Rise of the Machines: Discovering E-Bikes

By Richard Jones

E-bikes, love them or loathe them, are certainly becoming an integral part of the mountain bike scene. Initially seen as a means to assist the commuter, they have permeated the mountain bike market, evolving into cross-country bikes, enduro machines and even downhill bikes. Motor wattage increases as weight decreases, and more and more people are making the switch from pedal power to electro-power.

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I ride with a group of friends and the e-Bike debate has often been the subject of post-ride chats, with my own opinion having firmly been in the camp of ‘against’. If road-biking is the dark side, then e-biking has to be seen as the pitch black, underbelly of evil. I do enjoy getting out on the road bike, it has to be said, so we’re not all perfect…

Anyway, a pre-ride gathering earlier this year — getting ready for a local loop around Bakewell — sees one of our crew, I’ll refer to him as Dave, unveiling his new bike and… it’s an e-bike! A distinct period of time elapsed before I could comment, my eventual spluttering giving way to feigned nods of appreciation at the design and neat integration of the motor into the frame.

We set off, the first part of the ride taking us up the first part of the well-known Rowsley Bar hill-climb. Well before it hits the 20% ramps around the switchbacks and our heart-rates rapidly increase to dangerous levels, e-Dave is disappearing into the distance, all arm-chair posture while his legs rotate freely. That knowing smirk as the rest of us catch up and regain our breath sets the scene for the day ahead. Apart from a comedy moment when somebody (we still don’t know who) managed to press the off-switch during a rest stop, we spend the day playing catch-up to the whirring beast ahead.

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Now, some folk say that e-bikes are fine, but it needs to be everybody on them or nobody on them. That first day out with an e-person, I would probably have agreed.

However, one key thing about e-bikes is how they enable people of all levels of fitness to participate in what is a fantastic sport. Several years ago, on an alpine trip, our man Dave had an over-the-bars crash, impacting his chest on a large rock and leaving him with a depressed sternum. Over the following years, his riding stagnated as he combated the effects of this injury, struggling with his breathing whilst overcoming a very slow healing process. As a result, his fitness suffered and motivation dipped.

Then, earlier this year on a pre-e trip to the downhill trails at Stile Cop, Cannock — a day spent increasingly sweatily pushing the downhill bikes up for each well-earned descent — some other folk appeared astride their new-fangled e-bikes, following a 35km loop of the Chase to bash out several laps of the downhill tracks. Dave looked on aghast, and the idea formed.

Fast-forward several months and myself and Dave are back at Cannock for an off-piste ride around the many trails on the Chase.

Since being at Contours, I’ve regularly commuted into work on both road bike and mountain bike, as well as weekend rides, and so I’m feeling reasonably fit. However, a day spent chasing after someone who’s essentially a very good rider on a motor-assisted bicycle left me feeling more exhausted than I have done in a long time.

And that was not a bad thing, because we covered a lot of ground, I was completely spent at the end and it was a cracking day out. Maybe, it even helped me get a little bit fitter…

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I even had a go on the e-bike, feeling like I could have fallen off the back as it accelerated away so quickly as I pedalled. The weight of this particular bike is almost twice as heavy as my own enduro bike. This difference was particularly noted when the battery gave out about 100 yards from the end of a ride, just up a small hill but enough of a challenge to leave the rider gasping for air as he struggled up the rise. And there have been occasions when rides require us to clamber over stiles or gates, and when planning routes with an e-biker participating, this type of obstruction is now included as a necessity! Well, the rest of us have to be able to get our own back, even in just a small way, as we watch Dave struggling to lift his monstrosity over said obstacle — he can’t have it all easy, can he?

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And so, despite the number of e-bikes in the local bike shop growing like Japanese knotweed, I find that my opinion of them has changed, even if just a little.

Personally, I enjoy the challenge of tackling a monster climb and want to earn the reward that a descent brings, but I will not sneer at a fellow biker on an e-bike, even if they’re cruising past as I labour up a hill (I just swear under my breath instead), because it is another of our breed out in the hills on two-wheels, who may otherwise not be there for whatever reason.

And if it becomes too frustrating, you can always secretly press their off-switch, hope the battery runs out, make sure there are opportunities to have to lift bikes over things and when those hills do finally get the better of you, there is always a back-pack to cling on to for a home-made uplift!

Originally published 18/10/18

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