Chief Chick Jordana and I travelled to Bright, Victoria this past weekend to watch the Downhill and Trials National Champs at Mystic Mountain Bike Park. Jordana suggested we rent E Mountain Bikes while we were there so that we could have a bit of fun and this is how it went.
We arrived at Cyclepath in Bright (if you are in the area and need anything cycling related, go there!) and met the excellent staff Pete, Rex and Joe, who were only too happy to change our booking at the last minute. We had arrived on Friday night and found out on Saturday morning that the Women's Trials had been changed from the Sunday to the Saturday which now clashed with the time we had booked. Good start! They assured us it was no issue, so we left and returned the next morning to uplift our faithful steeds for the morning.
We were led around the side of the shop where two Giant 2016 Dirt-E +2 bikes awaited us! Exciting! We had ridden E Bikes once before during the Tour Down Under earlier this year, but these were road bikes and we hadn't tested them on anything other than flat road. Rex gave us a demo of how they work. They have 3 modes - Eco, Normal and Sport mode which give you different amounts of pedal assist depending on how economical with your energy (lazy) you want to be.
Once the tutorial was finished we were off to explore! The first thing I noticed as we were walking the bikes out to the road was how heavy they are. Jordana guessed about 20kg. We hopped on and began to peddle.
"Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! The peddle assist propels you effortlessly up the road"
Actually, when it's in Sport mode you have to be aware of how strong the peddle assist is. It would be easy to misjudge and take off right into something, or around a corner too fast on a trail and get yourself into a bit of trouble.
We make the 2.5km journey to Mystic Mountain Bike Park and marvel at the speeds we are able to reach without breaking a sweat. At 25 km/h the peddle assist cuts out and you're on your own until your speed drops again.
We made our way to the fire road that could take us to spots where we could watch the Downhill course. We had walked it the day before. It was a steep climb on foot and in the heat we were pretty buggered by the time we got to the top. Jordana had made it clear how excited she was to breeze up on our E Bikes, and breeze up we did!
Now I am still cultivating my bike fitness, and find that when we mountain bike I usually have to walk parts of some of the climbs. I don't know what the gradient of the road we biked up was, but I can tell you there is NO WAY I would have gotten to the top still in the saddle on my normal bike. Not only could I sit and peddle the whole way up - but I could chat too!!
Amazing! Any trepidation, or embarrassment that we might have felt for "cheating" dissolved immediately when we could see exactly where we would be able to take these bad boys. We reached the point we had made on foot the day before, and after watching a few riders fly down the track past our vantage point we decided to continue higher. We followed the fire road as it contoured and wound around the side of the mountain.
We stopped a few times, not because we needed to catch our breath but because the view was amazing!
We weren't exactly sure how to get the the start of the downhill track.
Wait... that sounds silly. OBVIOUSLY it was up! What I mean is, the fire road we were on was winding around the side of the mountain and not really going up anymore. We went down a fair bit but then would rise again. Now usually I would be concerned riding down if I wasn't sure where I was going (what goes down must come up?), incase I had to turn around and ride back up again. Not on the E Bike though! You can go wherever you want because if you go the wrong way or take an unintended detour, just turn around and go back up.
That is exactly what we did. After about 15 minutes of riding with stunningly beautiful views on the left, and the gorgeous mountain forrest to the right, we decided we weren't getting where we wanted to go. So we just turned around and went back up again!
It was during this ascent back to our last known location that Jordana turned to me and said
"It's like the bike makes up for the fitness you haven't got"
Brilliant! That sums it up perfectly actually. An E Mountain Bike allows you to go places you never thought you would be able to ride.
While some may argue that you need to put in the work to deserve the view (and everyone is entitled to their opinion), I will personally, politely disagree and say that if you want the view with a lot less of the work then an E Mountain Bike could be for you. Remember that although there are 3 modes (well 4 if you include off), and although I spent the bulk of my ride in either Sport mode or Off (for the downhill bits) you can definitely still get a workout riding. There are gears like a normal mountain bike as well so you have a lot of choice when deciding exactly how easy (or difficult) you want your ride to be.
Although this seems like a glowing review thus far, and believe me I appreciated the sh*t out of peddle assist during the ascents, there are a few cons for my taste.
For a start, the weight. I was riding a small frame. (I'm 165 cm and between 57-61 kg depending on how much cheese I've been eating lately) I often forgot how heavy the bike was - until it was time to stop. More than once I took a wee topple over because I leant too far or wasn't properly balanced.
Secondly, because of the difference in weight and where the weight is on the bike, it takes a few goes to nail down quick cornering. Although once I had done a bit of practising I found I could manoeuvre the bike relatively easily. Something to mention though is that I switched peddle assist to Off mode when I was flat or going downhill, as the team at Cyclepath had warned us that if you got it wrong you could find yourself accelerating much faster than you intended and crashing. I found switching between modes to be easy enough and if in doubt you could always refrain from peddling to negate the peddle assist.
In all honesty I have probably ruined all future climbs done on a traditional bike. Because from now on when my legs are burning and I'm sweating all the sunblock into my eyes and I'm getting ready to hop off and push, I'll be dreaming of the weekend in Bright and the lovely half day of minimum effort climbing!