What if one ride on an eMTB changed your opinion on pedal-assist bikes?
Words: Chris Panozzo
Full disclosure: If at any point you are reading this and thinking that surely this isn’t Chris Panozzo’s thoughts, that somehow he might have managed to get someone to ghost write his article, you’d be wrong. It’s me, and as you’re about to find out, I’m a big eMTB fan.
I’ve been invited to test eMTBs before and have politely declined such vulgar requests. It has taken a long time to get to the point where I get enjoyment and satisfaction from achieving a difficult climb, instead of suffering through any incline so that I could solely enjoy the descents. It may not be that well known, but over the last couple of years I have really taken to riding lots of road with the occasional XCO or 3-hour marathon XC race thrown in there for fun. I’ve even raced a couple of cyclocross rounds, which says a lot about the perception I had of eMTBs. I would rather ride a road bike in the mud and rain on the rev limiter for an hour instead of taking a pedal-assist bike for a spin.
Recently I was stuck in town with a puncture and not wanting to go through the lengthy process of changing out tyre inserts for tubes away from home. My cousin offered me his eMTB so I could continue riding for the afternoon. A 5-kilometre trip home with a flat, or keep riding for the afternoon on an eMTB? Hello E-bike.
It’s fair to say I’ve done more laps around Mount Beauty than most, I know how much speed you can take into things, how long it will take to get from point A to B, you get the picture. It took only seconds into the eMTB ride for me to realise that this ride would be different. I would normally be settling in for a sustained climb, catching my breath so I don’t blow up early on the ascent. Now, I was sprinting into the start of the climb.
It’s easy to think that these bikes are designed for those that don’t want to put any effort in, seek out a fire road to the top and make your way along at a steady 25 kph day dreaming about that time you took old mate’s Strava KOM. To do that though would be a waste, and to think of eMTBs as an easier method of getting to the top is the stereotype that most of us have been sucked in to believing.
For some perspective, I was out riding with one of the top women in cross-country racing in Australia, no slouch on the climbs, she also happens to be my girlfriend and one of the most competitive people I have ever met, a double whammy if there ever was one. By the time she had reached half way on the climb, I had already done a full lap and was about to pass by her on my way for another. That’s more than 400m of climbing, and a descent down an early 2000s DH track and I was only warming up.
I wasn’t riding a full on Enduro style bike, it only had 150mm travel up front and 140mm out the back, but it descended just as well as most big travel bikes on offer. In the turns the extra weight was working for me not against me, and my legs felt like they were getting worked but weren’t filling with that lactic burning feeling. I was still getting a decent cardio workout and after hammering around at full speed for 40 mins without so much as wanting a break, it seemed hard not to lose focus. I’ve never been able to push on singletrack for that period of time without needing to rest either the legs or lungs, or seemingly both at the same time, and more to the point I don’t think I’ve ever really braked for uphill turns as much as I did that day!
The thing you have to wrap your head around, and what my cousin pointed out to me (speaking with authority having been ranked 4th in the World in DH) is that E-bikes aren’t mountain bikes with a small motor to get you to the top, they are there own style of bike. Not a mountain bike, not a motor bike. Ride them as such and they are a completely new world of fun, and if I was going to buy a bike in the near future, one of these would be the top of my list. Either that or a new Honda.