Monday, March 28, 2016

No. 6 is Electric

On March 25, Bikerumor has published a review of a new e-bike: Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Fattie. And the haters are out in droves, actually all pro- and anti- e-bike crowds calling each other names and worse. I am not too surprised to see the topic of full-suspension mountain e-bikes as so polarizing. Everything seems to pull people to the opposite poles of opinions these days.
My first experience with MTB e-bikes was in 2012 in Lago di Garda, Italy, where I saw riders climb up the mountains with electric assist and then ride technical downhill trails by gravity. Nobody seemed to think this was strange - I actually thought it was far more ecological than having diesel engine trucks shuttle riders up the mountain. Since 2012, I have adopted few more technology advances that today I consider a must for mountain bikes, heck, all bikes, fat bikes included: 1x11 drivetrain (now again "obsolete"), dropper seat posts, tires as wide as the frame allows etc. And the last bike with 26" wheels in our household is the Mukluk fattie. But I would not consider an e-bike as something I should try or own.

We now have six bikes in our garage. While this may seem a small number for some people I know, there are two extra bikes. Not my bikes - I am perfectly happy with my combination of an aluminum rigid fat bike, a Ti front suspension 29" hardtail, which equipped with 45mm slicks serves also as my commuter bike, road bike and a tourist (hopefully touring soon!) bike, and my uber-bike, the carbon Stumpy 29er FSR.
When it comes to Marketa's bikes, her two "old" bikes are a result of us searching for a perfect bike for her: the Giant OCR road bike that she liked to ride on quiet Connecticut country roads before she found the Bay Area roads too steep and dangerous (I agree), and her 29" mountain bike, that was good for riding dirt fire roads on the Peninsula, before she found the East Bay trails too steep and the bike too heavy (I agree again). Both bikes serve well for an occasional trip to the farmers' market or short rides, but after our bicycling vacation in South Bohemia last summer, we often talked about how nice it would be if we could ride longer rides together, perhaps even for overnight trips 50-60 miles long.

So we bought an e-bike. Raleigh Misceo, an aluminum street bike, equipped with a carbon fork, Bosch / Shimano STEPS drive, including an eight-speed Alfine internal hub and complete Di2 electronic shifting. Hydraulic disc brakes, sturdy wheels with 45mm Kenda Bitumen tires, this bike is nicely built and looks great, don't you think? I test rode the bike for a short spin and I loved the way you can control the level of electric assist. Selecting a level of assist and a proper gear is super easy and intuitive, as are the other multiple functions and information the bike computer displays.

So far, we have three rides together where I rode my road-ized hardtail and Marketa the Misceo. All three rides were around 30 miles. On all rides, we ride at 15-17 mph on flats, she beats me up every hill - I mean like takes off and disappears within a minute - and I get faster on downhills, mainly because I like to go fast, she is careful and the bike top speed is limited around 20 mph with the assist on. So far, 30 miles, including decent climbs, depletes about 50% of the battery, so 50-60 mile range seems realistic.

The bike has a low center of gravity, and its overall weight ~ 30lbs is not that bad. It rode well on unpaved aroyo paths and even some singletrack. Most of all, I get asked every weekend: "Where are we going for a ride today?" So I am planning longer routes now and even thinking about overnight camping trips to state parks that have walk / bike in sites and electric outlets, which is almost every park in CA. The battery charges fully in 3-4 hours, so it all seems doable.

So to me, the debate about e-bikes being motorized and such does not matter a bit. The technology is amazing, and I am certain that in few years there will be lots of e-bikes around, not just on streets but trails as well. There is enough space and trails in this country, even if they close the Wilderness to us MTBikers (and I think that would be bad). If Europeans can all fit into their limited space on all kinds of bikes that get people riding, why not us here?
And I do consider quite seriously getting into the queue for the Tesla Model 3 after this Thursday.