The prices of some new mountain bikes these days is enough to make your heart stop beating due to shock if you're not familiar with the current market. Even for those of us that have been riding for a while, I am routinely amazed at how much the modern mountain bike has increased in price in such a short period of time. I mean, at the higher end of the market you could actually buy yourself a new car or put a deposit on a small house.
In some cases there are very good reasons for some mountain bikes to be more expensive. Quality, durability and reliability of components are some of the reasons you'll find mountain bikes to be more expensive than others. The weakening of exchange rates is another reason mountain bike prices go up, although they rarely go down when rates strengthen - we just end up with better speccced bikes. And in more recent times, the impact of COVID on freight coupled with a resurgence of popularity in riding has meant demand has outsripped supply.
Don't get me wrong, when it comes to being a brand / component snob I am just as susceptible to falling prey to the desire of having a more expensive bike as the next person. But as someone who has also known what it's like to struggle to put food on the table, I do wonder whether a higher priced mountain bike is really something that can be justified.
And right now it's a very relevant topic to me as I ponder getting myself my own e-mountain bike, rather than using my wife's bike. So I thought it would be an interesting exercise to share my thought process on justifying to myself how much I should pay for a new e-mountain bike. Let's begin by getting to know Kerry's ride in a bit more detail.
The Merida eOne-Sixty is a fairly well known e-mountain bike these days. Kerry's version is the 2020 500SE model - the entry level model that uses the original frame design instead of the more modern, battery in frame mullet design. Despite having a sticker prices of $5,500, at the time we managed to pick up Kerry's ex-demo bike for $4,000, which oddly enough is a good deal cheaper than my naturally aspirated mountain bike.
There are a number of reasons why this particular model is cheaper than the top of the line Merida eOne-Sixty 10K bike which in 2020 retailed for around $11,999 (yes, that is three times the price of what we paid). As I mentioned, the 500SE uses the older alloy frame design and also has the less powerful Shimano STEPS 7000. It also has only a ten speed Deore drive train and basic 4 pot brake system instead of having a 12 speed XTR drive train and brake system . It uses Suntour suspension componentry which is seen as inferior to Rockshox and Fox suspension. And other components including the wheels and dropper post are the Merida in-house brand.
What does this translate to on the trails? Well, for Kerry she absolutely loves her bike and isn't concerned at all about the lack of brand name componentry on it. For me personally, I have an absolute blast on the same bike but have noticed some things that I would prefer to be better. The wheels, for example, aren't quite stiff enough for me and can loose a little bit of traction if I'm pressing hard into a corner. The suspension, while providing sufficient absorption on big jumps and drops aren't great in smoothing out small, repetitive bumps that tend to be the norm from Nerang's rocks. And sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly lazy (or am just climbing up something really challenging), I'd like a more powerful motor.
So on the back of those observations and thoughts, I had come to the conclusion that I probably need an e-mountain bike that is better specified than Kerry's. After perusing the market and the pros and cons of different brands of bikes, I settled on the Merida eOne-Sixty 8000. From a componentry, suspension, more power and quality of components perspective, it seemed to tick all of the boxes of what I was after. And it's pretty....
At $7,999 the 2020 version is double what Kerry's 500SE cost us. The price certainly hasn't stopped others from purchasing it as this particular model is pretty much sold out throughout the country, as are all of the Merida eOne-Sixty mountain bikes.
Enter the 2021 versions of the eOne-Sixty, where the base model is now $500 more and the 8000 series is an extra $1,000. On the plus side though, the new 8000 gets a more powerful motor and inbuilt lights. Negatives include lower quality wheels - and the obvious increase in price.
And so I've been left wondering, can I really justify spending almost $9,000 on a mountain bike? But on a ride today on Kerry's e-mountain bike where I had to get out and back within an hour, I had some very interesting insights.
Going as fast as I can isn't something I worry about these days. I tend to focus more on enjoying the ride so showing some Strava stats is a bit odd for me. What I did want to share though was that on a particularly well travelled segment in the Nerang State Forest today, I managed to get the equal 7th fastest time on an e-bike. An e-bike that is matched with cheap and cheerful componentry and a smaller, less powerful motor than most of the e-bikes that are out there (except for the the ones that are 5 times as much).
This wasn't the only segment where I managed to achieve this sort of result. And to be honest, I really wasn't trying to set any land speed records. I just wanted to get out to some trails which I considered a lot of fun and make it back in time for a coaching session (which I would have been in time for it hadn't been for an unfortunate incident with a tree). What I did manage to do though was have an absolute blast within the hour of riding that I did.
After seeing those stats, I'm 99.99999% sure that getting a bike that costs twice the prices of Kerry's e-mountain bike will not give me double the fun nor will it make me twice as fast. Hell, I'm pretty sure I'd be lucky to go even 10% faster. And if I really think about it, there are certain things on the more expensive bikes that I would prefer not to have. Like a 12 speed drivetrain. I mean, there's a motor! What do I need a fragile 12 speed drivetrain for? I'd more rather have the cheaper, more robust 10 speed one. And so I guess the moral of the story is that you really don't need to spend a small fortune to either have fun or even go fast when mountain biking. What has actually made a different to my enjoyment and abilities is my investment in becoming a better rider. Because the reality is you can have fun on pretty much any mountain bike you ride. Mind you, this still hasn't quite sorted out my dillema of which e-mountain bike to buy. The 8000 series bike is still a very good looking bike....