Is an eMTB faster up the climbs? Yes, of course it is! Even the weakest of riders on an eMTB can turn a self-propelled XC whippet inside-out on a steep climb, but what about the descents? If you’re a skilled rider thinking of adding an eMTB to your stable, there is one question you will want to know – will an eMTB hold you back on the descents?

If you love riding technical trails, winching up steep hills only to throw yourself down the other side, then an eMTB will certainly supercharge the number of trails you can hit in one session. But to many riders, fast uphill performance is no use if the fun downhills are compromised. If you live to rail corners and chase KOM’s on the descents then climbs are often less than half the equation, a means to an end. The first generation of eMTBs descended with all the speed of a washing machine moving around the kitchen, but have things changed? We wanted to know how a current eMTB performs on the downhills, when motor assistance is no longer a factor, just the law of gravity and some wild riding, would it be able to keep up with a cutting-edge enduro bike?

On the left, the godfather of enduro, the Santa Cruz Nomad CC X01, 13.2 kg of high-performance potency. On the right the 23.2 kg €4,999 Lapierre Overvault AM 600+ with 160 mm suspension front and rear.
The test track featured tight corners, drops and lots of roots, just the sort of trail we all love riding.

Who cares which is faster?

When we Instagrammed the teaser to this feature someone commented “Why does it matter? They are different beasts offering different things to people”. A very true sentiment. eMTBs are not marketed as race bikes, nor is speed their main focus. However, anyone who has ridden one recently will have certainly noticed how much more capable they have become downhill, able to handle highly technical trails. With their increased weight and grip, are they closing the performance void between themselves and a top-flight enduro bike, or have they already jumped ahead? Nobody wants to go slower on a bike, would a good rider be faster downhill on an eMTB or enduro bike on a proper trail?

Two experienced riders, two bikes, the same result.

The Challenge

This battle would be a simple one, two bikes, two riders and one stopwatch. A 1:30 ish test track was marked out featuring tight corners, roots, technical sections and minimal pedaling – you know, the kind of trail we all love to ride. The bikes were unfamiliar to both riders, so each set up both bikes to their preferences, suspension, tire pressures and control points were all dialled in, and untimed practice runs were performed to ensure that each rider was happy with the setup.

It was all good-natured fun, but both riders wanted to win this battle.

The Challengers

On paper, the eMTB was already at a disadvantage, the Santa Cruz Nomad CC X01 with Reserve carbon wheels thumps in at a whopping €8,699, considerably more than the electric motor equipped €4,999 Lapierre Overvolt AM 600+. With better suspension and more travel, the Nomad should wipe the floor with the Bosch powered eMTB, especially as the motor will be no use at all. But with good tires, good brakes and a potent geometry, does the Lapierre have an ace up its sleeve?

Through rock gardens the eMTB’s stability lets it charge ahead, total line confidence.
But, the Santa Cruz Nomad is far more agile, darting through the turns quicker, and with more style.

The race

A suitable track was chosen, featuring drops, tight corners and flat out sections, all gravity with no significant pedal efforts, the iSX Downhill track in Innerleithen if anyone is interested. Using the excellent Adrenalin Uplift service, our two test riders were shuttled back up the hill (or there would have been a fight over the eMTB) for a total of 16 timed runs, 8 on each bike. The riders were released independently and any bad runs or crashes were discounted, the timing was blind to prevent racers ‘red mist’ trying to beat their previous time. The eMTB spent all of its time over the cut-out speed, this was a battle of grip, weight and handling, would the increased stability of the eMTB give it an advantage, or would it be too heavy in the turns? At the end of the day, the laps were counted, the bikes were washed, the numbers were crunched and the results were in.

Testing over, it was time for some fun!!

And the winner is, the Santa Cruz Nomad!

Rider 1: Nomad 1:27:10 ± 1,29 / Overvolt 1:29:05 ± 0,64
Rider 2 : Nomad 1:27:95 ± 0,92 / Overvolt 1:29:00 ± 2,29

OK, we only tested on one track, and with arguably a much better specification it may come as no surprise to see that the Santa Cruz Nomad was quickest for both rider. The enduro bike is still the king on the descents – but the times were tighter than two sheets of paper! After 16 runs on the track, the Santa Cruz Nomad was, on average, 1.5 seconds faster, just 1.8%. However, in reality, it was so close that only half a second separated the riders personal fastest time on each of the two bikes.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter which is fastest, only that neither bike will significantly slow you down – or reign in the fun.

Is there a conclusion?

In the end, does it really matter? Well, yes and no. Speed always comes down to many factors, suspension setup, trail choice, line choice, rider skill and bike familiarity, so saying something is faster without thousands of repetitions is difficult. However, what we have shown is that when faced with two unfamiliar bikes, the notion that ‘eMTBs are clumsy and slow’ is well and truly over. Both riders found the Nomad more fun and engaging through the tight sections, but were blown away by the heavier Overvolt eMTB’s stability and confidence. The performance gap is closing fast, no matter if you want to ride conventional bikes or an eMTB with your mates, neither will slow you down.

Thanks to the Adrenalin Uplift!

We would like to thank the Adrenalin Uplift service for all their support. With multiple vans working simultaneously and shuttles on Monday and Friday as well as the weekend, you get the full bike-park feeling. With shuttles from £32, they are the guys to speak too if you want the ultimate riding day at Innerleithen or Ae.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of E-MOUNTAINBIKE, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality cycling journalism. Click here to learn more.

Words & Photos: