There was no question that of all the Eurobikes I’ve attended, this one was the most electric. And we’re not talking about the atmosphere. Countless conversations with European brand managers, dealers, and even a few consumers revealed the same thing – there are a lot of consumers who seem to want e-bikes. Even brands like Mondraker who have historically only dealt in mid to high end mountain bikes are finding that their most popular model for 2017… has a motor.

Perhaps this was the reason that right before leaving for Eurobike, I had to make a quick trip out to California. Now, we are not in the habit of testing or covering e-bike product launches (especially of the mountain bike variety), but for the second time in my life I was headed to what many would consider a bucket list mountain biking destination – to ride an e-bike.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.
Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship Executive Director Greg Williams explaining how trails are being built for all in the Lost Sierras. Photo c. Colin Meagher/Shimano

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Right off the bat, I feel it’s important to make a few things clear. One of the reasons we were at the Nakoma Lodge near Downieville, CA was that all of the trails we would be riding are motorcycle legal. That’s an important distinction and one that seems to be the cause of a lot of concern in the industry. Personally, I’m completely fine with e-bikes being limited to OHV (Off Highway Vehicle, or motorized) trails. I know there’s this argument about the danger of sharing the trails with a much heavier, much faster dirt bike, but that’s never been much of an issue in my personal experience in places like Moab and now Downieville. I also don’t have a problem with the owners of private trail systems opening up their trails or providing special exemptions to e-bike use. There’s plenty of places that I’ve ridden on private land that the trails have been widened, flattened, and armored enough that you could drive a tank through it and probably not leave a mark. In places like this, e-bikes aren’t going to be an issue. But in areas where trail access is already an issue and will continue to be, I don’t find it necessary to allow e-bikes on all trails.

Fortunately, there are places where groups like the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship organization are building multi-use trails for all – including e-bikes. I know that this is simply not possible in every location around the U.S., but the fact that the SBTS is finding a harmonious balance between mountain bikers, e-bikers, trail runners, motos, and horses, brings hope that true multi-use recreational trails can be built so that no one is excluded.

Long story short, off-road e-bike usage is still a mess of passionate opinions and murky legality, but there are already a number of trail systems where they are legal, and will continue to be legal as long as motorcyclists and e-bikers continue to get along. And it was on moto-legal trails in the Lost Sierras that we got our first real taste of the Shimano STEPS E8000 system here in the U.S.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

The System

First launched back in 2016, the STEPS E8000 series is essentially Shimano’s XT level mountain bike specific e-bike system. Like most things e-bike, Europe got it first, followed by North America. More than two years after the initial launch, our trip out to California was timed so that it would coincide with the official North American launch of STEPS E8000. Not surprisingly, Shimano stated that the delay in bringing E8000 stateside was uncertainty in how an e-MTB system would be received here. Obviously, e-MTBs are still a contentious issue, but the overall attitudes are definitely changing. Slowly.

What may help change those attitudes is how Shimano views the concept all together. Stressing that it is a bicycle first, not an e-bike first, they say they want to grow the bike market and look at the e-bike as a tool to do so. When it came to designing a mountain bike drive system, it had to ride and handle like a mountain bike. It needed to be intuitive, and of course, had to integrate with Di2.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.
Photo c. Colin Meagher/Shimano

Starting with the drive unit, STEPS has a key advantage over the competition in its size. Since the motor itself is smaller and has the output shaft (bottom bracket) offset to the rear with the mounting bolts moved up and forward, it allows for the same length chainstays as a normal mountain bike. This is crucial to allowing frame designers to use the geometry they want, rather than constraining them to fit an awkward motor in front of the rear tire – especially when considering full suspension.

The drive unit also provides the same Q-Factor as a normal Shimano XT crank. Like we’ve discovered with fat bikes, Q-Factor can be critical in designing a bike that won’t destroy your knees on long rides. And considering the target e-bike market may have bad knees to begin with, this is no small detail.

Compared to the E6000 motor for the urban market, the E8000 motor has a number of important changes. The bolt pattern is altered to allow for better geometry as mentioned, but it also allows for more stability in the frame. Offering 70Nm maximum torque at 250w, the complete drive unit weighs in at 7lbs.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Perhaps equally as important as the geometry considerations, the E8000 drive unit uses a real MTB crankset with a full size chainring. Using essentially the same arms as a normal XT crankset, options like the new Deore XT FC-M8050 Hollowtech e-bike cranks use the bolt-on spline attachment for both sides since the chainring is attached to the freewheel on the drive unit. Cranks are available in solid or hollow forged in the case of XT, and now in 165, 170, and 175mm options. As far as the chainrings are concerned, of course it’s a proprietary fit with either 34 or 38t DCE (Dynamic Chain Engagement – plus/minus tooth profile) options available. Equipped with a built in chain guide, the guide is adjustable and you can remove the chainring without removing the guide.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.
Photo c. Colin Meagher/Shimano

Interestingly, Shimano does not have e-bike specific chains, cassettes, or derailleurs – but they do have e-bike capable chains. Their claim is that e-bike specific parts are designed to reduce breakage. Wanting their normal chain to be as strong as an e-bike chain, Small changes were made from the HG900 to the HG901 series to make the 901 the strongest chain they make. The chains have a revised plate profile that is designed to prevent breakage while double shifting under load. This includes the new Shimano Quick Link which is also e-bike rated.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.
Like many e-bike batteries, the Shimano battery has an on/off switch, power gauge, and a lock.

No e-bike system is complete without the battery, and this is another area that Shimano employed their signature over-engineering. Using a 504Wh battery, Shimano is quick to point out that watt-hours do not tell the full story of e-bike range. Liking it to fuel efficiency, Shimano’s MTB Product Manager Nick Murdick said it would be like talking about the size of a gas tank in a car without talking about miles-per-gallon.

Offered in both internal and external configurations, the external battery is actually a bit lighter even though they have the same number and size of cells. Murdick claims that this is due to the design of the case which is said to be the highest quality available. Stating that their battery factory “had never seen QC standards so high for a battery case,” the development of the battery was a costly part of the equation because it had to be strong enough to endure repeated crashes, while the battery itself had to maintain its capacity over 1000 charges – at which point Shimano says the battery will still have 60% of its original capacity (they claim most batteries are to 60% by only 500 charges). This is something that isn’t often discussed about e-bikes – the batteries have a finite life span and will have to be replaced at some point. Whether that means replacing or rebuilding the battery or just scrapping the bike remains to be seen, but it’s something to consider. And even more reason to buy a higher quality e-bike with a battery that should last longer.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.
Photos c. Colin Meagher/Shimano

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Manufacturers are also free to create their own batteries, like Focus did with their Jam². The frame features an internal battery which is smaller and makes the down tube look more natural, but a second TEC battery pack can be added on top for additional range for longer rides.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Or int he case of Pivot’s new e-bike, the external battery pack was actually built into the carbon frame.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Maybe the most unique feature of the E8000 series is the integration of essentially a Firebolt Di2 shifter for the mode select rather than a traditional button. Using it just like a shifter, one lever increases the assist level from off, to Eco, to Trail, and then Boost mode, while the other level decreases the assist level. Combined with the Shimano STEPS MTB color LCD display, you can quickly tell what mode and gear you’re in as well as indicated battery range which is updated in real time. The SW-E8000-L shifter does mean we’re back to the days of awkward dropper lever placement, but Murdick mentioned that you could use the left control unit from the E6000 series for better dropper lever placement if it bothers you.

Along with the three stock levels of assist, a Walk Mode is included to help you get the 45+lb bike up steep grades. To enter Walk Mode, simply hold down the bottom lever for two seconds, then after the walk mode shows up on the screen, release and then press and hold again to propel the bike forward. Letting go of the lever will stop the assist, as will any input from the sensors on the bike.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

In addition to the original settings, Shimano recently introduced updated firmware for the system which allows individual tuning to the different modes. Divided into Dynamic (factory), Explorer, and custom, you can fine tune the level of assist provided in different modes to either conserve battery life or just match your riding style. In Dynamic mode the Trail setting is the lowest possible while Boost is the highest, and in Explorer mode the Trail setting increases but the Boost mode decreases. In the custom setting, both Trail and Boost modes can be adjusted to your personal liking. The custom adjustments are available through the PC interface or through the Android or iOS app which connects to the system via Bluetooth (or ANT+). The app also allows you to adjust things like which shift lever does what, change brightness, system settings, etc. Like many things electronic, the system can be constantly updated through firmware downloads to allow for things like battery indication on your Garmin, additional shift settings, and more.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

The final piece of the puzzle is the sensor system which currently includes a rear wheel speed sensor that attaches to the chainstay. Shimano has a sensor where the magnet gets attached to the brake rotor, which would eliminate the need for a spoke magnet. Pedalec e-bikes have a complicated series of sensors that ensure power is only applied when you’re pedaling, but the end result isn’t always the same. Ideally, the power comes on smooth so it feels like you’re just having a great day on the bike and this is one of the areas that Shimano excels – but more on that in the next post.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

The Bike

Showing up to a fleet of blacked out test mules, our ride for the two days would be essentially a catalog framed e-bike. Meant to highlight the drive system rather than any one particular company, these bikes from Astro Engineering actually turned out to be quite good. Following trends in the e-bike industry, the bikes featured 27+ wheels and tires with 150mm of front travel and 140mm at the rear.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.
Photos c. Colin Meagher/Shimano

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Plus bikes seem like popular candidates for a motor, and it’s easy to see why. Better traction means the tire isn’t as apt to cut loose when on the power, and the increased weight of the e-bike means you can run higher pressures giving the plus tires more support.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.
Photos c. Colin Meagher/Shimano

With e-mountain bikes especially, you’ll see things like “E-bike Optimized” parts including forks, brakes, and more. Essentially, parts like the fork steerers are beefed up to withstand repeated stopping and bashing from heavier bikes and higher speeds. Naturally, the brakes are also bigger with 203 or 180mm rotors front and rear to slow things down. For even more stopping power, Shimano introduced a four piston XT brake caliper that will be great for heavier e-bikes, but also for aggressive riding on human powered bikes.

Hands on: Shimano STEPS E8000 e-MTB components make their way to the U.S.

In spite of being a catalog aluminum frame with all aluminum parts, this bike was still surprisingly light (for an e-bike) at 45.77lbs for a medium with a dropper post, camera mount, and no pedals.

How did the system ride? Check out our next post for more.


    • I looked forward to seeing the fantastical Ducati you mentioned modified so that it only assists pedaling, doesn’t have a throttle, and only puts out a max of 0.34 hp (250W). Anybody who rides are motorcycle would never confuse a an e-bike with a motorcycle……unless they’re just completely verklempt about the existence of e-bikes. I think only cure for that is therapy.

  1. Asking respectfully and (hopefully) constructively: why not create a sub-site or sister-site exclusively for e-bike news? If e-bikes are as wonderful and inevitable as supporters claim, it seems that coupling them to (non-assisted) bicycle news is only stifling growth.

    • Why would you though? I haven’t got the slightest interest in DH race bikes, and as such just scroll past the articles on them, I’m sure those who aren’t interested in e-bikes can do the same?

    • This article has 40+ comments… most others have less than 10. You do the math. In a world where eyeballs=dollars, ebikes appear to be king. If the Luddites of the group want them to go away, they should avoid reading or commenting on the articles.

      • Most of these comments are rants against ebikes and rants against rants. How many of them are actually discussing the subject presented in the article? Very few!
        If I would be a e-bike manufacturer I would not be happy with such a response.
        Put out an article praising the virtues of press fit bottom bracket – it will garner much more comments than this one 🙂

  2. Ok, so electric motorcycle with pedal type throttle. The motor is not assisting anything. If the chainring is moving faster than the crank arms its not possible for any of your power to be transferred into the chain. Your power is just telling the motor how much power to apply to the chain so it feels like riding a bike.

    The amount of power is irrelevant. Call it a low powered electric motorcycle with a pedal type throttle if you want. Facts are, when the motor is turned on, the motor is powering the bike, not you. This point is either misunderstood or just magically glossed over by pretty much everyone who stands to make money on these things.

    And just to be clear, I’m 100% cool with e-bikes being perfectly legal on OHV trails. Just not on purpose built MTB singletrack, y’know, just like everyone who seems to be ‘against’ e-bikes is.

    Cool tech for sure if you’re into this sort of thing.

    • So… ride one before you make sweeping claims about how they work? You still have to do your share to make it go. Same for the motorcycle guy. If you confuse this machine for a motorcycle you may not be qualified to operate either.

      • The confusion is on your part. I have ridden several, from cheapos right through to the S works. Each one had an electric motor. And again, they each had a motor. By virtue of having a motor they are motorcycles.

      • Actually, in the case of the Bosch system, the chainring turns 2.5:1 of crank rotation, but they’re geared together, so the motor cannot turn the chainring faster than dictated by the rider’s pedaling speed.

        In my experience, all opponents to e-mtb have one thing universally in common: they have never ridden one on a trail. They don’t belong on onv trail any more than we do. They belong on MTB trails.

        • Correct, we haven’t illegally ridden them on trail because it’s illegal to operate motorcycles on our trails.

          Lots of things are fun to do; it doesn’t mean it’s OK to do them.

          • Is it illegal on your trails? Because these e-mtb’s all fall under the federal definition of a “low-speed electric bicycle”, which is a bicycle, not a motorcycle. It is possible that your land managers have decided not to allow them, but many trails don’t have a position on it at all, because these are bicycles in the eyes of the law.

      • Greg, calling it an assist is exactly my issue with these. It is flat out marketing. Calling it an assist makes it seem as though your power is being transferred through the chain and this is not the case. Your pedaling power is telling the motor how much power to apply and this is why it feels just like you are the bionic man riding a bike.

        Dinger, they are not geared together. Go get on one and ride it around with the motor off and watch the rotation of the chainring perfectly match that of the crank arms. Then turn it on and watch the chainring start turning much faster than the crank arms. If they were geared together you’d feel the pedals start turning for you and they don’t, you just feel a surge of speed.

        You guys are perfectly making my point that people don’t understand how these things work and this confusion is good for people trying to force these things into places they don’t belong.

        The level of power has nothing to do with whether or not its a motorcycle. If its not 100% human powered its not a bicycle. These aren’t bicycles. They’re also fun in the right places. Purpose built mtb singletrack should not be one of these places.

        • “Calling it an assist makes it seem as though your power is being transferred through the chain and this is not the case. ”

          turok, you are simply uninformed, you who do not understand how they work. I have ridden and worked with all of the major e-bike systems. None of them behaves as you say.

        • Turok, I’ve ridden and worked on all of the popular e-bike systems, and none of them spin the chainring at a faster rate relative to the cranks when powered on. The one exception is the split-second when you stop pedaling, and the motor continues to spin the chainring until its sensors cut the power. There’s always some lag between the device that measures your power, and the motor controller. They all employ a ratchet or one-way clutch between crank and chainring so that when you stop pedaling, the motor doesn’t force you to do another 1/4 turn on the cranks.

    • By then, eMTBs will have gotten the actual trails closed to all MTBs, so hopefully your future self will enjoy riding bikeparks with the kiddos.

      • you really think eMTB are closing trails, no, the sheer popularity of mountain biking PLUS the idiots that have little to no respect for the trails they have been given access to – those idiots that decide they are allowed to break down fences, build where they want to build, no, look closer to home pal, its the current flock of youthful stupidity and ignorance thats getting your shit shut down and you are all wanting an external excuse, a scapegoat (as ever) to blame

  3. HEY SHIMANO! Where is your dropper post? SRAM has had theirs for years and it integrates with their brake perches. If you are going so hard on electronic gadgets then put some effort into an electronic dropper post? Remember when you used be the best component brand? Yeah I can’t remember that far back either. SRAM is killing you in the USA

    • They’ve had the Pro Koryak for almost a year now. Not electronic though. Would be nice if they made something similar to the Magura Vyron.

    • Somehow Shimano and SRAM made a deal. Shimano will stick with designing stupid stuff like this, un-amazing road components, low end mountain bike components, and loose ball hubs. SRAM will continue to design the best and most innovative bicycle components. “And which build kit would you like on your new mountain bike? The SRAM or the SRAM?”

  4. I want to draw attention to this quote:

    “Plus bikes seem like popular candidates for a motor, and it’s easy to see why. Better traction means the tire isn’t as apt to cut loose when on the power…”

    Remember it because all these industry eMoped salesmen are constantly babbling on about how we won’t loose trail access and how they aren’t harder on the trails than regular mountain bikes.

    And yet spelled out right here in a pro eMoped article is the phrase “when on the power” which means they need big fat wheels for more traction.

    • ““Plus bikes seem like popular candidates for a motor, and it’s easy to see why. Better traction means the tire isn’t as apt to cut loose when on the power…””

      This statement is just as true of conventional bikes as it is of e-bikes. It is obvious that you haven’t ridden one. Try one and see for yourself.

    • @FFM & dinger

      It’s also interesting the way eMoped bros immediately turn to personal attacks and “you obviously haven’t ridden one” as arguments when both miss the point entirely. I get it, you guys totally want to be able to ride your wee motorcycles anywhere you want, (deleted)
      To everyone else who may not have made up their mind yet, pay careful attention to the intentional framing of these arguments. It’s not a throttle, but I need more traction because I’m able to exert more power. I have a boost control on my handlebar but it’s just like a mountain bike otherwise. You need to go ride one because once you see how fun they are you won’t worry about trail access anymore. Bro, do you even eMtb!?

      • #1, I don’t own one, nor do I want to (yet). I have been mountain biking since 1990. I love it and I want anyone who wants to enjoy mtb riding be able to, also.

        #2. I haven’t missed your point, you just aren’t making a relevant one. You are extrapolating false information from statements taken out of context. FFM provided the data. Read it.

        Look, this is happening whether or not you want it to. As it does, you will find that people riding e-assist bikes on the same trails that you do will have absolutely ZERO effect on your own experience. Somebody with a little bit bigger a waist line may pass you on an uphill, but you won’t notice them otherwise.

  5. Looks nice! I’ve tested the Bosch and Continental systems and have to say E-Bikes can really be a lot of fun. Everyone can ride what they want, 250 W is very far from a motorcycle like said in earlier comments. Personally I still prefer riding without assistance.
    The E6000 control unit looks actually a lot sleeker and better than using a regular shift lever for mode switching!

  6. C’mon, man! Recumbents and tandems are more bicycle than these contraptions. Stop pandering to your advertising masters and give us BICYCLE related content!

  7. Since the advent of the MTB every subsequent progression was for a singular purpose, to ride faster. If ever you the get the opportunity to ride an E Bike properly you will release that this is just a move in the same direction.

  8. I can picture someone tossing their mickey d’s wrapper in the brush turning up the insane clown posse over their backpack speaker and running over dogs, small children, and the elderly on the narrow singletrack.

    I’m sure the horseback and elderly hiking crowd will LOVE these things, and they will definitely be able to identify the distinction between my human powered bike and these machines.

  9. I don’t think ebikes should be allowed on multi-use singletrack because they are fast enough to be dangerous to other trail users, but anyone saying a e-bike is equivalent to a motorcycle has not ridden one or the other. E-bike is not heavy and intimidating and much less powerful than a motorcycle. Ebikes handle just like a normal bicycle, but each pedal stroke pushes you farther and faster.

    They are fun as hell, and I don’t see why I’d ever ride a non-powered bicycle on the road again. I hope trail access keeps up and properly limits e-bike use on singletrack, but ebikes would be fun off-road, especially improving flat terrain that’s boring to ride on an unpowered bike.

    • Actually there are plenty of people going more than fast enough to be extremely dangerous to other trail users. Allot of mountain bikers get extremely reckless. Its in the culture (i.e. if you don’t crash from time to time, your not riding hard enough).

      • Well, that’s what we get with IMBA’s asinine push for multi-user, multi-direction trails. Dedicated trails, alternating day use, and one-way trails are the cure.

  10. I come here to read the comments that think their great insight against ebikes will save the day. Instead same old tired comments. Come on now… these things have disc brakes…. combined with a motor…. You roadies and mountain bikers need to team up and tell us how combining these two horror devices will end civilization…..

    While certainly not for me, eBikes have their place. They are highly profitable. There will be much more for those reasons alone.

  11. Where are these things selling at? I’ve seen about 2 total while riding on MTB trails and every local shop I talk to says they’ve sold about 15% of what they ordered for the year. Seems like the industry is telling us how they’re killing it with them but the shops still have them collecting dust and eating up money.

    • It’s the cost. The price focuses them on people that are very into cycling and most of these people are unlikely to buy this over a sinarly priced regular bike as the latter is more useable/fun in vastly more scenarios and they have the skill/condition to not require/desire assist

      • The customer that e-bikes are reaching are mostly people that weren’t interested in “acoustic” cycling and people who are coming back to cycling from a long time away, but don’t think they could enjoy it with existing ability levels.

        That’s the big up-side. e-bikes are binging in people who wouldn’t have participated otherwise.We should welcome them.

    • Europe, definitely. Here – in Germany – there are 50 percent e-mtb on wider trails and on sunny days.
      Even hikers have learned to identify e-powered bikes. They recognize you riding uphill quite fast. Then they are looking down to the cranks. Oh, no motor. This happens very often. I even got compliments for riding with muscle power.
      From hikers.
      In Germany.
      In the Black Forest where riding smaller trails is not allowed.
      Well, nobody cares about this law.

      I don´t like them very much but to me e-bikes are better than cars.
      E-bikes are already forming something like a lobby here.
      Since more (expensive) e-bikes were stolen even police and insurances are doing more for all cyclists.

  12. How is my KTM Freeride E-XC not a mountain bike, too?

    This e-bike uses legs to control the throttle, and my moto uses one hand. Both are human-powered!

  13. I used to ride motocross bikes. Sure they’re fun and all but like these products, they’re simply not bicycles. Just like with the launch of ‘g-bikes’ a century ago, the e-bikes are using the bicycle market as a launching point and then will squeeze the bicycle aspect out of their marketing posterior once they’ve established themselves. Look for bigger motors and no pedals in the not so distant future. What this means for bicyclists is that during the birthing process of this new type of motorized-cycle the industry will put money into developing new compnents specifically for these products, rather than bicycles and bike parts. Brands naturally follow the money, to the absolute detriment of those that love actual bicycles. From the latest issue of Road Bike Action, an interview with Focus bikes senior brand manager Andreas Krajewski:
    RBA: How does the e-bike market fit into the future for Focus?

    AK: Pedal bikes are not dead, but the business is definitely focused on the e-bike category. In five years we don’t plan on selling pedal bikes anymore, just e-bikes.

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