Ride E-Bikes for motocross training? Aldon Baker is all about it. 12

As a professional motocross trainer and ex-pro mountain bike racer, its a bit of a shock that Aldon Baker is adding some electricity to his program.

Ride E-Bikes for motocross training? Aldon Baker is all about it.
“If I had to choose, personally, I’d go for the e-bike.” - Aldon Baker 

That’s a bold statement coming from arguably the most respected motocross trainer, Aldon Baker, who also used to be a professional mountain bike racer. We were a little surprised at the level of e-bike enthusiasm Aldon has shown, and that’s why we reached out to talk to him about why he is so pro e-bike for training, recovery, and everything in between. 

A short primer on Training

For a lot of weekend warriors, riding a dirt bike is their physical activity for the week. With all kinds of schedules, responsibilities, and obligations in people's lives, we understand that not everyone has time to train to ride their dirt bike. But for anyone that follows the sport, training is a (some would say “the”) major factor in making professional riders faster. Whether you avoid the gym like you avoid your crazy aunt at the family reunion, or you love training and are looking for more options, Aldon would argue e-bikes are for you. 

A short primer on E-Bikes

We are not experts on e-bikes by any stretch of the imagination but there are a few things we can share. E-bikes (electric bicycles) come in road and mountain varieties but Aldon is only talking about the mountain bikes (eMTB). There are currently three officially recognized classes, but we are mainly discussing Class One here, which is the vast majority of eMTBs on the market. Class One e-bikes do not have a throttle, and the max power output is limited to 750 watts (about 1 hp) in the US, or 250 watts in Europe. Note that while these power allowance differences are significant on paper most Class One eMTBs currently sold in the US do not offer significantly more than 250 watts power, as battery capacity vs. total system weight is what is currently driving these designs more than outright power. In the absence of a throttle, the motor only helps when your legs turn the pedals. Most bikes have different levels of assistance and they can also be turned off. Overall, e-bikes are heavier than standard mountain bikes, but they also have beefed-up components to handle the extra weight and the higher power output.

Left to right: Jason Anderson, Aldon Baker, Ryan Dungey, and Zach Osborne.

1. More control over training

Modern motocross training involves keeping track of training zones and heart rate and a bunch of other metrics, and the more control you have over those things, the better. Traditionally mountain biking is great for spiking your heart rate on climbs but you are at the mercy of the terrain and if you are trying to stick to a certain zone for a certain amount of time, it can be hard to do. With an e-bike, Aldon says this is way easier. 

“I feel like for training, it is a little bit like motor pacing, because if you work on holding a certain speed or power or whatever, you can utilize the training a lot more. We want to keep the rider’s heart rates in a specific zone and sometimes that’s tough, especially on steep hills. In California it seems like, when you go mountain biking, you are either going up or going down. Especially in varied terrain, I feel like e-bikes are way more consistent and they kind of help you maintain a better cadence and a better pace and a better training zone" 


“They are perfect for someone looking to change it up, and it depends on what they [racers] are trying to achieve. If they want a tougher workout, just turn the thing off and riding it that way will complement your leg strength. But if they want an easier spin you can you can have full power, mid power, or low power. You have so many options for what you want to accomplish with your training."

“In Florida here, we haven’t got the mountains of California and we turn them off for certain parts of training, then everyone is the same and it’s a good workout and we stay in our training zones. Then, on the way home when we get on the side of the road, we put the assist on and we can get home quicker. But they only go 19 mph. As soon as you reach 19 then you are having to push to maintain beyond that.”

“Now, I don't want to ride a mountain bike unless it is an e-bike, to be honest.” - Aldon Baker 

2. Ride farther, longer

With limited time, loading your mountain bike to ride an epic training loop that is somewhat far away kind of sucks. As a moto guy/gal, we know that if you’re going to have to load something in the truck, it’s going to be your dirt bike. But, if you can pedal to the great riding area, that increases your time on the bike and eliminates the time driving. This is one of the main arguments for e-bikes that downhill MTB guys use. Why shuttle or chairlift up when I can spend more time on my bike and enjoy more riding time?

“Some trails, with a normal bike, I wouldn’t really do because they are way out there, but they are great trails. Now I can actually do it because I have the assist. It takes the edge off, I can go further and I can enjoy some better trails." 

Marvin looking like a full on roadie.
Zach getting ready to crush some trails.

"When I was was pro back in the day, any full suspension bike was at least 30 pounds, now they have e-bikes that are the same [more like 45-50 pounds] they are not terrible to pedal but they are tougher than an 18 pound bike or whatever the deal is now. Money and option wise, man there is just no way you can beat this.”

3. More motorcycle-like on downhills

If you’ve ridden mountain bikes for years, then you are totally used to how light and tiny they feel when compared to a dirt bike. But if you are new to mountain biking there's something unnerving about how insubstantial and fragile mountain bikes feel when you are so used to hitting tails on a 240 pound machine. Yet Aldon says that on of the reasons the racers he trains like the e-bikes so much is that they feel more like a motorcycle going downhill that a standard MTB. 

“On the downhills, the things are amazing. To me, they are even more safe than a regular mountain bike because they are beefier, they are more consistent and they have more similarities to motorcycles. So there are a lot of positives. Plus the guys [racers] really enjoy it. The e-bike has better suspension, wider tires with better grip, all of that, is better than the regular bikes. I just think that a lot people don’t know what e-bikes really are and all the possibilities they really give you.”


4. Warm up

If you are just going to the track or riding some trails for fun, the first 20 minutes of riding is your warm up. But if you are racing, even before practice you need your body to be primed and ready for action. Most pros use road bikes on trainers in their pits, but they don’t have to pay for those and if you don’t have any pedal bike yet, an e-bike could make more sense financially. It is also easier on your legs than taking a normal bike for a couple loops around the track. 

“Yeah, if you are just doing a warm up and you got some assist then you’re not hammering the legs but you are still getting blood flow, so this to me is way better than using just a regular bike. Along those lines, I’ve heard that all these GNCC racers are using them because they’ve got to go out and check the course out. They usually do it on a normal mountain bike but it makes sense for them to ride an e-bike. I know Kailub Russell has one and he can go check the course and its not messing him up. He’s kind of getting a little bit of training in and a little spin but he’s also able to go check the whole loop out, that is typically a little more out of everyone's normal grasp on a regular mountain bike.”

“The enjoyment factor is on a whole different level.” - Aldon Baker

5. Recovery

This was actually the first reason Aldon got into e-bikes. He said that he and some of his riders were invited to a Specialized ride day on the Sunday after Anaheim 1. It was a mountain bike ride and he was a little nervous about it for his racers because the day after a race is focused on recovery, not hammering. On the ride he noticed some guy pedaling with ease and chatting with the smallest amount of effort. He was on an e-bike and Aldon immediately thought they should be on e-bikes the day after a race, too. 

Class One e-bikes have a max assist speed of 19 mph. Once you get to that point, the bike isn't putting any power into the drivetrain.

“I always say that the day after a race, when recovering, heart-rate wise you want to be in your base zone. You are trying to get some blood flow but not put the body under real stress. The cool thing with the e-bikes is you can pick whatever setting you want. If you are feeling more beat, you can use more of the assist. Between the three settings we have on the Levo you can pick one or the other and you can go and do an hour bike ride and have a good cadence and a good spin and have it be a good recovery instead of it being more of a grind."

“Before, I would have to pick courses that were very flat for recovery. Now we don’t really have to do that because you’ve got your bases covered either way.”

6. Have more fun

If you like something, you’ll do it more. A simple premise that applies to training and working out as well. Some people like the gym, but I would wager more people prefer riding, even when talking about something you have to pedal. Apparently, e-bikes are just a lot more fun to ride. You can spend less time grinding on steep climbs, you can explore trails you never would on a regular bike, and you can pack in way more trails in the same amount of time.

Enjoy your "training" and do it more often.

“I think the big thing for most people, other than professionals, you really want to enjoy your training and your riding. I feel like e-bikes give you the most amount of options to pick what you really want to do. The guys feel that too. They love riding the e-bikes, but depending on what training I want them to do, I’ll say, ‘OK boys turn it off’ and they’ll have to pedal hard."

“I’m not professional anymore, where in the past, my whole day was regarded as training and preparing to go professional racing, naturally I was stronger and a lot better. Those days are gone. I can’t ride the mountains that I use to the same way that I used to. But having the assist makes it so much more enjoyable. The assist gets you over the hump in a way, which I feel like you can enjoy a lot more. You can ride farther, you can go and do more challenging courses easier. It gives you more options.”


7. Even the pros need a hand sometimes

We all know how gnarly these guys are, with training lifestyles that rival olympic athletes and any other elite level sport. But even they say that they want help getting up the extremely steep trails. It’s more about not blowing up too quickly and being able to train for the duration prescribed by Aldon, rather than burning through all of their energy on one climb and just wreck their legs. 

“All my guys have actually said they didn’t think that, when they had the assist on, it would still be a workout. They thought, ‘Oh, well, that will be the easy ride.’ But it’s not if you are trying to maintain a particular speed. Like I said earlier, if you are pedaling down a flat road and you hit 19 mph and you want to hold that, or go a little faster, it won’t help you past that, so you are still pushing. The guys didn’t know that and they realized it is a good workout and only really helps on the steep stuff, which they like because they are like, ‘I’m not a pro [mountain biker] and I don’t have that kind of leg strength to ride steep, steep climbs.”

For more information on riding mountain bikes for training, check out this story with Johnny O’Mara, and/or head over to our sister site, Vital MTB

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