Sunday, January 23, 2022

I bought an e-Mountain Bike and why you should too!

I have never been one to worry that some new technology is going to "ruin" mountain biking forever. If you think about it, mountain biking was born by using technology in a new way.  So, dropper posts, full suspension, 29", fat tires, etc. have all added to the mountain biking experience and inviting more participation than holding it back.  And now we have e-Mountain bikes, and they are here to stay and here is why.

E-Bike Classifications

First, a conversation about e-bike classes is important to understand for this discussion.  

Class 1 ebikes are limited to a top speed of 20 miles per hour, and the electric motor works only when the rider is pedaling. 

Class 2 ebikes are also limited to a top speed of 20 miles per hour, but they have throttles that work when you're not pedaling. 

Class 3 ebikes can go up to 28 miles per hour and must have a speedometer, but may or may not have a throttle.

What I'm talking about for mountain biking is Class 1 e-Mountain bikes.  This is important because there are certain trail groups (or more like the land managers) who are very resistant to e-Mountain bikes (like COTA - Central Oregon Trail Alliance/NFS in Bend) who I think are well meaning, but avoiding the issue by just saying "no" to all e-bikes (11/27/22 Update - I have learned that the eBike restriction is more from the land manager than COTA).

For the purposes of this discussion, when I talk about e-bikes, I'm talking about Class 1 bikes.  Now there are two types of mountain bikes in the Class 1 category.  Those that have resistance all the time and those that have a "free spin" or no resistance when the battery is not engaged.  And finally, there are motors that give you a 2x assist (free spin) and those that give you a 4x assist (belt drive always on assistance).  

Why Is All This Important?

This is all important because there are those that think riding an e-bike is no different than riding a motorcycle, which is like saying a kiddie electric car is the same as a monster truck (okay maybe a little extreme). Because trail stewards are concerned that e-bikes are going to tear up their trails like a motorcycle would (yet horses are okay, but don't get me started down that rabbit hole).  

Why Did I Want an E-Bike?

One, I'm getting a little older and two I wanted to ride longer.  We have a local trail system at Alsea Falls (Fall Creek) that for a climb to the top is about 70 minutes.  So, one up and done and I would like to do two or three laps.  An e-bike makes that possible.  

What Was My Criteria?

Here is what I wanted in an e-bike:
1. A full-suspension mountain bike
2. Class 1
3. Free spin 2x assist
4. Light weight
5. Good battery life

I wanted a bike I could pedal (and climb) without the assistance and when I turned on the assistance, I only wanted a small bit of assistance for climbing.  Also, I wanted to be able to ride it down without having the assistance on.

What Did I Get?

The bike I got that checked off all the boxes was a 2021 Specialized Turbo Levo SL.  This bike weighs 40 pounds exactly with pedals.  It has a free pedal when the assistance is off with a 52-T climbing gear. There are three levels of assist which can be customized, and it only provides 2x assistance and it is built on the Stumpjumper frame (which I have been riding for years).

Now having the light weight, free pedal and less assist comes at a premium price.  But to me it is worth it (though it is hard to buy a bike that costs as much as a 10 year-old truck or a new motorcycle).

How Does It Ride?

First, it rides just like I thought it would.  With the "motor" off, the 52T climbing gear and 40 lbs (about 7-9 lbs more than my current bike) makes it very rideable, even on the climbs.  In fact, I think I could do the entire ride without using the assistance, which is just what I wanted.  Coming down I feel the extra weight just a little (like jumping), but it isn't a bad thing to have some extra weight when cornering. 

I've been on four rides so far and I have found that I get almost the same workout, but I get there just a little faster (and my legs aren't fried).  If I keep it on the lowest power setting, I can ride right with the rest of the group. Now a 4x assist that has a belt drive and always has to be on, will climb much much faster.  

The e-bike does not make all riders fast or equal.  You still need to be fit.  For example, I road with a person who has the same bike I do, and we put it on full power and then peddled up a climb.  Because I was more fit, I got to the top before he did.  Whereas if we had matching motorcycles, we would get there at the same time.

This allows me to do a local ride, like Fall Creek (which has an hour climb) and do 2 to 3 laps which is another reason I wanted one.  I did three normal rides on a single charge and still had 1/3 to 1/2 battery life.  

Bottom Line

Was it worth it?  Yes.  In fact, it is so fun it is hard not to ride it for every ride.  It is still a workout, I still sweat on the climbs and I still come down with a smile on my face. So yes, you should get one!

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