Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A day trying EMTB

Silence for the best part of 4 years, yes, I know... and then just before christmas I find myself itching to take a trip to Cannock and see what all this Electric MTB'ing is about. Personally I've been doing research and am angling towards a Canyon Spectral:On, Focus Sam2 or a Haibike Xduro Nduro (Haibike's naming department really needs to have a word) as I was after something fairly long-travel, 150mm plus. Unfortunately there was nowhere with anything on demo except for Leisure Lakes and I'm not trialing that sort of bike around a flat expanse of water. So a trip to well-known Cannock Chase meant I was stuck on testing a Trek Powerfly FS7. I approached the visit as more of an "insight into EMTB" rather than an out-and-out bike test ride.

We dragged along a pal on his conventional Specialized downhill bike, an early 2000's vintage (probably a Bighit or somesuch) to belittle him and laugh in his puffy red face on the up-hills. This is the mountain bike equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight. It isn't so much "beating" your peers as "mashing their face repeatedly into a dung-covered boulder". Still, we laughed.

The Weight

...means bugger all, to be honest, in the EMTB world. Yes, we're talking 24Kg bikes, and for those of us who've been riding all these years the idea of all that weight kind of freaks us out. But in reality, of course, most EMTBs are putting out somewhere between 60 and 80Nm of torque and 250 to 500 watts of pedal assistance from their electric motors, so it should come as no surprise that pedal effort is nothing to worry about. The bike weight came into play just as you'd expect - it feels planted; sure-footed on the downs but it's fair to say you can feel slightly more effort is required to coax it into rapid change of direction... although it was nowhere near as bad as you might expect.

About the only time you'll ever be fussed about the weight penalty, then, is when you have to lift the thing in and out of the car. Or when you drain the battery, if you manage to... and, to be honest, if this happened you might be pleasantly surprised. During the ride, we were climbing a long, steady fireroad over the northern side of Cannock Chase. My daughter and I decided it would be a warming show of comraderie to turn our assistance off, and go up the hill with our friend "old skool". And, you know what, with the gearing available it was totally doable. It honestly felt no different to riding a conventional MTB uphill, albeit a rather heavier one, but we were no more out of breath than our colleague on his manual bike. In fact, maybe less so, but we'll defer that to health reasons rather than any mechanical advantage.

The Boost

So forgive me for saying the rather obvious, but let's just get it out there and said... going up the hills is where it's all about. That's your raison d'etre with an EMTB. The downs are no more compelling than any other bike. On the levels, that assistance is great at taking the edge off but as soon as you hit 15mph you sort of hit a wall on the Bosch CX powered bikes (that these Treks were). Other models using Shimano or Yamaha motors, for example, are reported to not feel as bad as the Bosch system but I can't vouch for that in person - but it is something I am very much bearing in mind for my future purchase. The Bosch system gears down the motor so when it reaches the assistance limit of 15mph and "decouples", it does it rather vicously - it's all or nothing. One minute you're flying like billy-o, then you're without assistance, pedalling a 24Kg bike with fat 27.5+ tyres and driving an internal reduction gear in the motor for no reason whatsoever.

If you're finding yourself doing lots of pedalling at 15+mph then this might be a turn-off but the reality is most trails will either be too technical for that speed, or else you're going downhill enough that it makes no odds. But I couldn't help thinking I had a valid gripe with it - 20mph would be just a slightly more sensible limit, maybe even if it halved the assistance power rather than cutting it off completely. But them's the EU rules, so there it is. Until March 29th, at least. That could just sway me to a hard-brexit.

On the Bosch system, you have 3 basic levels of assist. Eco for maximum battery, Trail for the middle-ground, Turbo for maximum assistance and a "stuff the battery mileage" mentality. Each is a simple trade-off of assistance power versus range. The display unit gives you a constantly-calculated estimate of current range based on your selected mode and the riding profile you've been performing. This model also included an "EMTB" mode which is basically an 'adaptive' mode that varies the assistance between the 3 settings automatically based on your cadence and the torque you're applying to the pedals. Since we were taking an easy day of it we spent most of the fireroads in Eco mode. In my mind, I would say Eco effectively levels the bike to performing like a normal mountain bike - it gives you just enough assistance to negate the drag and weight effects of the bike, but you still work up enough of a sweat.

Uplift Service

One moment of hilarity did come from the use of Turbo mode in conjunction with the GYMB uplift method (Grab Your Mate's Backpack). At one point during the day, and while hoiking it up a long, steady fireroad to the top of some trails, we did discover that enabling Turbo mode and having your mate "grab on" did make for a rather rapid, fun ascent of said hill. The sheer ludicrous nature of pedalling uphill at 15mph dragging another fully-grown male on an overweight old downhill bike really appealed to my childish side. Bonkers and utterly brilliant. Probably safe to say it wouldn't do your battery range any good though.

The Nadgery Bits

When you get onto the trails, the EMTB approach doesn't disappoint. As said above, these standard Powerfly FS7's don't have as much travel as I would have personally liked - they are 130mm front and rear and I suspect were a bit over-gassed for my weight so felt stiffer than I'd typically be after, but ignoring that fact they performed as you would expect over the twisties. In fact they reminded me a little of my old Trek Liquid 55 in terms of feel. On an undulating trail that assistance just helps you keep it up to speed with little burst of pedal effort, but it certainly doesn't feel like it's doing all the work for you.

The big take-away for me was that it allowed me to session a trail quickly, one blast after another. Because you keep those energy levels up, it's a relatively trivial task to loop back round to the start of a trail and hit it again without the need to stop and catch your breath.

It's not cheating

The common misconception with e-bikes is that they're "cheating". Of course, in reality, unless you're in a competition with non-e bikes, what is there to cheat yourself out of? On my conventional rides, your entire day out was a balanced equation that took into account key factors - fun, time and energy levels. Maybe some might include calorie burn if fitness is their driving factor, but for me, it's not; I'm there to have fun, nothing more than that.

For me, the reality of conventional mountain biking was that time and my physical levels of energy always limited the amount of fun I could fit into a given day. With an EMTB, the effort you exert (particularly on the climbs) is reduced - I'd guess by a factor of something between 2 and 3. Previously a full day's riding at Cannock would see me get two loops of Follow the Dog in at a comfortable pace, with a break in the middle of course. By the end of that I would be feeling it the next day. Two loops on an EMTB would feel like half the work - in the brief visit I had for this ride (about 6 miles over 3 hours - yeah, we had manual friends with us remember!) we were fresh as a daisy at the end of it.

That last point really is what it's all about, for me. Ask anyone in the know about EMTBs and they'll say the same thing - rather than do half the effort, why not do twice as much riding? It is abundantly clear to me that an e-bike allows me to maximise the amount of fun you get out of a fixed period of time riding - at the end, you'll have exhausted the same amount of physical effort to do twice (maybe even three times) as much riding in the same amount of time. And that means twice as much fun.

What are you cheating yourself out of? The only way that argument works for me is if you're purely doing cycling for physical training, but I warrant that's hardly the profile of the large majority of mountain bikers.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Summit 65 - Sept 14 2014

R2 plus Nick and I did this a couple of years ago. From memory it is a pretty nice ride but tough on the SS and took about 9 hours to do the long route. Dozer said he might be up for it - anyone else?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Do you think we are too old for this sort of thing?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

October date for diaries

As a lot of you cant make the weekend at the end of May, how about penciling in a weekend now, for October.

Fri 3th - Sun 5th Oct?? (ooops)

Venue tbc, suggestions welcome.

It would be nice to get a decent size group to go.

PS Confirmed for May weekend:
Dozer, Sicknote, Les, Darren & R2

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Anyone for South Wales in May?

Just to let you know the Westoning/Luton crew will be heading over to south Wales Fri 23/5 - Sun 25/5 (we will be heading out early Fri morning). Les is in charge, so all I know is we will be doing Bike Park Wales (uplift not available) and Afan.

We will be staying in the castle hotel Merthyr Tydfil (Mrs Les does work for one of the other chains with a hotel there, so I assume we have been banned from staying at that one??). It is the bank holiday weekend! so the drive back Sunday should be good and we get a day to chill.

Cheers... Dozer, Les, Darren & Sicknote

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Jacobs Ladder

A few weeks back the Notts contingent took a sunny drive over to Derbyshire to see what Jacobs Ladder is like when the weather is good.

It's been 7 years since we last rode it (time flies) and the hills are still as steep as we remembered.  The Chapel Gate climb out of Edale has been resurfaced and the deep ruts replaced with a slippery scree.  T'was at this point that my pal found his rear gear cable was hanging on by a thread and that he'd lost his lowest gears - doh, your going to need them.

The decent past the Cairn Circles is fast and technical and best of all goes on for ages, as do all the DH's on this ride - along with the ups :-(  The next climb is okay if you're fit (we aren't) and the decent to Coldwell Clough is a belter.

I remember the final climb up to JL being an okay grassy climb but it's now a tight, fenced in track with lots of water ruts and loose boulders.  We'll be pushing this then.

The drop down Jacobs Ladder (riding it the correct direction!) is still as challenging, fun and to be taken with great care is places.  The route wasn't awash with walkers either, they get steps down the side of the ladder anyhoo.

Posse: Farqui (5Spot), Roger (FSR)
Weather: bloomin marvelous (too hot)
Mechanicals: nil

Saturday, August 31, 2013


Hey bloggers, long time no post. Found myself visiting family in Peebles at the tail end of this week so it wouldn't be right to go all the way up there and not check out Glentress, part of the 7 Stanes network of trails (of which I've now ticked off 4). This review takes a bit of an alternative look, though, because I was accompanied by my daughter of 6 years old and an adult rider unaccustomed to serious off-road MTB. On top of this, my absence from the trails for far too long has meant my fitness isn't what it should be (although I was pleansantly surprised to find it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be), so we ventured on nothing more than blues, a green and a brief section of red.

So, what faces you at Glentress?

The visitor centre down at the base of the forest provides a small but excellent shop providing many a demo bike and juicy offers, plus the usual cafe and £3-all-day parking. It's all very new (less than 2 years old I believe) and excellent quality; very classy looking.

You can drive to the middle of the trails and park in Buzzard's Nest too, if you prefer (or have a friend who can uplift you there to save the climb). Less facilities here (just 3 portaloos) but it's more central to the trails. However, if you plan on enjoying the final run of the trails down the hill to the base, you'll be faced with a fair climb back up to your car.

We had cycled in from Peebles so had already covered just under 2km, so while the adults were capable of cycling up to Buzzard's Nest, it was a bit beyond a 6 year old... muggins ended up pushing two bikes instead, so if you can get a lift up for kids it will save their legs for the important stuff.

We took the little'un to the skills loop just down from Buzzard's Nest, where she practised her log run balance and handling of yumps and berms. This is an excellent little area where your kids can build their confidence up for what faces them on the trails; there are some small graded loops that show them what to expect if they want to trek out to one of the proper trails. Daughter fully confident, we ventured off to the green loop on the west edge of Glentress ("Roundhouse"). This is a lovely, short and easy green loop then any newly-found MTBer will have no problem traversing. My daughter managed it with no falls, no dabs but just one minor stop on the initial climb where she failed to anticipate a climb and lost momentum. Nothing dangerous and it teaches her the art of conserving momentum!

We then took an unmarked fireroad exit out of the park to the west and back to Peebles via Janet's Brae, and called it a day for day 1.

Returning the next day, this time with a car in tow full of family, we revisited the green loop with daughter. With confidence from the previous day, she enjoyed the trail even more and she couldn't resist a play in the skills area once more. But then it was time for the adults to break off for an afternoon and sample something a little more challenging.

As said before, we were taking things easy on this visit so I'm afraid I can't do the place full justice - we only sampled the blue route really. We started from post 11 at Buzzard's Nest, a short fireroad hack takes you to post 13 where we followed the blue/red east, climbing up a number of switchbacks. The climb burnt my withered legs a little and by the time we reached post 15 I was feeling the lack of saddle time. Another pretty boring climb up to post 24, then fireroad climb to 17, meant so far I wasn't "feeling it" much.

Here we split from the red, following the blue fireroad route over to post 43 and the start of Betty Blue. Unfortunately, Betty was in some state of disrepair and the makeshift trail that bled away all our gained height didn't really do much for me. We soon find ourselves back on fireroad, heading back west to post 16 again. In hindsight, I can't really recommend this section of blue much until Betty's fixed - the red is probably a better bet (Spooky Wood).

We're staying off reds for the sake of my 'fresh' riding buddy, so Hit Squad Hill takes a miss as we fireroad it round, past Pie Run and rejoining the red/black at Magic Mushroom. This takes us back across to post 57, then a 200yd fireroad stretch south-west to post 31 and the top of the final return descent back to base. Falla Brae is a short, fast and flowing run with a few small options for air-time, then we split at post 32 and take "Good Game" down the side of the hill and past the Go Ape activities. "Good Game" is fun - it's childs play, fast and flowing with neat little jumps (all offering you the option of an easy bail-out for the 'green' ones amongst you) and it's a nice unwind towards the end of the route - no effort, all fun.

"The Admiral" - the final blue section - is of a similar vein but over just as you get into it. A short fireroad drop back down to the main car park and it's the end of day two.

Verdict? Marvellous - typical quality you'd expect if you've ridden any of the other 7 Stanes sites. The blue route is pretty mild and more fun is to be had at the lower sectio below Buzzard's Nest - the effort for the upper section doesn't seem to offer much by way of reward. I think the red route is really one to look into for a better level of reward but unfortunately I wasn't able to venture along it this time, let alone the black. The greens on offer are perfect intros for kids or newbies; nothing intimidating and very enjoyable.

The trails do offer a good selection of fireroads and cross-overs so it's actually very easy to tailor your route to something more along your needs (ie. shorten the black, or tie together a number of different routes). Facilites are excellent and it definately gets my thumbs up. I will return!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Watlington Ride August

Anyone around for a Watlington ride in August. I'm available for the first three weekends in August and happy to plan a route. I suggest a good meeting point is Watlington town centre. The car park is right next to a nice pub for post ride debriefing....


Monday, June 10, 2013

The Lakes- Exploring the North

To be honest I have been intrigued by the idea of riding in the Lake District for years and perhaps a bit apprehensive having walked there in the past. It is also 4 hours away!
Last year I finally managed a day riding in the South Lakes around Ambleside with a combination of trail centre and natural riding. The 'natural' riding was one of the best days I have had on the bike despite wind and rain, so I finally 'got' the appeal.
I have since been reading the "Lake District Mountain Biking" Book form Vertebrate Publishing and had suggested North lakes could be an option for a weekend away. Out of the blue the chance to do a 'recce' came up this month sharing the trip with a walking buddy and so I found myself in Keswick youth hostel for a couple of days exploring.
There were a number of options for routes. My first idea was to try the Winlatter Trail Centre and then try a natural route. There were two obvious choices - The Borrowdale Bash, (just featured in Singletrack mag), and  a Skiddaw loop. With some advice from the STW Forum I decided to do the two natural trails with Whinlatter as a bad weather back up.
The plan for Saturday was the Skiddaw route as it was over 30 miles, but the morning brought rain and low cloud, so reluctantly I gave up this idea and headed for Whinlatter.
There were a few hardy mountain bikers there, but I passed many more road cyclists on the way up - I guess Winlatter is one of the 'passes' that people try to do in a day, there are a number of road challenges in the Lakes. The rain was still coming down heavily, but I set off on the blue trail for a 'warm up'. This was quite a testing trail, more so with the rain. Maybe it was the weather, but way marking did not seem that good and with a closed section diversion I found myself going around in circles! So, I set off again, on the red this time. The terrain is challenging and steep and I found one of the climbs to be the steepest I have come across in a trail centre. Once again I lost the trail and ended up back at the car park. The mistake I made at this point was to stop because I very soon felt chilled. With the rain still pouring down I decided to call it a day. From what I saw I would like to try this centre again, in better weather. Cafe seemed good, there is a bike shop, but parking was a massive £6.90.
Lonscale Fell
After killing a few hours in the town the rain finally stopped and with some fresh kit on I set off to do part of the Skiddaw loop by Threlkeld and up to Lonscale Fell. Heading up the bridleway from Threlkeld soon reminded me what attracts people to the Lakes - the scenery was fanatastic and very soon a sense of remoteness set in. Lonscale Fell is well know for some tricky rocks and narrow hillside trail. It did not disappoint and I took it very carefully being on my own. Most is ride-able if you are brave, though maybe easier when dry. After Lonscale you meet the Skiddaw summit trail and from this point there is a fantastic downhill for about 2 miles! Ended the day with a big grin and back to the hostel for a shower, beer and good grub!
Sunday Morning was better, so off to tour Derwent water. Locals had given me some 'extra' off road bits to try, but as there was still much wetness I gave these a miss and headed up the road to Watendlath - a climb that proved less difficult than predicted. Once again scenery, views and remoteness were features of the route. The tiny hamlet of Watendlath does have a tearooms though!

I knew the descent to Rosthwaite was challenging, but it was certainly more technical and rocky than expected (and wet!). So was ultra-cautious and walked anything that I felt unsure about. It reinforced the message from the previous day that the Lakes is not really a place to ride on your own and on this basis missed out the Castle Crag descent, said to be even more tricky!
Despite the weather I had a great time. Keswick or Ambleside are good bases for rides and as long as you accept that you may have to push and carry at times the riding is top class! Got to go back and do these two properly in better weather! Also tempted to do Skiddaw summit as it offers the longest downhill run in England.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Anyone for Cannock Sun 28/4

Hi Everyone,
after a very muddy winter we are back off road again and fancy a sneaky Sunday ride, somewhere other than Beds. To keep things simple we are heading off for just a day to Cannock on Sunday 28th April, should be there for around 10:30.

Let us know if anyone else is interested in joining us.

Looks like some sections of the Monkey trail and Follow The Dog may be closed, but I am sure there will be enough to keep us going for the day?

Cheers.... Dozer, Darren, Sicknote and Les.