of stoke from all the progression that surrounds me.

I’m also fueled by the progression I can take part in by building and maintaining trails. Being a trail steward is simple and satisfying in that you see the results immediately. Whenever you ride by the sewn tree you can think, “I did that.” Plus, I sort of feel like a badass when I start up a chainsaw.

Most of the mountain biking trails in my community exist due to volunteerism. I figure, if everyone does a bit to help in whatever way they can, we get to keep riding. Since I have free time, access to trail tools, and my chainsaw certification from the US Forest Service, trail work is my mode of contribution.

Putting E-bikes to work

Before riding an E-bike, I didn’t have a strong interest in riding one. When E-bikes first came out, they seemed more on the leisure-recreational-old-people-riding-to-a-picnic side of mountain biking. But after riding an E-MTB and experiencing all they have to offer; I immediately realized the potential for trail building.

During the COVID-19 lockdown I was out of work, but my husband (a professional trail builder and owner of Dirt Mechanics) was still busy building at Spence Mountain near Klamath Falls, Oregon. E-bikes are not only permitted on Spence Mountain, but some trails were even built with E-bikes in mind. I borrowed an E-bike and joined my husband on the job. When riding with full work gear—jeans, work boots, and a heavy pack, it was lovely to ride the E-bike to work and arrive “inspired not dog tired.” I would find myself riding indirect routes to get back to camp—work boots and all.

Another time a friend asked if I wanted to come help clear a trail with her. This trail was really steep and a bit remote and the thought of walking or riding my analog bike with my chainsaw kit sounded terrible. When someone reminded me that I could use an E-bike, suddenly it sounded like a fabulous adventure. I actually enjoyed the riding between the downed trees and didn’t mind my 50lb pack.

Without a doubt, E-bikes are a useful tool for building and maintaining trails. I have hiked and I have pulled a Bob Trailer with an analog bike to do trail work and both are very time consuming and tiring. With an E-bike, more trail work could be done per hour with happier trail volunteers.

Want to get involved? How to give back to the trails:

  1. Join your local trail organization and volunteer. Even if trail work isn’t your thing, there are many ways to help. When I broke both my arms, I sat in the Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) tent and signed up members, shared information, and gave out brochures. Use your strengths where you can. Trail organizations often need help with websites, accounting, fund raising, event management, and outreach.
  2. Volunteer for work parties. The two biggest barriers to trail maintenance are knowledge and tools. Local trail organizations, like COTA, should have trail crew leaders to help educate and guide you at maintenance at trail work parties. And, if you don’t have the tools to do trail work, you’re in luck. At work parties, tools are available for volunteers to use. With some planning and materials, the barriers to trail work can be overcome.
  3. See what training is available – it’s often free. I got my chainsaw certifications free through a partnership with COTA and the Forest Service. Your local trail organization may also offer training to become a trail crew leader.
  4. Look for organizations building and maintaining trails professionally. Once you are immersed in the trail building/maintenance scene, have gained some experience, and you want to make some money doing it, look for the organizations building and maintaining trails professionally. Trail positions may be offered by the forest service, mountain bike parks, and other private entities.