Exclusive Jimmy Mac Interview – “Why I left Mountain Bike Action”

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Jimmy “Mac” McIlvain has left Mountain Bike Action after serving as its Editor for an unprecedented 13 years. Mac and I go back a long way and he asked if I was interested in doing an exclusive interview about his departure. I said yes, even though it’s the first interview I’ve ever done. Anyway, it’s kind of no nonsense and pretty much focuses on his reason for leaving a job he loved. Here it is.

Steve: So Mac, you feel like it is the right time to move on?
J.M.: Well, no, not at all (laughter). Being Editor of Mountain Bike Action was an awesome job. I worked for Roland Hinz, the publisher, a little over 20 years and while a tough boss, he always treated me fairly and was very generous. He was really hands-off for the most part. I hated leaving that job. I am going to miss it, big time.

Steve: Then why would you quit? (More laughter)
J.M.: It all comes down to Mr. Hinz’ feeling that electric powered mountain bikes are a growing segment of mountain biking and they should be reviewed and featured in Mountain Bike Action. I spent 13 years building trust with my readership and I couldn’t betray that trust.

Steve: How would you be betraying the readers?
J.M.: I feel E-bike companies want riders to believe there is some gray area when it comes to usage of their products. There is no gray area. It is black and white. E-bikes are classified as motorized vehicles by every land management agency I have ever met with and are not welcome on multi-user trails. If there is a trail network somewhere that allows them, great, but that place is the exception, not the rule. How would you feel if you bought a $5000 electric mountain bike based on a review in Mountain Bike Action only to find out the first time you took it “mountain biking” that you are asked to leave or fined? These things are very fancy commuter bikes or really bad dirt bikes, but they are not mountain bikes.

Steve: I saw on the Bicycle Retailer website, Pedego Electric Bikes called you close-minded and suffering from a superiority complex.
J.M.: I didn’t see that, but it is very common for a company who feels threatened to turn the discussion into a personal attack. They hope riders lose sight of the real issue.

Steve: And what’s the real issue?
J.M.: That electric powered mountain bikes are, under today’s laws, not permitted or welcome on multi-user trails. According to the California Highway Patrol, these things aren’t even allowed on paved bike paths. They are only allowed in bike lanes. Electric bike companies have talked about banding together and getting the laws changed, but if you are buying an e-bike today, you have to deal with today’s laws. That’s not being close-minded. That is being realistic. I’m sure if I had a warehouse full of these contraptions, I’d be looking to put a positive spin on them too.

Steve: You’re calling them contraptions?
J.M.: That sounds harsh, but look at what these companies are pushing on unsuspecting riders. E-bikes are equipped with components that are not tested or approved for motorized use. It usually says as much within the first two paragraphs of any suspension fork owner’s manual. They are putting single-crown forks with tapered aluminum steer tubes on these bikes. That is just crazy. Isn’t anyone interested in rider safety? I guess these e-bike companies buy components through distributors. I can’t believe companies like Fox or RockShox would sell to them directly. I see it as a giant liability issue.
Electric Bike Action did a revealing story in their June issue where they pitted Pro rider Neil Shirley against a friend of mine, Pat Carrigan. Pat is a solid Sport-class rider. Neil is super human. The course was a 3.8-mile dirt road with some climbing. Neil was on a Pivot cyclocross bike and Pat was on an electric-assisted Easy Motion Neo Jumper. Neil blazed up the road and set the fastest time ever recorded by a cyclist. Pat still blew him away. It wasn’t even close. The magazine’s editor told me that they had to stage the photos because Neil couldn’t keep Pat in sight. More telling, Pat’s time was half that of his normal time on a human powered bike. He doubled the speed he could get up that road.
E-bike companies have said to me the additional weight of their motors shouldn’t make a difference to the durability and safety of mountain bike components. The only reason these bikes are coming in at “only” 50 pounds is that they’ve got a bunch of lightweight trail bike components on them. I’m saying there is a lot more going on here than just adding weight when a Sport rider can bury a professional. You have increased weight and increased velocity.
I’m not against electric powered bicycles. I just think riders should be aware of what they are getting into. I do not understand how they can be called mountain bikes.
Richard Cunningham, who was Editor of Mountain Bike Action when it set the record for the biggest issue ever and is now at http://www.pinkbike.com, wrote a great editorial about e-bikes that deals with their impact on trail users. I could not have said it better. (Here is that link.)

Steve: So what’s next, Mac?
J.M.: Leaving a company that has been my home for over 20 years is really scary and exciting at the same time. I’m going to load up Big Red and do a little road tripping to the Pacific Northwest with Gail [Jimmy’s wife] and Jake [their dog]. When I get back, I’ll get serious. Still, every time I get on my bike, I come up with 25 ideas of what I want to do next and about half of them are good ones. I’m fired up.

jimmy Mac, me and Andy Hampsten.  I've used this photo a few times, but this is one of my favorites.

Jimmy Mac, me and Andy Hampsten. I’ve used this photo a few times, but it is one of my favorites.

I took this picture a couple days ago at Kent Eriksen's.  This is the  original bike that Roy Knickman rode at the 1st MTB National Championships.  It went from Roy, who raced it (flatted, then finished on a rim), then Jimmy Mac kept it.  It still has Mac's Husqvarna sticker (he worked there then), on the stem.  I once rode it from Cardiff to La Jolla, on the beach, and in the surf.  That bummed Mac out immensely, which I completely understand now.  Anyway, it is a classic and it was so nice for Mac to get it back to Kent.

I took this picture a couple days ago at Kent Eriksen’s. This is the original bike that Roy Knickman rode at the 1st MTB National Championships. It went from Roy, who raced it (flatted, then finished on a rim), then Jimmy Mac kept it. It still has Mac’s Husqvarna sticker (he worked there then), on the stem. I once rode it from Cardiff to La Jolla, on the beach, and in the surf. That bummed Mac out immensely, which I completely understand. Anyway, it is a classic and it was so nice for Mac to get it back to Kent.

30 thoughts on “Exclusive Jimmy Mac Interview – “Why I left Mountain Bike Action”

  1. CJ Ong, Jr.

    I came across your blog recently and it’s now a bookmarked location for me.

    I worked for Michael Fatka one summer – during that summer I lived with Ronn and Dianne Ritz and their family. Later their oldest daughter Claire was a graduate assistant for my wife, I was Aaron’s confirmation sponsor and Asa was an undergraduate assistant for my wife.

    Anyway I appreciate the time you take to write and share your thoughts. In doing so you keep alive the traditions that should be kept alive.

  2. Sal Ruibal

    I have tested several electric bikes and none of them seemed safe to ride on singletrack. Too fast, unforgiving and, most of all, ruins a good ride in the woods. I ride to get away from the fast paced world.

  3. Randy Legeai

    As a roadie who only rarely ventures off the asphat, I had NO idea! Bikes with motors are motorbikes. There are separate trails for those, aren’t there?

  4. Dog

    Jimmy Mac used to always come out to Fiesta Island, always decked out in Levis-Raleigh SWAG. Now I know how he got it!

  5. channel_zero

    You have increased weight and increased velocity.

    What the manufacturers are doing is selling a vehicle (in the broad sense) designed for human power, yet are MUCH higher weight and all the physics consequences that apply.

    Specialized already warns customers their carbon fibre bikes are not fit products for use as general purpose bicycles and AND trying to sell their own electric bike. Give Sinyard a little time and he’ll sue all these new-comers out of the business.

  6. WC

    Also, during your down time, can you do an interview on Open Mic with Mike Creed? I would love to hear the discussion about cornering.

  7. Pingback: Exclusive Jimmy Mac Interview – “Why I left Mountain Bike Action ... | Technical innovationsTechnical innovations

  8. Wildcat

    Wow, I too had no idea these things even existed!

    My son uses the term “epic” all the time. These are the opposite of “epic”.

    How about lame.

    Lame as hell.

  9. Bolas Azules

    If I recall, Jimmy Mac was quite a DJ back in the day of casette tapes…maybe a groovey gig on satellite radio opposite Howard Stern is in the cards.

  10. Barry Epstein

    I door closes…
    Jimmy’s not a Bridgeburner.. He’s a door opener….

    Time for our Bike / Music youtube show… and you know my tunes rock the planet..

  11. Richard Wharton

    These e-bikes and their manufacturers are looking for a quick buck. Think of the increased complexity. You’re dealing with expensive batteries, most of which are toxic, and must be recycled or charged in a certain way, and yes – you’re dealing with increased weight on non-robust frames and parts. To do it ‘right’ would put them out of range of most purchasers. Road Users have enough issues to deal with, like not understanding that these are vehicles, not toys, and cyclists need to be educated about same roads, same rights, same responsibilities, etc. They don’t have turn signals, the brakes are underpowered, and we have to think about just what the e-bike is trying to accomplish…. it’s trying to get un-fit, un-motivated people, to buy something with limited capabilities, and short range, to travel. Isn’t that what LAB supposedly uses to convince people to ‘go by bike’ in the first place? Something about ‘most trips are less than 1.7 miles away’ or something? No – ebikes won’t solve our commuting woes, they won’t cure the diabesity pandemic, and they won’t act as gateways for more bikes that are more efficient. They’ll be gateways for those scooters that look unfinished, etc. These are faux hipstermobiles. They need to be sold at motorcycle shops, not at bike shops. We have enough trouble convincing the non-cycling public that we are not riding toys, but vehicles. These are being sold as toys, and offered as a cure for a problem that doesn’t exist.

    That they are even considering these for mountain bike use is just…. inexplicable. It makes me sick.

  12. Brian

    I agree with Jimmy Mac 100%. Like most people who have ridden mountainbikes since the 80’s, I have read Mountainbike Action from the beginning and often have referred to the mag as “The Bible”. It is cycling’s version of Motocross Action and that is a huge compliment. Sure, there are some who aren’t MBA or MXA fans, but the magazines are loved by legions and Jimmy Mac was one of the reasons for that. Both publications are the industry standards by which others are measured and their longevity speaks for itself.

    E-bikes on the trails goes against the basic idea of mountainbiking. They simply are not mountainbikes and do not belong on the same trails as mountainbikes nor in the pages of MBA. Sheesh, even the government agrees with that…

    A bike is a bike is a bike. A 100% human powered two wheeled vehicle. No engines, no motor, and nothing other than the frame, the components, the wheels and a rider.

  13. Gorge Don

    Great interview & excellent comments.

    E-bikes are for commuters, period. They have absolutely no place on single track trails.

    The very idea of adding an external form of propulsion at the expense of increased weight & diminished safety is the very definition of lunacy, &/or greed, take your pick.

  14. Sandy

    I completely agree with Jimmy Mac. Props to him for standing up for what he believes in and leaving MBA. I can’t believe that MBA would support such an idea as e bikes on multi-use trails. I have been a long time fan of MBA, since 1994 and it has always been my favorite magazine. When heard about MBA supporting e bikes on the trails, I was like “WTF”! They don’t belong on the trails and are not mountain bikes.

    A few months ago some guys were riding e bikes at a local very popular mtb park. They were purposely running hikers and real mountain bikers off the trails. It was a huge deal and they had Park Rangers out looking for them and they even posted up flyers up at the park to find these guys. E bikes are nothing but trouble when it comes to trail usage!

  15. Jeff Archer

    Sad to see someone forced out of a job they love just because of their opinion. I would suggest that opinion is also shared by a vast majority of the folks who read the magazine, which makes it doubly sad. I am sure Jimmie Mac will land on his feet and it will be interesting to see where he goes next!

    PS: That Raleigh would make a sweet addition to the MOMBAT.org collection. I think that is the bike Kent was referring to when he visited after the NAHBS in Charlotte this year?

  16. RICHY

    Hi everyone,

    read this with great interest from here in the Alps. Since 25 years I am a keen cyclist on “real” mountain and roadbikes. My parents are on Ebikes since 2+ years. My father is in his mid 70s and does 7k+ kilometers per year, getting to places he couldn’t get to in the 5 years before that. It is such a joy to take 3 generations on a tour. Don’t ditch it before you tried it, don’t act obnoxious before considering people of age (you’ll be one of them soon 😉 or less ability and make sure you understand the difference between a Pedelec and an Ebike. And stop envisaging DH-Ebike-machines, that is only a niche.

  17. Larry T.

    Let’s be real about e-bikes. They’re E-MOPEDS and are allowed only where the old gasoline-powered mopeds can go. Same kind of folks ride ’em for the most part. Other than (mis)using some bicycle parts (like their gas-powered cousins) they have NOTHING to do with bicycles. Jimmy’s right and I’m sure one of the nicest guys in the biz will find something interesting to do post-Hi-Torque publishing. Good luck Mac!

  18. Von Kruiser

    I have an ebike and am selling it for full suspension version. Current ebike is an absolute blast to ride. As for off road I would not take it on any trails where people mountain bike… I would feel horrible riding an ebike on trails. However, I use ebikes for “transportation.” Instead of driving my car for non biking errands, I ride my ebike since it’s so fun. I test rode a FS ebike and was blown away how fun it was jumping it and urban assault doing my errands. Like Jimmy said, commuting is the best place for full suspension bikes. However I would say someone older who just rides dirt roads I would recommend this… but never single track since it’s too dangerous to maneuver and heavy. As for illegal? Most MTB trails are not technically legal for mountain biking anyway in my area. People and authorities look the other way a lot of the time. These bikes are quite and most authorities will not notice they are ebikes in the first place… but again, fire roads since it’s too dangerous for real trails if you crashed. Could you imagine crashing and getting hit by a 50lbs plus bike or pulling it off a cliff area or gully if you were older… no way and not recommended. The reality is ebikes being ridden for off road use will be rare.

  19. Paul Willerton

    First of all, I love Jimmy Mac and have huge respect for him and his decision to leave. With that said, full disclosure is that I write the “Electric Avenue” column for Bicycle Times magazine. I am both a “core pure human powered cyclist” (like most of you here), and an e-bike enthusiast. I don’t care to ride the ones with throttles – and I won’t put a throttle on any bike I put together for my own use. Why? I like my legs, heart and mind to be the “throttle”. On a well designed e-bike, the feeling (in my opinion) is that it should be exactly that of riding a pedal bike.

    I’ve tested the BH bike that was mentioned. Yes, it rolls ok on flatter sections but is it something I would want to ride on trails? I haven’t cared for the way any of the ones I’ve tested climb steep hills and mountains. I still prefer my Intense Tracer T275, most of the time. I don’t think hub motor bikes will be successful for serious off-roading. The mid-drive systems that Bosch and Shimano are putting out will make much better solutions.

    Look, I know the word “motor” is scary. People are competitive. Maybe we all have enough batteries in our lives. The reality is, technology marches on, and eventually things run into each other. It’s called “convergence”. The bicycle, silent electric motors, batteries and software are at that point. It’s a good thing for the bicycle, and for humans, to have this big “problem”. Who doesn’t like watching “Ironman” the movie? The e-bike gives humans that feeling. It’s a pretty nice feeling. Professional riders touch it a few times a season, if they’re lucky. It’s what keeps them coming back, that and money.

    Jimmy Mac is not wrong. None of you are wrong. There is a lot of confusion out there about what the machines are, what is actually legal, and where this is all going. Yes, some e-bikes are moped-ish (I find those to be exceedingly boring). I believe there a giant chasm between the bicycle and the motorcycle or even the scooter, for that matter. Much larger than people realize. To think that people and constantly improving (read improving, not “faster”) machines won’t identify this massive gap is not realistic.

    We core cyclists tend to look at people who can’t or don’t ride like they’re something else, maybe weaker (admit it), perhaps more deserving of something softer. Like ice cream. Not a bicycle saddle. Are they less intelligent for not wanting to go suffer? Trail access may not be granted to e-bikes, and that may be just fine. There are other trails to ride and maybe they can have their own systems. When I’m 70, will I be having fun on trails and gradients I used to climb at 12mph and now I can only make it up a 5mph? Fuck no I won’t. I am going to want my excercise and my fun. I am going to want to climb fast. On the descent, e-bikes don’t help you rail any harder. I am going to want to play with my grand kids, not be out training six days a week so I can keep up with the demented geriatric cyclists who train like that old guy on Seinfeld who couldn’t help but challenge Jerry at all things physical – and still go up the hill at a quarter of the speed I used to.

    Eventually, I wager we will all be riding an e-bike for personally different purposes. We drive cars and motorcycles. Are those evil? Why not ride a bike more often, for more of the things we do in life – and then have an even longer cycling career and lifestyle that is more fun than ever?

  20. Craig Smith

    I’ve been an avid mountain biker since 1990, but since a degenerative muscle disease started shutting down my muscles 4 years ago, riding WITH my friends has not been possible. With an e-bike (I like the Felt Electric Lebowsk-e) my last couple years of riding will be enjoyable for me and my friends once again.
    To the e-bike haters… You still have to pedal. You can’t do burnouts. It doesn’t have a throttle. It doesn’t go any faster than a fast rider can go. Should we ban fast riders too?
    The assist feels just like riding with a tailwind. You hate tailwinds too?
    It’s a “contraption” added to a bike to make riding easier and more fun (to some) but also adds weight, cost and complexity, just like gears, derailleurs, suspension, electronic shifting… Don’t need them? Don’t buy a bike with them.
    At 5 to 6 thousand dollars, you may never see one on your local trail. So don’t worry about it.
    Don’t hate. Ride. See you on the trails!

    Good thing Jimmy wasn’t a hiker with his attitude in the early days of mountain biking because
    I remember when mountain bikes were new and we were not allowed to ride many places because the laws and rules were written before the concept of the mountain bike.
    Fat-Biking is going through a similar situation with trail access. But we are finding legal ways to change things because we have to. We’ve found playing nice goes a long way.

    It just blows my mind when I hear “mountain bikers” bitch, whine and complain about other people having fun on their mountain bikes! If seeing other people enjoying themselves on singletrack pisses you off because they’re riding a bike you don’t like, perhaps you should sell your mountain bike and take up a less stressful hobby. Mountain biking is fun.

  21. Craig Smith

    In the United States, Federal law defines a “motorized” vehicle as having an electric “motor of less than 750W (1 hp), and a top motor-powered speed of less than 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) when operated by a rider weighing 170 pounds”. So, by law they are legal bicycles.

  22. Craig Smith

    Oooops, motorized vehicle has More than 750 watts (1hp) and top speed of 20 mph. Sorry about that.
    But it also brings up an interesting point, there are riders that can produce 750 watts, which would make them “motorized” and illegal.


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