It’s a numbers game.
I’m often asked the following about my eBike;
How heavy is it?
Is it cheating?
Does it recharge when you’re riding it?
How far can you go on it?
Does it make you lazy?
Usually, there isn’t a short answer, most of the time the answer is usually framed within a range of numbers, for example; How far can you go on it?
Answer? Well it depends if you're using eco, trail or turbo (the silly setting), sometimes I can do 25-30 miles, sometimes 20 to 25. And that of course depends on a full charge, 75%, 50% etc. the numbers drop. It also depends on what you're riding up.
Then there’s the more existential question. When will be a good time in the future when technology plateaus and it's safe to buy one without feeling one week later that you’ve just invested in a farm gate made from smelted pig iron, powered by a wind-up toy?
The answer is the same as any other bike, any time is the right time, because until that point you hadn’t had the experience. So you see? Ask an existential question, expect an existential answer.
A couple of weeks ago an opportunity presented itself. A rare weekend off from Sherwood and a chance to go riding in Wales. So me and fellow Sherwood Old Boy Mark Jones decided to head south with our eBikes to cram as many trails in as time would allow.
We decided on Whites Level and Blade at Glyncorrwg, in the Afan Valley on Saturday, then Cafell and the Twrch Trail at Cwmcarn on Sunday, that should give us close if not over 5000 feet of climbing with some white knuckle descents to make the vomit inducing vertical struggle worthwhile.
An earlyish start saw blue skies, not a breath of wind and virtually dry trails. Unloading the bikes a couple of locals wandered over…
‘alright butt? You going to tow us up? Hahhahaha!’ then..
‘That’s a nice bit of kit’
He then did that thing that all mountain bikers who’re at certain point on the learning curve do to determine the ride characteristics of a bike, he picked it up ‘How ‘eavy is it…ooof?’
‘It’s about the same as a shire horse…but you swear its got wings on the way down’
‘No, not really…it’s about 50lb’
I’ve rode Whites Level many times and if you have too you will know that this is a classic, it is my favourite trail. It is only about 11 miles. I say only, the climb is technically challenging; steep, exposed roots and loose rocks, with the odd rock the size of a washing machine to negotiate.
On a regular bike, speed is NOT your priority. A strategy of line choice, energy management and enough swear words to make a docker blush, in my experience will get you through it. It may only be 11 miles, but you experience every one of them.
On an eBike the strategy is; pedal, keep the bars straight, use your gears, remember you have a dropper post and try not to go too fast. I’m not being flippant, 16mph uphill into a rock the size of a washing machine is still not going to go well.
On an eBike you are constantly pushing, I don’t know why, you just do, you want to go as fast as you can in any situation, we climbed 1500 feet as fast as we could, we managed the climb, bottom to top in just over 25 minutes which involved a full body work out of manoeuvring that bike over rocks and roots in effort not to let the speed drop, again I have no idea why other than you can.CHARGING UP AND GOING DOWN
The descent, the reason why we do the climbs was incredible, the bikes rode like any other bike, the added weight kept us on line we dug into loose corners as we honed our way through the valley.
Rolling back into the car park, my battery was at 51%, my own personal battery felt even less, my arms were tired, shoulders ached, and my overall appearance was glazed in sweat and more than a little shambolic.
Lunch brought a moment of reflection and self- awareness. ‘Mark...I’m not going to lie to you mate, but I’m knackered…are you sure you want to do Blade?’
‘Yeah we might as well, we’re here now, the weather’s amazing, the trails are incredible and unlike you whilst we’ve been having lunch, I brought my battery in and plugged it into the wall so now I’m on 75%!’
You think you know somebody.
The blade trail just under 15 miles in length, shares the same climb as Whites Level but with a further 400ft of climbing over the same kind of rocks and roots as earlier, but this time with moss and occasional running water thrown in. Because I was on 51% battery, I’d decided from the outset to stay in Eco no matter what (or watt). I supplemented my lack of power assist with moaning and swearing, I find this works and recommend it although not in front of children.
Let’s be clear, having already polished off Whites Level, there wasn’t much fun to be had on Blade, even on an eBike, even the wind turbines looked cheesed off, it was brutal in places, in my head I retreated to my happy place and just ploughed on.
The descents were no better, unlike Whites, where once you get to the top you just navigated the crazy steeps back down again, Blade had a few nasty climbing surprises right to the end, Groovy Gully? Was nothing short of sadistic. The last section, I forget it’s name it was ‘Happy…’ something, I was just holding on.
The battery I’d nursed on eco was down to about 5%, I was on about 0.5. Time I think for a beer.
Back at base we googled Cwmcarn and found to our dismay that most of Cafell was shut due to forestry operations, so instead we decided to head to the Forest of Dean reasoning that their red, blue and downhill runs would be a good alternative.
I should say at this point, I’ve been to the Forest of Dean many times and on every occasion I get lost, Cannop I am convinced only appears when you have lost all hope of seeing civilisation ever again.
Sunday’s trip was no different. Tired and emotional we pulled into the heaving car park, sprinted to the loos and then the café where we stocked up on health units, we sat in the sun and witnessed an endless parade of eBikes.
On this given Sunday in March I estimated that the number of eBikes was greater than regular bikes.
After an hour of riding I can see why.
The red graded Freeminers trail, at 4 miles and only 650ft of climbing, was completed in 30 minutes, but then add in blue graded Verderers trail a 7 miles flow trail before spending the rest of the day sessioning the downhill runs, an ebike at the FOD is the perfect bike. I’d like to say we did all of that, but we didn’t, still knackered from the day before, we rode the red and sessioned a couple of the downhill runs and then scarpered. The bike wanted more, but I was finished.
Has the weekend on the eBike answered those questions?
Nearly, it depends. My body is telling I can’t have cheated, if I did I’m not very good at cheating!
When is a good time dive into new technology? Our eBikes are hardly the latest models but they kept us going and delivered a full MTB experience, for as long as we could manage it.
How far can you go? About 25-30 miles depending on your settings and the terrain.
I guess it’s up to you to find the answers for yourself, for me it’s still a numbers game, but one that’s well worth playing.