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Mountain bike Hall of Famer, Leigh Donovan, talks about how to safely and respectfully ride and share trails with ebikes—both in and out of the saddle.

By Lisa Jhung • June 6, 2022

Former professional downhill mountain biker, bike clinic instructor, and current “Field Guide” for bicycle component company SRAM, Leigh Donovan rides bikes of all kinds: downhill, cross-country, and yes, pedal-assist ebikes. 

She rode her first ebike when working with a bike company, and was surprised at how much she enjoyed it. “I discovered all the riding I could do,” she says. “I did a ride a couple years ago that I never could have done without an ebike. It was incredible. I saw parts of Orange County [California, where she lives] I never had seen before.”  

“On the one hand,” she says, “ebikes offer an entry to people who are less interested in the suffering of bikes, which is great,” she says. “But on the other, we are the cars of the trail when we’re on ebikes. And cars are scary.” 

Donovan works with the Orange County Mountain Bike Association and has long been involved in advocacy efforts to educate cyclists on how to be safe and responsible trail users. Here are her tips for both ebike riders and other trail users for getting along harmoniously out there:

Leigh Donovan enjoying an eMTB. Courtesy of Leigh Donovan, Photo Credit: Tony Donaldson.

Use Common Sense and Check Your Speed

The first thing you should think about when riding an ebike, says Donovan, is, “How can I make the most out of this ride and be responsible in the process?” 

“If you’re constantly scaring yourself, then you’re not doing it right,” she says. “If you’re out of control, you’re not safe.”

While a regular cross country mountain bike weighs in the mid-20-pound range, an ebike weighs upwards of 50 lbs. Because of that, ebike riders need to be more mindful when riding by being prepared to slow down and looking ahead even further than you would on a non-pedal assist bike. And staying engaged both uphill and downhill is key. 

“No one should be going up a hill on an e-bike at 20mph, passing people,” says Donovan, who explains that she often drags her breaks around corners on uphills, even in the lowest support. “I’m aware that my ebike is still faster going around that corner than my non-pedal assist bike,” she says, “so I brake to stay in control and ready for what might be around the corner.” 

Donovan says that riders who are new to the pedal-assist platform are often attracted to it because it’s faster, easier, and maybe even more fun. “But I think they forget that with speed comes great responsibility. I do feel a lot of e-bike users don’t understand that responsibility lies on them first.”

Learn All Things Riding

Learning how to ride an ebike in the right gear is as important as becoming a master of breaking. “Even just knowing how to ride a bike…the skills that requires, can make the trails a much safer place,” says Donovan. She believes the bike industry should create a video to educate new bike owners—both ebike and non-pedal-assist bikes, road and mountain—before they leave the shop. “It could be, ‘Hey, you can’t leave the shop before watching this 5-minute video and signing off on it.”

Turn the Bike Off Once in a While

Donovan has led a great number of ebike clinics and likes to have riders turn their bikes off for downhills. “Turning the bike off—putting it in ‘Eco’ mode—gives people the opportunity to really ride,” she says. “Plus, if you’re not a great mountain biker, you shouldn’t be in ‘Boost’ all the time. That’s like handing a new 16-year-old driver the keys to a Ferrari.” 

Photo: Tim Foster / Unsplash

Know What’s Legal 

Know where pedal-assist ebikes are legal and illegal. Follow the rules and be kind—and aware—that ebikes might be on the same trail as you. “Hikers and bikers alike think it’s illegal everywhere,” says Donovan. “They make assumptions, but don’t.” Being accepting goes a long way for everyone out there.

Practice Respect and Don’t Judge 

Trail users who are opposed to ebikes should refrain from being overly vocal, or yelling at ebikers. “That’s not showing compassion or respect of one another,” says Donovan.

When riding an ebike or any kind of bike, says Donovan, be aware of others’ fears. “We can create PTSD for trail users—some people have had some serious trauma with other trail users, and we should all think about that.”

And don’t judge riders on ebikes. “People think people on ebikes are cheaters,” she says. “Don’t judge. You don’t know where people are coming from.” Someone may be riding an ebike on the trails because they have a physical condition that doesn’t allow them to otherwise get out and ride—and everyone deserves to enjoy the trails.

Lisa Jhung is a writer, editor and author who thrives on bringing to life the sports that she loves. Lisa has written two books: “Running That Doesn’t Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)” (Running Press, 2019), and “Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running,” ( (VeloPress, 2015). Learn more at