Unfortunately electric powered bikes have rightly or wrongly received some negative press at my hands in the past, in my defence the majority of my pedalling takes place on quiet rolling country lanes or car infested urban carriageways and the sight of an E-Bike filled me with complete confusion.
In my simple opinion the whole purpose of cycling is the requirement to self-propel, the means of getting from A to B through good old grit, determination and uncomplicated effort. The achievement you experience by manually pedalling a gargantuan incline or covering a sizeable distance, dripping in sweat, is the whole principle of cycling isn’t it? So my viewpoint, if slightly biased, is an E-bike prevents the rider from appreciating this very energetic ethos and missing out on the overall joys, and sometimes pains that attract most to two wheeled transportation.
To those of us challenged by pedalling up and down modest hills, the prospect of attempting more heady climbs might seem rather intimidating but I accept the experience can be or may be simplified with a little assistance. The hardest, most painful, least enjoyable part of my rides are usually the bits I remember fondly (actually fondly might not be the most appropriate word). My concern is that these feelings may become lost or blurred when reverting to electric power, resulting in the need for any effort being diluted or even diminished. I understand that there are pros and cons of the e-revolution but, will it really bring people into the cycling arena as predicted or hoped, and if so, will those people then bemoan the occasions when some simple manual pedalling is inevitable. Harshly I appear to have no faith in the human race and its powers of resolve or fortitude.
However I had come to Hay-on-Wye to discover for myself. Would my narrow minded blinkered approach be re-educated? Only time would tell. The plan was simple, cover the mediocre 70km trail between Hay-on-Wye and the Elan Valley with a bonus ride arranged between the Elan Valley and Ffair Rhos. My main focus was to enjoy the sights and scenery of the Welsh Borders, as well as putting an electrically powered MTB through its paces along a mix of non-technical ‘On and Off’ road terrain. The bike was a shiny German import (Haibike) and offers a ‘pedal assist’ motor, in practical terms this can be described quite eloquently as ‘kicking in when the cranks are turning’. However, stop pedalling and the power is instantly shut off. I was still unconvinced, albeit slightly intrigued, and with my appetite wetted, I was ready to be immersed in all things electrical.
The bike was a complete marvel (to my frustration) on lengthy steep climbs, especially with the 5 settings (Turbo, Sport, Tour, Eco and off), I only needed to go as high as tour, maybe that was my sub-conscious kicking in, I wanted to feel I was adding to the majority of the propulsion. However I did have to apologise to a lyrca clad rather rotund roadie struggling with the incline as I sped past with the minimal of effort (the experience is weird it’s like having a constant gentle shove in your back like when your dad used to help you along as a child, but the predicted whine of the motor did highlight the fact I was using some electric assistance, damn!).
The riding was along a mix of rutted grass tracks and bumpy muddy trails, the complete scene of isolation was amazing, the surface was ok, the tyres groaned against the dirt and debris, there was the odd boulder to keep me concentrated, but definitely rideable and great fun. My only company were the local sheep and lambs, I did notice the odd remote house or bothy (a basic shelter, usually left unlocked and available for anyone to use free of charge) but otherwise it was just me, the bike and the wilderness. As I continued the surface became more unpredictable, rough with many ruts and small pools but again loads of fun, and the bike helped with the occasional steep incline (I chose to not employ the battery unless I had to, so on the flat or downhill sections I used basic manual propulsion, I didn’t feel I was cheating too much then).
I had to concede that a major attraction of battery power is the fact it enables most to cover greater distances with the minimal of effort, encouraging the less able to accompany their fitter, more experienced playmates, without the expected huffing and puffing. Let’s be honest, most MTB riders would concede they crave the exhilarating, adrenalin pumping descents but aren’t too keen on the arduous trek beforehand, and any mechanical assistance would provide an obvious allure. Less effort means more downhill fun and this is where E-bikes might actually come into their own.
In summary, the main question you need to ask yourself is, how many people would actually go skiing if they had to make their way to the top of the mountain under their own steam? The answer is simple so discard any pre-conceptions and embrace the e-revolution because I’m definitely up for anything that makes my MTB experience in anyway easier and more fun. I’ve had to confront a prejudice, I assumed the whole e-ethos was going to be monotonous with no place in cycling but what I discovered was very different. It was a revelation, the innovation and technical advances have created a new breed of e-bikes. Are they a viable option? I think so, yes! I was surprised by the amount of fun I experienced, it just felt right, and still does. Ok, I haven’t completely moved over to the dark side, I don’t feel like I am betraying the purity of cycling, I’m just prepared to acknowledge the many benefits of a battery.
Scot Whitlock Editor, CADENCE Cycling Magazine (coming soon)
Author ‘Simple Words from the Saddle’ & ‘Simply More Words from the Saddle’
Kazakhstan trip: www.pedaltheunknown.com