We are a group of biking fanatics that love to ride, and we think we should give something back to our sport.
My e-bike experience began when at the beginning of February of this year I drove to Tucson for a 2 week holiday. (Pro tip: it’s a painfully long drive; fly instead). One of the reasons I wanted to drive is I wanted to bring 2 e-bikes with me; one for my wife and one for me (I also wanted to bring my motorbike, my other 2-wheeled passion, to ride Mt. Lemmon on—it’s world class road btw; highly recommended). Currently you can’t fly with e-bikes, or rather, you can’t fly with the batteries. A way around that is to rent a battery in the place you are going to but I wanted to drive so I never explored that option in Tucson.
There are closer warm places you can drive go to escape our winter, for example Las Vegas, which is about 7 hours of driving closer. We chose Tucson for the great climate, there’s lots to do there and the riding is amazing. This trip was the 4th time I’ve been there.
From 2005 until the end of 2016 I was training and racing in mountain, road and cyclocross. I was fairly deep into it with a coach and a proper training plan. By the end of the 2016 season, a mediocre finish at the National Cyclocross Champs in my age group confirmed what I’d been increasingly noticing for years—my body was fried—and I decided to take a break from racing and training and just ride for fun. I deliberately “de-trained” to try to build my body back up. A year on I think it has worked and I feel a lot better. Taking this break though meant my aerobic fitness had dropped off a cliff. Combined with a huge interest in the bike industry around e-bikes I decided to see what all the fuss was about and try one out.
My wife, on the other hand had no interest in racing or training for herself but enjoys riding. To “level the playing field” a year earlier I had bought her an e-bike. Our first experience riding together was in Las Vegas on our winter holiday; her on a Trek Neko+ Dualsport and me on my non-e-bike Trek Stache. It took one uphill for me to realize I hadn’t so much as levelled the playing field but tilted it firmly in her favour as she repeatedly dropped me on every uphill unless I went full gas. Now I was no superstar as a racer; I placed respectively in my categories and even won some provincial championships in my age group, so my fitness was pretty decent as a cyclist — compared to the general population extremely good. So getting my ass handed to me on climbs by my wife who wasn’t a “hardcore” cyclist was an eye opener especially when upon catching up to her at the top of the climb she’d note that she was only using the lowest assist level on her e-bike. Granted she had some help but it still is hard to get dropped.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post about this, getting my wife an e-bike completely changed the way we ride. Before the e-bike we rode regular bikes together and the rides invariably degenerated into a test of our marriage. With the e-bike, my wife loved riding (hammering me on the climbs probably helped) and we could go farther and in more difficult terrain. There are several rides near Lake Las Vegas where we like to go that are both fun and scenic however there is almost zero flat ground in the entire ride; you’re always going up or down. With my wife on an e-bike how far we could go was now limited by my endurance rather than hers and how hilly the ride was no longer mattered.
I’m not sure what it is about cyclists in North America; in Europe there isn’t so much of this; but here many enthusiasts look down their noses at e-bikes seeing them as “cheating.” I think a lot of this has to do with a puritanical streak that exists here where if you aren’t suffering it’s not worth doing. As well in Europe bikes are seen as serious transportation. Here bikes are viewed more as recreational vehicles (though that is slowly changing). Having ridden an e-bike on and off-road I’d have to say that most of these people haven’t even tried them and if they had, they’d quickly realize that just like any type of bike, e-bikes are super fun for certain types of riders and riding and less-good at/for others. They aren’t worse bikes they are just different. Case in point; downhill bikes: are they bikes? You pedal them but only in one direction; downhill. They could call them “gravity-assist” bikes. Is that “real” riding? Are DH riders cheating or lazy since they don’t ride up? I don’t think so; it’s just a different kind of riding and different kind of fun.
The whole argument about trail access for e-bikes and should they be allowed is the topic for a whole other article. Currently, e-mountain bikes are restricted in a lot of singletrack trail areas so that is something to keep in mind if you are considering them. Commuter bikes are a different story. Where we were in Tucson the national forest areas did not allow them but some of the riding areas did including State Trust Lands. When I stumbled across some good OHV trails that allow motorized vehicles it was moot but if I wanted to ride elsewhere in the area I’d be checking the rules first. If you want to go to a popular riding destination like Moab, however, with an e-MTB you are out of luck currently as they don’t allow them. The current controversy swirling around the IMBA when they not so much approved of e-bikes but didn’t condemn them is a good example of the love ‘m or hate ’em attitude that surrounds e-MTB’s.
Where I was riding in Tucson there was a 11km gravel road with 350 metres of climbing up to an OHV trail area with singletrack. My thought was the 50 pound Trek Powerfly FS 7 would feel fast on the gravel and a bit cumbersome on the technical singletrack. Instead my experience was the reverse; the bike felt way better on the singletrack than on the gravel. With a recent firmware update, the bike had a new mode of assist called “eMTB” which automatically varies the boost between the “Touring” and “Turbo” modes. This translates into 120% to 300% boost of what you are putting in. I found this eMTB mode to be a set-it-and-forget-it mode that meant you didn’t have to change the assist level during the ride. With the assist set to eMTB and working at a tempo pace (somewhat hard pace but not threshold yet) I was able to climb up to the trail area in probably half the time it would’ve taken me on my regular bike and I still had lots of energy to tackle the singletrack.
The singletrack there is very rough with a lot of ledgy, rocky climbs that favoured horsepower as much as finesse. To get up the loose, sketchy climbs required anaerobic bursts to muscle through. With the e-bike these climbs didn’t become easy; far from it, I was still working hard. But instead of going anaerobic I was at a tempo or threshold pace and so I could cover more ground before I got tired. As I mentioned, I found the bike felt better on the singletrack than on the gravel. I didn’t notice the extra weight I think because it is carried low and the assist makes the bike feel lighter under acceleration…or I just got used to it. The Powerfly weighs about 20 lbs more than it’s non-e-bike brethren so that should have an impact on the braking but I didn’t notice it. What counts is the total weight of the bike, rider and gear and with the rider not even 150 lbs soaking wet, combined weight was still only in the range of a Clydesdale rider without their bike. Obviously, all thing being equal, an added 20lbs is going to be noticed but I found I noticed it way less than I expected especially on technical trails.
The Powerfly is a 27.5 Plus bike. This suits the heavier bike and the bigger volume tires worked really well in the rocky, rough trails I was on. I had converted them to tubeless in Tucson…or rather, I had tried, cursed and swore, spilled Stans all over, escalated the effort by finding an air compressor, still failed and finally went to a bike shop for help where they couldn’t get the tires to seal either (thankfully so I didn’t feel like a complete idiot). After adding a second rim strip they were able to get the tires to seal up. Other than being tough to “Stans up” the 2.8” Addix compound Schwalbe Nobby Nics that came on the bikes were excellent for the terrain I was on and I didn’t have any issues with them.
I’ve mentioned the brakes already, as for the other components on the bike the XT/SLX drivetrian worked perfectly as you would expect of Shimano’s 2nd and 3rd best MTB grouppos. The Bontrager dropper post performed flawlessly and helped compensate for my rusty technical skills especially on steep descents. Overall the component spec is not the highest-end but high enough that, frankly, I had didn’t really notice the performance of them that much; which is probably the best complement you can give them.
I enjoyed my rides on the Trek Powerfly FS 7, it allowed me to cover much more terrain…and more difficult terrain…than I would have been able to under my own power. Would I stop riding regular bikes after that experience? No, I can’t see this as my “one bike” just as my road bike isn’t my one bike…or my ‘cross bike, tandem, hardtail mountain bike…N+1 right? I enjoy all of these different bikes and the different style of riding each offers. For some riders though this could be the “one bike” plus there are hardtail variants of the Powerfly series that are less expensive and could double as commuters. Personally I could see it replacing a full-suspension trail bike however since the areas I would ride such a bike tend to be more advanced, longer rides with tougher terrain. Customers who test-ride e-bikes invariably return with a huge smile on their face. That doesn’t mean they are for everyone. Some people will prefer regular bikes but that is the beauty of our sport; it has so many facets from track to road to commuting, touring, enduro and on and on. Bikes and cycling is a broad church with bikes and styles of riding for almost anyone. My view is if e-bikes get more people into riding, or keeps them from dropping out of the sport due to injury or age, it’s a good thing.
Want to find out for yourself how fun e-bikes are? Drop by the shop and test ride one of our demos…they’re a hoot.