Face-Off: E-Bikes vs. Dirtbikes

Face off dirt vs ebike

Gunnin’ it for the top spot.

Let’s call a spade a spade: e-bikes are motorized vehicles. Whew—nice to get that one out of the way. Now that we’re speaking candidly, we can really delve into the nuances in different types of motorbikes. In one corner, weighing in at 40 or 50 pounds, we have the electric mountain bike. Lean and nimble, this virtuous contestant nearly blends in with a human-powered bicycle. In the other corner, smashing through the 200-pound mark, we have a feisty combatant who is definitely not trying to disguise herself as something else. In fact, she’s screaming at the top of her lungs that she’s powered by a motor. Oh boy, this is gonna be fun.

You’d think that a high-powered motorcycle, equipped with robust suspension and durable components, would cost a whole lot more than what is merely a standard bike frame with a sewing-machine motor built into it... right? Not so fast. A brand-new dirt bike will put you out around $10k, but a brand-new e-MTB can cost just the same—or even more. Granted, this is for an electric bicycle with the nicest, lightest components; whereas a base-model e-MTB costs a few thousand less. But in contrast, there are way more used dirtbikes on the market than used e-bikes, and you can really score a bargain if you know what you’re looking for in a motorcycle. Edge: Dirtbike

Bike maintenance is complicated. On both e-bikes and dirt bikes, something simple like fixing a chain or changing a tire can be done with minimal equipment—even while out on the trail—but anything more requires specialized tools, serious know-how, and a whole lot of elbow grease. Again, e-bikes seem like they ought to win here—you’ll never have to clean an air filter, tune a carburetor, or rebuild an engine. However, on a dirtbike, you actually can do all of those things—in fact, anything that goes wrong could presumably be fixed in your garage. Whereas, if an e-bike motor fails, there’s nothing you can do. Gotta send it back to the manufacturer, which could take months to turn around.
Edge: Tie

Here’s where the difference really starts to show. Whereas moto bikes are loud, smoky, and obtrusive, e-bikes these days can hardly be distinguished from their nonmotorized counterparts. This means that you can ride them on nonmotorized-use trails and get away with it. In fact, that’s where most people ride them. So if you’re looking to take a motorized rip up Truman Gulch prior to June 16, or to effortlessly cruise multiple laps on Chestnut, an e-bike is the ticket.
Edge: E-Bike

Aside from the fact that electric bikes can discreetly be ridden on nonmotorized trails, there’s really nothing that makes them more practical than a dirtbike—especially when considering the variety of offerings in the latter. Whether you want to cover dozens of miles of forest trails in just a few hours, or commute around town with a small amount of cargo, or set up an effortless river shuttle, a dirtbike will get it done.
Edge: Dirtbike

Okay, this isn’t even fair. But if we’re doing a full comparison, we’ve got to talk about power. A respectable dirtbike will put out around 20 horsepower, with that number increasing to 40 or 50 for a real mean machine. That’ll have you spinning the back tire and popping up the front wheel with a slight flick of the wrist. E-bikes, on the other hand, max out around one horsepower. Laughable.
Edge: Dirtbike

Going hand-in-hand with power, dirtbikes are wicked dangerous to ride. There’s probably some statistic showing a positive correlation between dirtbike sales and hospital bills for young males, in particular. Ripping through the woods at high speed is a good way to knock yourself out, break some bones, or even burn yourself on the hot engine components. Hell, you could even injure yourself doing maintenance on a dirtbike, what with all the springs, fluids, and tight bolts. An e-bike is tame in comparison. There’s no increase in danger from a normal mountain bike. Boring!
Edge: E-Bike

Social Statement
Let’s look at it this way: what’s the cost of riding each type of bike? On a dirtbike, depending on where you’re riding, you might be significantly encroaching on your surroundings. You’ll be scaring wildlife, pissing off other people, and giving the trails a real beating. In contrast, on an e-bike, the only victim is yourself. You’ll likely be fooling yourself into thinking that you’re getting a good workout and pulling off some real athleticism. But at least you’re not really having an impact on anyone else.
Edge: E-Bike

Folks who ride e-bikes will tout the enjoyment factor—that’s the whole point, anyway. “I have so much more fun when I can cruise all the hills!” Yeah, we get it. Blasting corners and catching air while pedaling uphill is pretty surreal. But have you ever experienced the feeling of dumping the clutch in second gear on 450cc of gas pointed up a winding dirt road? Or goosing the throttle to effortlessly wheelie over a water bar? If not, you haven’t truly lived.
Edge: Dirtbike

Score: 4-3
Winner: Dirtbike
Wow, that was a surprise—in the pages of this magazine, motorheads take down the sporty guys! Strangely enough, this face-off showed us more similarities between e-bikes and dirtbikes than differences. Both are expensive and can be a real pain in the ass to maintain, both provide a means of circumventing our bodies’ physical limitations, and both are pretty dang fun to ride. At the end of the day, it comes down to what you’re trying to prove. Do you hope to pretend like you’re fit enough to pedal all of the Bozone’s most grueling cross-country rides? Or would you prefer to let the engine do the talking, and not give a damn? Pick one, and have a blast out there. You really can’t go wrong.