E-mountain biking – a risky business? The hottest trends in the bike industry are brimming with the promise of safety, but biking will never be absolutely safe – and it’s not supposed to! We are looking into the fine line between truly protective innovations and colourful, shiny “safe-washing”.

Everything used to be better in the old days. Back then, new products appearing around the flourishing toy called a “mountain bike” really still deserved to be labelled innovations The first suspension fork allowed a certain say in which direction you wanted to rumble over rough terrain. Thanks to disc brakes, it was possible to get a rough idea of what effect these two levers on the handlebar have when you pull on them, even in the wet. Going downhill, the dropper post finally allowed you to move your backside to where it actually belongs, making the trail experience way safer. Kudos! All these innovations still generate sincere nods of approval even today because they have actually made cycling safer. The added value they gave opened doors for new riding styles and manoeuvres, and ultimately for completely new interpretations of mountain biking.

Years after those initial milestones, safety is once again on top of the hit list of the bike industries’ marketing vocabulary. It is one of the buzzwords par excellence. Target group analyses show that safety is now more important than ever before. Sure, mountain biking, and cycling in general, is opening up to an ever larger and more diverse audience – so, heaven forbid, that anyone should be scared away by the idea that it actually might involve some risks! And so new safety innovations are called for – after all, safety sells. However, technically speaking, modern bikes are already capable of quite a lot. Even if manufacturers like to present these innovations as “the next revolution”, most of the improvements are rather subtle and the promise of even more safety is questionable. In the search for ever more technical safety measures and our desire to remain unharmed, we run the risk of falling for “safe-washing”. And in the process we fail to appreciate how beautiful and important the untamed wilderness is, and fail to recognize the risks exploring it on a mountain bike brings. So does more safety really even make sense?

More protection – Even from ourselves

New eMTB products promise more protection in many and various ways: protection from poor visibility, from theft and from riding mistakes out on the trail – in other words, from ourselves. But how realistic are these promises? And do we even really want them? Spoiler: Not every safety feature is equally useful for everyone – but some of them are a real must for certain uses.


Let’s first have a look at products promising to improve visibility. Hold on, we hear you say. You prefer to dress muted to midnight black on the trail and actually try to stay visually low-key? Okay, that might be stylish, but anyone who also uses their eMTB to commute in road traffic or has to pass between cars on the way to and from the trail should aim to be highly visible to others. The why becomes obvious at the very latest when you hear car tires suddenly squeal next to you on the road. What used to be a reflective, neon-coloured overcoat fluttering lovelessly on us for better visibility, has long since been improved with batteries and lamps. Today, these gadgets not only work electronically but they’re rather smart, too. With the uvex Urban Planet LED, a simple clip-on battery-powered light adds a… you guessed it, a LED that produces a flashing or steady light directly out of the back of the helmet, into which it is neatly integrated. Drivers are able to see the light much better up there than when it is stuck between the saddle and the rear tire – very cool! Also cool are bike-mounted rear lights like the Supernova TL3 PRO, which, by using sensor technology, detects when you hit the brake and then lights up even brighter, like a car brake light. The Varia from Garmin warns the biker when traffic is approaching from behind thanks to the radar sensor placed on the handlebar.

By the way, visibility doesn’t always have to be glowing or flashing: POC from Sweden spend a lot of money on integrating Recco reflectors into their MTB products. This allows bikers missing out in the wild to be located by helicopter and rescued. Although bikers are rarely buried alive, which means that the system has not yet been tested in practice (as of June 2022), the technology is intended to open up a new dimension of MTB safety.

Our conclusion so far: the good old high-visibility jacket has been, both functionally and stylistically, replaced by modern, smart safety products for visibility. On daylit bike trails, additional lighting is not that important, but when using your eMTB in the city too, or planning long rides until dusk, visibility is a safety must. The more integrated and inconspicuous the devices, the more willing we are to use them. They may not reinvent the wheel, but they certainly make the bike and rider more visible. Used correctly, they are not just safe-washing, but a real safety gain!


Safety starts before you are even sitting on the bike. At least that’s how it’s seen by the manufacturers of the little helpers, which are supposed to intervene in the unpleasant event of bike theft. And wow, things are certainly moving here! Thanks to the integration of smartphones, with the help of GPS tracking and sometimes terrifying warning sounds, modern, technical solutions are fighting against the painful loss caused by theft. With the Stealth Tubeless Tag Holder, Muc-Off offer a holder to place an AirTag from Apple inside a tubeless tire and use the myriad of iPhone users as a digital tracking device. The Knog Scout also uses the network of Apple users network for locating – or, depending on the setting, puts thieves straight to flight with an ear-piercing alarm. The Bosch ConnectModule offers similar abilities and does not even need to be charged separately because it is connected to the bike’s battery. Specialized also provide similar functions. But can an alarm replace a solid bike lock? Um… no. But at least the dream of tracking down the much-loved stolen bike is closer to reality at last. Of course, such anti-theft devices have little to do with the classic dangers of biking, but if a gadget can help ensure that you remain the owner of your bike, we are more than happy to define the topic of safety more broadly. Pre-ride and post-ride safety, so to speak…

Protection from ourselves

If you haven’t been overlooked by any of the other road users and your bike is still parked in your basement, the remaining question is: How can modern products protect us from endangering ourselves out on the trail? This is not about third-party managed combination locks or the best sales platforms but how technical influence can actually help us ride better and safer – just as suspension forks, disc brakes and dropper posts do. This is the royal league of safety innovations and nowhere does safe-washing and real added value lie so close together as here. Have you ever pulled the front brake too hard and hastened to meet the pavement face first? Bosch and MAGURA say never again and equip eMTBs with an antilock braking system that should make locking front wheels a thing of the past. ABS on a bike – that sounds huge! This milestone has already convinced us in practical tests and won our Design & Innovation Award. And the group of potential users for this technology is massive. For the many beginners and growing number of occasional users of ebikes, the focus is not on the challenge and adrenaline rush, but on the pleasure of a safe and fear-free ride. According to our tests, the ABS caters to this exact need. Sure, some purists might sniff at yet another electronic helper on the bike, but at the same time, many others will be very happy about this additional safety feature – or perhaps won’t even notice the system because they simply enjoyed their ride crash-free and in one piece. Other new developments promise to be the next revolution – but leave us with some question marks after the first tests. For example, the K.I.S. steering assistance system from Syntace and Canyon aims to take bike handling to the next level. In our test, however, we experienced the mechanical automatic return of the handlebar to the straight-ahead position more as a stalemate between pros and cons. Next nevel? Certainly not for us, not in this case at least.

The importance of the wild

We celebrate game-changing product innovations that have what it takes to truly elevate our riding experience to a new level of performance and safety. However, as sophisticated as many parts of our bikes already are today, it would be naive to expect a revolution from every well-intentioned product development and the marketing promises that come with it. Safe-washing is everywhere. How do you protect yourself from getting lost in it? Try to understand how precious it is for some types of bikers that, in the end, riding a bike is always wild and a bit dangerous: As good and safe as it feels when the front wheel no longer locks unintentionally with ABS, it also feels great when, through practice and after overcoming setbacks, you become the master of your own brake lever. As reassuring as it is to know that the bike in front of the ice cream parlour is protected by an alarm, it also feels nice to trust that it will be admired by many, but still be yours at the end of the day. As comforting as it seems to have done everything for your and your bike’s safety, it is also refreshing and exciting to just let things happen and not be in total control for a moment. Right?! However, we want safety where it is urgently needed – above all in road traffic and in conditions of poor visibility.

Safety? Yes please! When it comes to road traffic, safety is a must. But on the trail, the next evolutionary step is probably not within the bike, but within yourself. The promise of ever more safety on the eMTB is neither tenable nor necessary. Safe-washing can make us believe we are safe, but only practice and ever-growing self-confidence can make us truly better riders. The real MTB experience only exists with courage and a dash of risk.

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Words: Moritz Geisreiter Photos: Various